LAS VEGAS — LeBron James won a championship. Deron Williams became nearly $100 million richer. Kobe Bryant got Steve Nash as his backcourt partner.
See, it hasn’t been all bad news for the U.S. men’s basketball players.
But overall it’s been a rough year so far, and the impact will be obvious today when the Americans open training camp with about three weeks until their Olympic opener.
The Americans planned to arrive with their 12-man squad already selected, keeping the focus entirely on the road to London. Instead, their plans, just like their roster, have been wrecked by injuries.
When practice opens on the campus of UNLV, the top priority will be determining who among the players still standing get the last available spots. The Americans will finally select their team Saturday night.
“We would have already made the decision if it wasn’t for the injuries and the length of the NBA season,” U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “We have a pretty good idea of who will be on the team, but the last one or two spots, you’re not sure of, so you want to see the guys physically and talk to them.”
“They’re not trying out; all of them are good enough to be on the team. It’s where are they at right now, and how do they complement the nine or 10 guys that you already pretty much know are already on the team?”
Krzyzewski said the Americans were deeper now than the squads he led to gold medals in the 2008 Olympics and 2010 world basketball championship, and the team has needed every bit of that depth.
NBA All-Stars Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, who would have made up one-third of the team, all have been lost to injuries. Lamar Odom, who still had a shot despite his miserable NBA season, opted not to play. Anthony Davis’ health is uncertain after the No. 1 pick sprained an ankle working out with the New Orleans Hornets.
All the injuries forced the Americans to scrap their plans to name their 12-man roster June 18. They’ve lost some of their size and explosiveness, figuring they still have plenty left to defend their Olympic title.
“While it is unfortunate to have lost the players we have, coach Krzyzewski and I remain extremely confident with the group of players we’ll have at our training camp in Las Vegas. We believe that we will still have an outstanding collection of talent and that ultimately we will have another team that all Americans will be excited about and proud of,” USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said in a statement this week announcing Odom’s withdrawal.
The Americans are left with five players from Beijing: James, Bryant, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony and Williams, who agreed this week to a five-year extension with the Nets that will pay him about $98 million. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Tyson Chandler and Kevin Love return from the young squad that won gold in Istanbul two summers ago.
Blake Griffin would seem to have a good chance if he’s recovered from some knee trouble that slowed him in the playoffs, because the Americans could use his size. Beyond that, questions remain.
• Is Davis healthy enough and talented enough to overcome his inexperience?
• Is there room for Andre Iguodala as a defensive specialist?
• Does Wade’s absence open a spot for a scorer such as Eric Gordon or James Harden off the bench?
• Can Rudy Gay be an answer at power forward?
Krzyzewski didn’t want to make any assumptions until he had his players on the floor.
“We’re hoping that everyone that we have on the roster now is able to play and wanting to play,” he said. “You don’t know that until you actually get to Vegas, because there’s always concerns on my part for injuries, family matters and contractual stuff. Over the seven years I’ve done it, those three things have eliminated certain guys from being on the team.”
The Americans will announce the roster during an NBA TV special Saturday night. They will train against a select team of young players each day of camp before playing an exhibition against the Dominican Republic on July 12.
Though no longer as talented, perhaps the Americans will be more focused after their run of bad luck. Colangelo has said the toughest task for the Americans might be regaining the edge they had four years ago, when they were trying to get back to the top of the basketball world. Maybe being a little weaker will make them sharper.
“If you don’t prepare and have the proper mindset to do this, you’re going to be more susceptible to losing,” Krzyzewski said. “I don’t think any of the guys would do it or need to do, but sometimes you can assume based on being a little bit tired or being distracted by the season that you just had or the fact that we’ve won, we’ve won the last two major competitions, the worlds and the Olympics.
“You still have to take the necessary steps to win this one and that’s our job as a coaching staff to make sure that we do that.”