The word is out about who is in the mix for the U.S. Basketball team that will convene, in various forms, every summer between now and the U.S. Olympics.
At the moment, according to USA Basketball's official website, there are 23 players on the team none of whom are Allen Iverson, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O'Neal, Jermaine O'Neal, Jason Kidd, Kevin Garnett, or (I have a soft spot for tough guys who hit game winners) David West. Here's the list:
Carmelo Anthony (Denver Nuggets)
Gilbert Arenas (Washington Wizards)
Shane Battier (Memphis Grizzlies)
Chauncey Billups (Detroit Pistons)
Chris Bosh (Toronto Raptors)
Bruce Bowen (San Antonio Spurs)
Elton Brand (Los Angeles Clippers)
Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers)
Dwight Howard (Orlando Magic)
LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Antawn Jamison (Washington Wizards)
Joe Johnson (Atlanta Hawks)
Shawn Marion (Phoenix Suns)
Brad Miller (Sacramento Kings)
Adam Morrison (Gonzaga University)
Lamar Odom (Los Angeles Lakers)
Chris Paul (New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets)
Paul Pierce (Boston Celtics)
J.J. Redick (Duke University)
Michael Redd (Milwaukee Bucks)
Luke Ridnour (Seattle Supersonics)
AmarÃ© Stoudemire (Phoenix Suns)
Dwyane Wade (Miami Heat)
With LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant etc., Team USA will have, as always, the best individual players on the floor. Winning, however, has to do with making effective combinations of players. I have said before and I will say it again that the NBA champion every year is the team with the best role players--that is, those who can help their team without having the ball much, by rebounding, playing defense, and making defenses pay for paying too much attention to the stars.
Guys like Robert Horry (when he's playing hard), Tayshaun Prince, Bruce Bowen, etc.
So I broke down the list into three categories: guys who will be stars of this team, guys who can be effective and helpful without the ball, and a third list of leftovers, who are the guys who I don't think should make the team.
First, the stars:
Then, the guys who can do a lot without the ball:
Dwight Howard (should be a star by the 2008 Olympics)
Those two lists make up the twelve I'd pick. Which means these are the guys who I would leave off the team, if I had to pick them right now:
Paul Pierce (he deserves a spot, but whose are you going to give him?)
Michael Redd (if he played D he'd be on my team)
Luke Ridnour (we could use another PG, but not this one)
I know, it's harsh. These guys are some of the best players in the world. Why leave them home?
The brutal truth is that Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, and whoever emerges as the best at the moment of Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh, and Elton Brand will have the ball all the damned time no matter who else is on the floor.
We are not looking for team leaders or even scorers. We'll need guys who can get those stars the ball, be happy, take direction, swing the rock to the open man, not make mistakes, play the best defense on the planet and once in a while nail an open three. Some of these multi-talented players might be able to do those things, but they weren't born to play roles, like the Bruce Bowens and Tayshaun Princes of the world.