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Five-step process (cont.)

Posted: Friday September 1, 2006 12:24PM; Updated: Friday September 1, 2006 12:24PM
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Antawn Jamison has long been overrated, but on paper, his ability to score without needing the ball for very long seems perfect for Team USA. Still, he's the first cut. Joe Johnson's ability to play several positions, handle the ball, and shoot from the outside was a plus, but Gilbert Arenas can play two positions significantly better than Johnson can play four. Brad Miller will only be a step slower in 2007 and 2008.

The key is to give the core players the hope they'll be able to finish the job in 2008. This starts by bringing back nearly the same roster next summer, driving the final stake in the Team USA-as-All Star team ideal that lasted from 1992 to 2004.

3. Go big

Dump the idea of LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony as a power forward. We liked that line of thinking early on, as most international power forwards are lucky to top out at 6-8, and it made sense to go with a lineup that featured quickness at every position. And yet, this tournament showed  the Team USA bigs aren't plodding around the court anymore -- they kept up on both ends, and the U.S. needs to feature two of them at a time if it wants to establish any sort of defensive identity.

Unless the name is Eddy Curry, most big men instinctually guard the front of the rim. LeBron and Carmelo tried, gamely at times, to play sound help defense on the interior, but they can't fight their perimeter instincts. At best, their play was passable. Usually, and especially against Greece (we're looking at you, LeBron), it was pitiful.

Team USA needs a player to watch the paint while another big man guards the top of the key during screen and roll or high post play. If the opposition fields two different sweet-shooting big men, then the attitude shouldn't change -- because Chris Bosh, Elton Brand and Dwight Howard were adept at guarding the three-point line and getting out on shooters both big and small.

The fact that those three combined to play as many minutes in the semifinal loss as LeBron did is unacceptable, because coach Mike Krzyzewski had to see the same thing that drove us batty: LBJ continually letting step-slow Greek big men waltz to the basket, while his defensive gaze was focused elsewhere.

4. Make free throws

That's it. Just make your free throws, you bums.

5. Get angry

Even during the lopsided wins, this was a team in search of a leader. LeBron struggled too much in international play, and as Cleveland's playoff meltdown to Detroit showcased, he's not ready to take the reins. Can't blame the kid, he's only 21.

Dwyane Wade's an NBA champion, and yet he often lost his cool in the face of a defender that dared try and check him, or a referee crew that refused to give him 20 free throws a game. Kirk Hinrich was the team's best perimeter defender, but he gets too down on himself and his game suffers as a result. Carmelo Anthony tried to lead by example, but that obviously wasn't enough.

This core needs to be upset about this loss; it needs to want to prove to the world that a single-elimination defeat at the hands of the Greek team was a fluke and not representative of the team's abilities. They need to keep it in the front of their minds through the next NBA season, into the Tournament of the Americas, and all the way to China in 2008.

If this core of young U.S. stars want to be compared to 1992 Dream Team, then this is the way to do it -- because you can be damn sure that Michael, Magic and Bird would have spent the intervening years muttering the names of various Greek players while shooting 500 jumpers a day.

And, though Friday's loss stings, we don't doubt that Team USA has the potential to grow and build upon this. All these youngsters need is time.