Olympics 2021: Team USA is short on cohesion but stacked with talent

TOKYO -- Team USA is in a ridiculous position -- but not a desperate one.

Training camp in Las Vegas was two weeks of wild emotional swings. Doug Collins set the stage by recounting the tale of the life-changing fallout after the loss in the 1972 Olympics. Then two losses in exhibition games right out of the gate. Another game canceled as a precaution. Losing one player to a coronavirus infection, one more to injury, and two temporarily after they went into health and safety protocols. One player added less than 48 hours before going to Japan. A practice with just six healthy players. Not having any idea when the three Finals players might arrive and what sort of role they can play right away.

It was chaos.

Never before has an Olympic team had to manage the bountiful absurdity Team USA faces: an ongoing pandemic, plus the rigid protocols required; the residual effects of a brutally compressed schedule; and a quarter of the roster having exactly zero practice time with the rest of the team. All as Team USA prepares for an important pool-play opener Sunday morning against France, a team filled with NBA talent that beat the U.S. in 2019.

"I've not seen anything like this," said coach Gregg Popovich, who has seen just about everything in his storied career. "We've gone over lots of scenarios, but we haven't figured it out yet, that's for sure."

When the Americans' charter plane landed in Tokyo on Tuesday, there were just eight players on it. One of them, JaVale McGee, hadn't even taken part in a formal practice. Zach LaVine was back in Vegas in health and safety protocols, though he was able to join the team by Thursday.

Popovich said the team wasn't expecting Devin Booker, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday to arrive until Saturday, though even that wasn't certain. But they're needed, with Team USA showing considerable weaknesses and a lack of conditioning. Getting three players who are in shape, even if they likely are exhausted, could prove vital.