The Americans will leave this year’s FIBA World Cup without a title.
It’s not because the United States doesn’t have the deepest talent pool by far of any country in the world. It’s only that the best American basketball roster that could be assembled wasn’t close to what flew to the Philippines to compete. A team of Steph Curry, Damian Lillard, Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, Jimmy Butler, Jaylen Brown, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Bam Adebayo, De’Aaron Fox, Julius Randle, and Kevin Durant would thump any other nation. None of those dozen were present in Manila, which is a big reason the USA lost to Lithuania in the second group stage and fell to Germany in the event’s semifinals on Friday.
You can argue that Durant and James would never play on Team USA again. Fine, give the current roster a little bit of leeway and have two of Mikal Bridges, Austin Reaves, and Anthony Edwards take their places. Still an easy gold. The two teams who posed any kind of challenge to the United States in this tournament beat them. Canada has a similar threat level in Sunday’s third-place matchup in what was looked at as an eventual dream final between North American rivals. The Americans men’s display on the world stage doesn’t hold near the same weight soccer’s World Cup does, and USA basketball treating this as a pre-pre-season only gives that statement more credence, but the biggest basketball power in the world, with no equal, should never be embarrassed like this on any stage. And don’t forget, the Olympics are less than a year away.
This year’s performance is an culmination of problems for years. No one in their right mind would take Mike Krzyzewski for granted, except maybe one of his star pupils, Grant Hill, the team’s managing director, who can look back at the former Duke coach’s years patrolling the red, white, and blue sideline as a major guide on how to shape the program.
Instead, we got the crappy performance we got.
There’s plenty of blame for coaches Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr, too, even with the United States being the reigning Olympic gold medalists under Popovich’s leadership. This mishmash of players couldn’t get it done and more structure from those in charge is needed to secure American basketball’s future on the global stage.
The NBA’s firepower isn’t in question, and with how deep the USA’s talent pool is, you’d likely need a team World to beat the best USA team consistently. Casual basketball fans will care more about the Olympics than the FIBA World Cup, and the organization’s movers and shakers have a blueprint for what not to do in the future from this tournament. Finding a way for the best Americans to play for Team USA shouldn’t be a challenge, but here we are. The lack of commitment to this tournament was always dumb, and needs to change in the future. Let’s just hope the Americans looking lackluster on the world stage doesn’t bite them next summer.
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