With the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing looming, one group of athletes have especially a lot on their mind. Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwyane Wade, among a few others, lead that list. Athens in 2004 left a sour taste in the mouth's of these star athletes. After all, they didn't go to the Olympics back then solely for the experience, they went to defend Olympic Gold for their country and protect a tradition of excellence. Unfortunately for that group, they were not ready for the challenge. With the international level of competition on the rise, a young, inexperienced US team did the unthinkable; they lost an Olympic game on the international level.
The loss was the first surrendered by the U.S. of A, since the NBA players began participating in the games back in 1992. It was always even unusual to see an Olympic score with less than a 40 point margin of victory when Team USA was on the floor, let alone an actual loss. But whatever the case, the 2004 team experienced a failure that had never been felt by NBA players in Olympic competition. With this to be said, it is easy to see why Lebron and company believe they have much to prove. This is their "Shot at Redemption", as fellow blogger Christoph Schoenbeck put it. So with Beijing right around the corner, the USA Men's Basketball team announced their roster this past Monday. A roster that will feature returning players, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Lebron James, Carlos Boozer, and Jason Kidd, as well as some other familiar names around the league: Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, Tayshaun Prince, Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh, & Michael Redd. Even though the team has a surprisingly smaller lineup, Coach K and the group believe they have the components to win back the Gold.
I see many upsides with this team. Here are a few that stand out.
1) First off, it is great to see Kobe Bryant's name on the roster. Too many times in recent years the NBA's biggest stars have shied away from participating in the game. It is great to see the league's MVP recognizing the team's need for him; joining the quest for Gold. Kobe should provide leadership, dedication, and most importantly defense to the Olympic team. We all know what Bryant can do on offense, but the 1st team all-NBA defender will be a great asset on the defensive side, helping provide balance in the team's overall game.
2) I like the addition of the shooting threats to the roster. In 2004, Team USA faced a zone defense in every game. Hitting big shots against those zones proved to be a task far too difficult for the likes of Iverson, James, and the many other NBA stars not known for their shooting ability. This year Team USA added Michael Redd, one of the best outside shooters in the game. They also picked up the blooming Deron Williams, whose known for his hot shooting from behind the arc in big games. Hopefully both players can draw their international opponents out of the zone, opening up the floor for Bryant, Wade, Anthony, & James to get to the rim at will for easy finishes.
3) I love the addition of Chris Paul. He manages the game just as good as any player in the NBA. His court vision and smart decision-making should be quite valuable for the team. Paul is also great at creating looks for his teammates. With a lineup as stacked as this one, Chris should have a field day in the assist category.
4) I also love the defensive acquisitions. As I mentioned earlier, Kobe is a 1st team all-NBA defender. However additionally, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, and Tayshaun Prince were all second team all-NBA defenders. Picking up 4 of the NBA's 10 best defenders will make Team USA strong on both sides of the ball, helping their odds for success even more. Lebron is an underrated defender when he wants to be as well (as long as it isn't Game 7 against Paul Pierce).
All in all, Team USA appears to have many bright spots on their team this year. There certainly seems to be much improvement from the Athens team of '04. Coach K seems confident in his players and feels he has one of the strongest teams he could've asked for. Even though the international game is much different in recent times, and the level of competition is much higher than it used to be, I just feel there is something special about the team of '08. It all depends on how they play together. Team chemistry is crucial in Olympic play. The international teams play together year round. Team USA has a few months to find the most effective way to play together. There is much to do in a small time frame for Team USA, but I believe this year's squad has enough determination to get the job done. This is their chance at redemption. The team needs this for themselves, and most importantly, for their country. Lebron, Carmelo, & Wade know what their country expects of them. Now it is their hands to meet those expectations; to bring back the Gold.
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