LeBron James looks around the room at the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas where USA Basketball is holding its Olympics press conference and he likes what he sees.
It doesn’t matter that his Miami Heat buddies Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are not a part of the 2012 U.S. Olympic team because of injuries, and it doesn’t matter that Dwight Howard and Derrick Rose are not here. The 12 men set to defend the gold medal in London this month are fast, athletic, versatile, and supremely confident.
Joining LeBron on Team USA are five holdovers from the Redeem Team that won gold in Beijing: Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, and Deron Williams. The Beijing Five will be the foundation of a squad that also boasts Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, Andre Iguodala, and Tyson Chandler — members of the 2010 U.S. squad that won the gold medal at the world championships in Turkey. Rounding out the 12-man roster are two newcomers: James Harden and Blake Griffin.
“We’re happy to be back together. We’ll continue to work toward our goal to bring home a gold medal. But we’re not gonna take the easy way out,” James said. “We’ll work hard every single day, build our habits throughout this trip and when we get to London we’re going to prepare the right way and play the right way.”
The U.S. squad kicks off its exhibition tour with a game against the Dominican Republic on July 13 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. It plays four more exhibition games before heading to London. The U.S. opens Olympic competition on July 29 against France, which is led by Tony Parker, Boris Diaw and Nicolas Batum.
Based on official NBA positions, Chandler is the only true center in the lineup but head coach Mike Krzyzewski doesn’t think it’ll be a disadvantage.
“I’m excited about our opportunity to achieve great success,” Krzyzewski said. “This team has great versatility and athleticism, but I think even more than that the team has great camaraderie. They’re good guys. They’re good guys who are proud to serve their country and play for their country, and hopefully bring back the gold.”
Krzyzewski says Paul (point guard) and Chandler (center) are the only two players on the roster who have set positions. The rest of the group will be asked to play multiple positions and he expects to use a variety of unconventional lineups.
“The lineups that we will have during the ballgame will be real interesting,” Krzyzewski said. “You can have a lineup in there even LeBron James as the point guard, with Kobe and Westbrook and Carmelo and Durant. Whatever you can think about could happen with this team.”
This “small ball” concept is nothing new to Coach K and Co. He used Anthony and James at the power forward spot in Beijing, and he had Durant playing the big forward spot almost exclusively at the 2010 world championships.
The “smaller” lineup could also benefit Team USA on the defensive end, as they can apply more fullcourt pressure and force teams into turnovers that could lead to fastbreak points and easy layups. About the only concern with the unconventional lineups is the rebounding, but Coach K is hoping crashing the boards will be done by committee.
“The rebounding we’ll have to get from all five positions,” Krzyzewski said.
“We have a roster with great rebounders. We can all rebound the ball,” Bryant said. “Chris is a phenomenal rebounder, I can rebound, LeBron can rebound. Kevin Love is the best in the league. So we have guys who can crash the boards.”