Tough times may be ahead for USA Basketball thanks to managing director Jerry Colangelo. Is there enough time to solve the problem before the 2020 Summer Olympics?
The 2019 FIBA World Cup was a tough one for the red, white and blue. USA Basketball lost back-to-back games for the first time since 2002. The 7th-place finish makes this the worst tournament in history for a program known as a basketball powerhouse. To add insult to injury, managing director Jerry Colangelo may have seriously jeopardized the team’s chances at winning gold in the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.
Jerry Colangelo is a Hall of Famer who has achieved success as an executive in the NBA and in international completion. Under his reign, USA Basketball is undefeated in Olympic play, with three gold medals. That international superiority may be over because of a stern warning from Colangelo following USA’s 94-89 loss to Serbia.
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"“You can’t help but notice and remember who you thought you were going to war with and who didn’t show up,” shared the exec. “It’s as much about maybe who we don’t want as much as who we want.”"
Instead of voicing his displeasure with those who didn’t play, Colangelo needs to understand why those players bailed. In year’s past, the FIBA tournament was held two summers before the Olympic Games.
Committing to this tournament would mean that players vying for NBA titles would be playing basketball for two consecutive years, with minimal breaks between NBA playoffs, USA Basketball competition and the start of the following NBA season. This isn’t a made-up conclusion.
As much as Colangelo wants dedication from the league’s top players, he needs to understand the history of international basketball in the eyes of America’s best talent. It’s all about the Olympics. Gold medals and the “other” international competition is a great experience.
For guys like Bradley Beal, who backed out to witness the birth of his son, it doesn’t rank as high as the quality family time before the grind of the NBA season. For players like Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard and James Harden, playing overseas doesn’t trump building chemistry with new teammates on the squad that actually pays their salaries.
The only time the U.S. FIBA roster featured the bulk of the upcoming Olympic squad was in 2006. That only occurred because players were looking to avenge the upset bronze medal finish in the 2004 Summer Games. Until the U.S. falls short of a gold medal in the Olympics again, it will be difficult to get elite players to participate in the FIBA World Cup.
You have to wonder, would Colangelo be as upset if Team USA won a medal in China? If he had this sentiment about players who disregarded the invite, why not express that when the roster was announced? Perhaps the statement was made for one player in particular. De’Aaron Fox left the team without explanation just hours before the squad was to fly to Australia to prepare for competition in China.
Fox reportedly had a decent chance at making the team, but he was afforded just six minutes of playing time in the team’s final scrimmage. If Fox barely received playing time in the scrimmage, it’s likely that his minutes would have been limited in Australia, which speaks volumes about his chances of actually making next year’s Olympic squad.
This entire crisis could have been avoided. Jerry Colangelo could have worked to garner more interest from players by allowing Carmelo Anthony to join the team in China. That may have been all it took for guys like Kyle Kuzma and Devin Booker to suit up. Ironically, Colangelo denied Melo the opportunity because it, “could have been a distraction.”
As much as Jerry Colangelo’s statement was a harsh warning, there appears to be a deeper concern for the head of USA Basketball. His words sound more like someone who has concerns about Team USA’s ability to win gold in next year’s Summer Games.
NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo will be playing for Greece. Ben Simmons is expected to join Patty Mills, Aron Baynes, and Joe Ingles on the Australian team. Let’s not forget that Argentina, Spain, and France are all filled with talented players who have established chemistry from playing together for years.
The days of the Dream Team pummeling international opponents are over. Colangelo is going to need the very best players to be available if the U.S. is going to have a chance at winning gold next summer. Even then, there’s a possibility that the team chemistry may not be able to match the toughest opponents.
Instead of being vulnerable, and expressing that legitimate fear, Colangelo has put the 2020 Summer Olympics team at risk. His words could be taken as a threat by some of the superstars needed to fill the roster. If the U.S. has access to the top talent, only Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell and Kemba Walker from the World Cup team have a legit chance at making the cut for the Olympics.
Unless Jerry Colangelo wants to scramble to once again fill the Team USA Basketball roster with inferior players, he may need to find a subtle way to retract his harsh words.