Check the roster of the 2016 United State's men's basketball team that won Olympic gold and you'll find such names as Kevin Durant, Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson and Paul George, All-Pros all. Dial it back four more years to 2012 and you'll find a roster that included Kobe Bryant, Anthony Davis, James Harden, LeBron James and Chris Paul. Return to 2008 and you'll discover such talents as Carmelo Anthony in his prime, Bryant, James and Dwayne Wade.
What's the point?
Simply this: For all the disparaging words spoken and written since 10 a.m. Sunday morning about the current U.S. men's hoops squad following its surprising loss to France, this team couldn't carry those teams' sweatbands.
Yes, it still has Kevin Durant, who looked more like comedian Kevin Hart — all 5-feet-4 of him — in fouling out in 21 minutes while hitting just 4 of 12 field goals. Not that it was only Durant who disappointed. The Americans, supposedly the best players in the world, missed 44 of 69 field goals overall and 22 of 32 3-pointers against a French squad that's long on height and experience but short on foot speed and quickness.
But this was also pool play in a group that includes Iran and the Czech Republic. The USA should easily win both those games to advance to the medal round, where the sting of blowing a seven-point lead against the French inside the final four minutes and coming out on the wrong end of a 16-2 run down the stretch should prevent such calamities moving forward.
An while it's easy to blame cranky coach Gregg Popovich, who's overseen three losses in the five games some version of this team has played to date in exhibitions and against France, this is also the same Popovich who's won five NBA titles as coach of the San Antonio Spurs, who many believe may be the best run organization in the league.
The bigger point, and the far more important point is that you can't fly in three players from the just-completed NBA Finals — Milwaukee Bucks guards Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton and Phoenix guard Devin Booker — on the day of the game, have journeyman center JaVale McGee as your No. 1 backup in the post and second-year guard Kelden Johnson from the Spurs as an emergency addition due to COVID-19 issues and expect to win a gold medal.
As Patrick Ewing, a key member of the 1992 "Dream Team" — the first U.S. Olympic team to play professionals instead of college kids — told the New York Post after the loss to France: "It's harder to play now because of the Dream Team. All of the current players grew up looking up to us and watching us dominate the rest of the world. But the rest of the world caught up. There are so many talented players. Some of the NBA's top players today come from all over the world. It wasn't like that back then.''
Indeed, the average margin of victory by the Dream Team in those '92 Games was 43.8 ppg. It was men against boys. But it was also the best collection of NBA players ever assembled: Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Ewing, Scottie Pippen, John Stockton, etc.
Heck, that U.S. team might beat this one by 44 points and no one would bat an eye.
This is not to overly defend Popovich. Team USA should have looked better. Pop had several months to prepare for France and he'd coached a previous US international team to a 10-point loss against basically this same French team a couple of years ago. There should have been no surprises.
A single telling quote from French guard Evan Fournier after he scored 28 points against Team USA, including a dagger 3-pointer inside the final minute: "They are better individually, but they can be beaten as a team."
Then again, Popovich lost NBA veteran post player Kevin Love to injury and high-scoring Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal to COVID in the final two weeks before he could get the team to Tokyo. Booker, Middleton and Holiday — who somehow led the Americans on Sunday with 18 points on little sleep and no practice — should be much better in the medal round once they get some practice and rest.
Beyond that, had the NBA not backed up its playoffs until they all but collided with the Olympics, a more talented and experienced roster would no doubt have emerged. But given that most of the NBA's biggest stars literally limped to the finish line due to COVID significantly shortening the off-season, that didn't happen.
Instead, we're trying to beat decent international teams that have basically been together for several years instead of two or three weeks with the likes of JaVale McGee.
We should still win this gold medal assuming Durant can stay out of foul trouble and Damian Lillard, Booker and Middleton can begin to shoot like the elite marksmen their NBA stats say they are.
But if you want to blame someone for the current fragility of this U.S. men's Olympic team, blame it on all those players who chose not to play rather than those who are.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at email@example.com.