A seventh-place showing at the FIBA World Cup made the 2019 edition of the U.S. Men's National Team the first American team of NBA players to lose since the 2006 World Championship.
That finish wasn't lost on USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo, who has overseen the program since taking it over on April 27, 2005. In an interview with SI.com's Chris Mannix, Colangelo sounded determined to get Team USA back on track on the international stage.
“There has not been any disappointment around USA Basketball in a while,” Colangelo told SI.com. “This will bother me until the 2020 Olympics.”
Next summer, Colangelo will end his 14-year tenure atop USA Basketball and has seen it win gold in the 2008, '12 and '16 Olympics. Additionally, Team USA won the FIBA World Cup title in 2010 (the U.S. team's first there since 1994) and in '14. Despite the disappointing finish this year, Colangelo wasn't about to draw parallels between this team and the 2002 World Cup squad that is seen as one of the low points in Team USA history.
“You can’t compare the two years,” Colangelo told SI.com. “It’s apples and oranges.”
He did take some issue with the NBA superstars who opted to not play in the FIBA World Cup this year. Among the NBA standouts who opted out of playing were Anthony Davis, James Harden, Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Bradley Beal, DeMar DeRozan and others.
“The disappointment I feel is not from the guys who said they wouldn’t play,” Colangelo told SI.com. “It’s those that said they would, and then backed out.”
Davis, Lillard and Harden were late withdrawals from Team USA, but that may not hurt them in being a part of the U.S. National Team come the 2020 Olympics.
“We’ll deal with those cases individually,” Colangelo said. “It’s important to field as strong a team as possible.”
In each of the last five major international tournaments, the U.S. ranked No. 1 in offensive efficiency. Through its first six games of the 2019 FIBA World Cup, it ranked ninth offensively. Before breaking with a 12-for-25 performance against Poland on Saturday in the seventh-place game, the Americans had shot just 33.3 percent from 3-point range, well below the NBA league average (35.5 percent), even though the 3-point distance is shorter on the FIBA floor.
Though the U.S. was one of the best defensive teams in the 2019 FIBA World Cup, it couldn't turn enough stops into transition opportunities. In each of the five major tournaments that the U.S. won from 2008 to 2016, it ranked first or second in pace. Through its first six games, this U.S. team ranked 13th of 32 World Cup teams in pace (an estimated 75 possessions per 40 minutes).
After the win against Poland to close out FIBA play, coach Gregg Popovich defended his team while also sounding off on the notion Team USA is always a shoo-in for gold.
“If you don’t win, some people will play the blame game,” Popovich said. “There’s no blame to be placed anywhere. They play the shame game, like we should be ashamed because we didn’t win a gold medal? That’s a ridiculous attitude. It’s immature. It’s arrogant. And it shows that whoever thinks that doesn’t respect all the other teams in the world and doesn’t respect that these guys did the best they could.”
Popovich also said it’s too early to think about what USA Basketball needs to do before getting ready for the Tokyo Games. But he warned -- just as two-time gold medalist Kobe Bryant did last Friday -- that the days of American romps to gold are done.
“There are a lot of great teams in the world,” Popovich said. “It’s not written in stone that the United States is supposed to walk to a championship. That’s pretty old-school thinking. Even the teams that have won in the past had a lot of close calls.”
Next year's Olympics are earlier in the summer, so that preparation time will likely be shorter than the four weeks that this team was together before the start of the World Cup. Without the same chemistry that their opponents have, more talent -- guys that can get buckets on cue -- is needed.
"Individually, across the board, everybody gets a lot better by playing and going through this entire process," Joe Harris said this week. "You spent 39-plus days with one of the best coaches in the world, one of the best coaches in the game in Pop.
"Just being around them, learning their approach to the game, being around all these great players, competing with them night in and night out, whether it's practices or games, and competing at a high level every night against some of the best players in the world, this is the best offseason preparation you can have going into the season."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.