Veteran guard the key to Team USA's chances
Posted: Friday July 20, 2007 12:38PM; Updated: Tuesday July 24, 2007 6:26PM
Kobe Bryant, suiting up for the first time Friday for the first USA national team on which he ever has played, was considered an even-money bet by Las Vegas oddsmakers to demand a trade to Italy's club sometime before lunch.
And a 3-1 shot to change his mind an hour later, if only he can figure out the overseas dialing code to his favorite Florence all-sports station.
As a newbie in the group of NBA players gathered this weekend in Vegas for Team USA's minicamp, and the subject of so much self-fueled speculation in his yes/no/maybe trade demands from the Los Angeles Lakers, Bryant figures to dominate the spotlight, the media sessions and quite likely the ball. Seventeen players, a rather tight clutch from the full roster of 32 who have been invited into this program, will wrap up Sunday with an intrasquad game at the Thomas & Mack Center, a public unveiling that plays right to Bryant's showtime sensibilities.
But the key guy this weekend, next month in the FIBA Americas tournament and right through the 2008 Beijing Olympics, if the Red, White and Blue really cares about gold, is New Jersey Nets guard Jason Kidd -- the been-there, done-that, conquered-all early MVP for this team's, and this nation's, hoops hopes.
Winning in the qualifying competition this August, also at the Thomas & Mack, matters because Team USA traveled to Japan last summer and brought home only those lousy bronze medals. For the second time in three years, the U.S. senior men's team -- that's how it officially is designated but let's face it, we're talking about the NBA itself, alleged home of the world's greatest basketball players -- had to do a perp walk off the lowest step of the winners' podium, apologizing not only for not finishing first but for again failing to kick tail.
Similar to its third-place flop in Athens in 2004, the Americans were done in at the FIBA World Championships in Saitama 11 months ago by an overmatched backcourt, a dearth of big men, no reliable pecking order and a continued failure to grasp how proficient other nations had become at this game. Kidd, as one of eight additions to last summer's crew, figures to help with two or three of those problems.