NEW YORK – Kyrie Irving took one last shot on the flight home from the NBA Finals, hoping LeBron James would play in the Olympics.
James isn’t going to Rio, and neither are many more of basketball’s best players.
The Americans think they’ll be just fine with who they have.
“We should be heavily favored,” Golden State’s Klay Thompson said. “I mean, 12 NBA stars, very unselfish guys, very versatile team, we definitely should be favored. It’s a disappointment if we don’t win gold.”
The U.S. selected the roster Monday, led by Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony, it hopes can do that for the third straight time.
Durant and Anthony are the only players with Olympic experience after a number of stars, including James, decided to skip Rio.
Also chosen were: Golden State’s Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes; Toronto’s Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan; Indiana’s Paul George; Chicago’s Jimmy Butler; Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins and the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan.
Irving was the MVP of the 2014 Basketball World Cup on a U.S. team that included Thompson, Cousins and DeRozan and easily won gold.
The Americans should roll into Rio as the favorites. Yet they won’t look as imposing as expected after the withdrawals of NBA MVP Stephen Curry and All-Stars such as Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul and James Harden.
“As far as the talent goes and the level of play, I’m pretty sure that that’s still going to be the same,” Anthony said. “We don’t have as many of the big-name guys that we’ve had before, but I think so far this is a great group of guys and they’re hungry. They want to play.”
USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said having a national team pool, which he began in 2005, always has the Americans ready for player losses. There were 31 players in this year’s pool and he had to go deep into it – and eventually even beyond it – to find 12 as the usual factors that can knock players out were joined by the Zika virus and other concerns in Brazil.
Anthony said he talked to doctors and people who have been to Brazil about the risks of the mosquito-borne virus.
“Prior to this year, in the past we dealt with things like free agency, injuries, personal issues that might prevent someone from moving forward. This year it was exacerbated by circumstances beyond anyone’s control, and that was the reality, the speculation and the circumstance in Rio,” Colangelo said. “So somewhat more challenging, but at the end of the day, and this is important: This is not about who isn’t here, this is about who is here.”
Anthony becomes the first U.S. men’s basketball player to appear in four Olympics. Durant set a U.S. record by averaging 19.5 points in London and also was the MVP when the U.S. won the 2010 world championship.
“Shoot, when you’re playing with the best players in the world, it makes it easy,” Durant said. “I’m just going out there and playing my game. They take all the pressure off of me.”
Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski will coach the Americans for the third and final time, tying Henry Iba’s team record. He will lead a team with strong NBA credentials – nine were All-Stars this season – but a little short on international experience after the withdrawals.
James would have joined Anthony with a fourth selection. He pulled out last week after leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA championship.
Irving said winning a gold medal would be even sweeter, and he attempted to convince James to chase it with him.
“Hey, I tried,” Irving said. “I tried to get him to come and after we won the championship told him – I was kind of nudging him on the plane, I was like, ‘So are going to play USA?’ He just didn’t know at the time and I gave him a lot of space because, I mean, he’s been playing basketball every single year for a long length of time.”
The heaviest losses came at the point guard spot, where Curry passed on making his Olympic debut after knee and ankle injuries in the playoffs. Former Olympians Paul and Westbrook also pulled out and what was a position of strength became so depleted that Lowry was added last week even though he wasn’t even a member of the pool.
But Colangelo focused on the strength of the team that was selected, adding he and Krzyzewski are excited about the challenge of working with new faces.
“Their credentials speak for themselves and now it’s just a matter of coach having some time with the group, because there’s so many new people, just getting everyone to blend in,” Colangelo said.
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