Picking Team USA for 2016 Games
Many U.S. players from London are young enough to give it another go in 2016
Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose and Blake Griffin missed London with injuries
Four years from now, Kyrie Irving might be a force in the Team USA backcourt
With a second straight Olympic gold medal in the books, the United States has re-established its dominance on the international stage. So what will the basketball team look like in Rio in 2016, when players of all ages are expected to continue to be eligible? Let's take a look:
Dwight Howard, C, Lakers (age in Rio: 30): The U.S. finished as the best rebounding team at the Olympics, but its lack of depth in the pivot was a weakness. Teams fearlessly attacked the rim when Tyson Chandler went out of the lineup, underscoring the need for a second rim protector. Howard, who averaged 10.9 points and 5.8 rebounds in Beijing four years ago, is a natural choice. He was unavailable for London because of a back injury.
LeBron James, F, Heat (31): USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo said he hopes the distinction of being team USA's first four-time Olympian will be enough of a carrot to lure James back one more time. (Rio would be four Olympics for Carmelo Anthony, too.) The three-time NBA MVP was a force in London, getting to the rim with ease when the Americans needed a basket and averaging 13.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.6 assists, including the first triple-double by a U.S. player in the Olympics. James also emerged as a vocal leader, adding to his value.
Kevin Durant, F, Thunder (27): Team USA's top scorer at the 2010 FIBA World Championship (22.8 points) picked up right where left off in London, leading the gold medalists with 19.5 points and making 52.3 percent from three-point range. Durant's fluid perimeter stroke removes the need for a shooting specialist, and his size gives the U.S. lineup versatility. They don't get more selfless than Durant, who didn't offer a trace of annoyance when initially benched in favor of Anthony while Krzyzewski experimented with different combinations during pre-Olympic exhibitions.
Kobe Bryant, G, Lakers (37): Yes, Bryant says he's done. But consider this: Bryant says he plans to play two or three more years in the NBA. He has two years left on his deal with the Lakers, so let's assume he signs a two-year extension and plays four. What better way to cap a career than with a gold medal in 2016? Certainly Bryant, the consummate competitor, would relish adding one more line to his Hall of Fame résumé.
Carmelo Anthony, F, Knicks (32): As maddening as Anthony's game is in the NBA, it's perfect for Olympic basketball. The burly forward can play multiple positions, score (16.3 points in 17.8 minutes in London) and rebound (4.8) while not getting criticized for overshooting (many do) or not defending (few do). Like James, Anthony may want to call it an international career, but the status of being a four-time Olympian may be too strong to resist.
Derrick Rose, G, Bulls (27): An ACL tear knocked Rose out of London, but there's no reason to believe he won't be back. The 2011 NBA MVP led the 2010 World Championship team in assists, and his strength and improved shooting allow him to function at either guard spot. Rose and the rest of the U.S. point guards will get a strong push from John Wall, who, given a few years to add a jump shot to his explosive open-floor game, should be an all-around threat.
Anthony Davis, F, Hornets (23): Davis played the Christian Laettner role in London, mopping up blowouts, sitting in the back of the bus and fetching water for the NBA vets. But four years from now could be a different story for Davis, who oozes potential from his 6-10, 220-pound frame. He will be thrown into the fire next season with New Orleans, and as his game develops and his body fills out, the top pick in the June draft should be among the top young big men in the NBA in 2016.
Russell Westbrook, G, Thunder (27): The explosive Westbrook is a favorite of the U.S. staff, and, like Rose, he is big and versatile enough to play either guard spot. Besides, with the way Westbrook has improved his first four seasons, it's likely he will rank as one of, if not the top point guard in the NBA.
Blake Griffin, F, Clippers (27): Griffin was headed to London before a knee injury derailed his Olympic plans. Size will continue to be at a premium for the U.S., and the 6-foot-10 Griffin's athleticism will allow him to share time at center. Griffin would be wise to polish his face-up game because international teams will pack the paint and force him to make mid-range jump shots.
Kevin Love, F, Timberwolves (27): Love did yeoman's work in London, banging bodies with bigger players while finishing tied for sixth in rebounding (7.6) despite playing significantly fewer minutes (he averaged 17.2 off the bench) than the rest of the leaders. Love is a Colangelo favorite; if he's healthy and interested, he's there.
Kyrie Irving, G, Cavaliers (24): Irving steps in for Chris Paul, a two-time gold medalist who will be 31 in four years and perhaps will hang 'em up internationally. The point guard position would be in good hands with Irving, a 6-3 playmaker who has drawn rave reviews from Colangelo for his work with the U.S. Select Team. Irving, a dual U.S./Australia citizen, skipped a chance to play in London with the Aussies for a shot with Team USA in Rio in 2016. It's likely he will get it.
Chris Bosh, F, Heat (32): The Beijing gold medalist would have been in London if not for the need to rest an abdominal injury he sustained in the playoffs. Bosh is an ideal international center because of his length, ability to defend on the perimeter and feathery shooting touch. Andrew Bynum is among the other big-man options. But Bosh's history, coupled with Bynum's ambivalence toward playing for the U.S., lands Bosh the spot.
Doc Rivers: Colangelo says he hopes to persuade Mike Krzyzewski to stay, but the 65-year-old coach has indicated repeatedly that London would be his last Games. If Krzyzewski walks after going 62-1 in six years, Boston's Rivers and San Antonio's Gregg Popovich are considered favorites to replace him.
Rivers, who was in London working as an analyst for NBC, is a players' coach with a proven track record of success blending high-profile players (and personalities) in Boston. Popovich, an assistant on the ill-fated 2002 and '04 national teams, coaches one of the most diverse teams in the NBA. Popovich and Colangelo have a checkered history: After choosing Krzyzewski over Popovich in '05, Colangelo said he didn't believe Popovich had the same enthusiasm for the job. The comments prompted Popovich to write Colangelo a letter -- on which NBA officials were copied -- informing him that he was mistaken.
Whoever gets the top job, expect Colangelo to strongly consider adding a young assistant to groom. One possibility: Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. Colangelo told SI.com that he is a "fan" of Spoelstra's and a league source said Spoelstra is very interested in being part of the U.S. staff.