By Craig Kwasniewski
The World Championships are over and USA Basketball didn't make the final for the third straight international tournament. Is it time to panic? Has the international game conquered USA Basketball? Is Spain the new hotbed for basketball?
All right, stop right there... the answer is an unequivocal NO, NO, NO!!!!
Basketball "experts" will throw out the typical excuses for the non-championship: poor perimeter shooting, lack of international experience, international referees and lack of team cohesion. These experts are wrong. There are other reasons why USA Basketball lost besides the aforementioned excuses. I'll list just a few and based on my rage (or interest by you the reader) I may follow up with a part 2 next week.
1. David Stern: The question needs to be asked, what is the purpose of USA Basketball? Is it assembled to win the biannual international tournaments? Or is it another NBA promotional vehicle? I think Stern looks at USA Basketball as a chance to test the international waters with respect to name brand recognition. All during the tournament I passed across hundreds of photos of USA ballers attending promotional events. The team is flat out exhausted. As ESPN's Chris Sheridan pointed out last Tuesday:
Approaching Wade to ask him about fatigue, I began my question: "You've been over here in Asia now for more than three weeks ...
Wade interrupted me and said "Three months," which is as good an indication as any that all this time away from home is taking a little something out of at least some of the Americans.
Sitting with his knees and right wrist wrapped in ice, Wade said he's feeling more exhausted on this trip than he did two years ago in Athens...
Some of the players like Wade are still recovering from an extended playoff run, but they are also pulled in many promotional directions throughout the tournament. Besides Ginobili and Gasol, I haven't seen or heard much of the other participating teams involved in such a hectic schedule.
Stern needs to figure out the true goal of Team USA. If it's to win a tournament, then the players need to get more down time throughout the tournament.
2. Apathy from the States: Outside of the hardcore hoops fan, nobody really cares about a summer international hoops tournament. First they're competing with chemically enhanced baseball players and the starts of college and pro football. There's no chance to fit in a 3:30 AM USA - Angola basketball game. Even using Tivo, I found it hard to find the time to watch all the games.
I'm not sure what's the solution here. Many people felt that the NBA Finals and Wade's freethrow fest just ended days ago and it's too soon to focus on another tournament. Maybe on solution is to add a few more exhibition games in the States in non-NBA cities. It gives a chance for cities like Atlanta who don't have a professional team a chance to see the stars of USA Basketball.
Unfortunately this conflicts with the my first point of a hectic schedule. USA Basketball needs to improve it's promotional skills, I still had a hard time finding out who or when the games aired on ESPN.
3. David Stern, Part 2: Somewhere in the second round of the playoffs, the commish decided that ball handling swingman are the future of the NBA and proceeded to parade them to the freethrow lines. Wade and LeBron started shooting an uber-MJ amount of freethrows for the smallest about of contact. Plus, the league allowed a generous portion of carrying and traveling along the way.
Could you blame Stern? He's looking for the next Bird-Magic rivalry and that April ridiculous regular season game showed that Wade and LeBron can raise each other's games to such a special level.
The downside is that the future of the NBA is not the present of the international game. What you had was Wade getting whistled for traveling several times a game while begging for the ticky-tack call he was given in the Finals. Lebron seemed to adjust to the international game, but Wade had some ugly moments in the tournament.
4. Team USA's Youth: Dwight Howard will be a monster! D. Wade is still a raw slasher with room for improvement. LeBron is still 5 years from his prime! Chris Bosh is on the brink of stardom.
That's the thing about this team, Melo, Wade, LeBron, Bosh and Howard are still going to improve. This USA Basketball team is assembled to win the 2008 Olympics. In two years those five players will be entering their prime and ready to wreak havoc on international hoops.
Forget that the likes of Kobe and Chauncey Billups were absent, they're not the future of Team USA. The key to 2008 is the development of those five players. To me the 2006 World Championships were more a test of the "new" system for USA Basketball. And considering that they finished with one loss and a bronze medal, I'm not all that disappointed.
I saw how much Melo has improved his offensive game, how big Dwight Howard really is and how quickly LeBron can cater his game to fit with such a talented roster. This is a team on the rise and as long as the same roster (or very similar) plays in 2008, I see USA Basketball bringing home the gold.
Now if only some people actually gave a damn!