We’ve seen this movie before: The USA sends a “B” team roster to the World Cup, which isn’t good enough to medal but is good enough to qualify for the Olympics. That is when the big guns come out, an “A” team roster is assembled and wins gold at the games.
We saw it four years ago, with a seventh-place finish at the World Cup followed by Kevin Durant leading the team gold at the Tokyo Olympics. This year, Team USA finished fourth at the World Cup, and already LeBron James is recruiting some of the game’s biggest names to join him in the Paris Olympics next summer.
What could next summer’s roster look like?
Of course, that is impossible to predict exactly. Injuries will influence things, but how deep teams play into the postseason could also matter — remember how Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday and Devin Booker had to board a charter flight together after the Finals to catch up with Team USA last Olympics? It will be like that again. There will be personal situations impacting other players.
Still, the USA should have an overwhelming roster for the Paris Olympics. Here is what the dream roster might look like:
PG: Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, De’Aaron Fox
SG: Devin Booker, Anthony Edwards
SF: Kevin Durant, Jayson Tatum, Jimmy Butler
PF: LeBron James, Draymond Green
C: Joel Embiid, Anthony Davis
Not all of that roster is headed to Paris, but it could get close. Let’s take a look by position.
Joel Embiid is the biggest prize and is being recruited by Grant Hill and USA Basketball, but the French team is also wooing him (imagine the front line of him, Victor Wembanyama and Rudy Gobert), or he could also play for Cameroon (which would have to win a qualifying tournament next summer to punch a ticket to Paris). Embiid’s combination of rim protection, mobility, post-up skills and ability to hit the three would make him a dominant international player, just like he is in the NBA. However, league sources NBC Sports spoke with speculated if he would play for anyone in Paris next summer. Whether he even goes will depend on how the 76ers season turns out and his health, and only then does the “what team?” question come up.
If Embiid doesn’t play, LeBron is recruiting Anthony Davis, but with his injury history, his participation feels like a coin toss. Bam Adebayo would be the next best fit at the five and he has been on Team USA before, he is the kind of versatile threat that fits the international game. After watching Team USA at the World Cup, the USA really needs at least one of Embiid, Davis or Adebayo on the roster, and ideally two of them.
One name to keep an eye on is Kevon Looney, who would provide the USA with size, rebounding, physicality, plus he knows Kerr’s system and would fit well with Curry and Green. If not him, Brook Lopez and Mitchell Robinson could be fits.
Shooting guard/Small forward (Wing)
The USA could really use Devin Booker here, and he has already said in a Tweet that he is interested in going.
Jayson Tatum is the perfect two-way international player and has played for Team USA before. Jaylen Brown would be a good fit next to him (or filling his shoes if Tatum decides not to go). Donovan Mitchell would be a great fit as well. Anthony Edwards balked at being the sixth man at the World Cup, but with this lineup he might accept and thrive in that role, as Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony have in the past.
A couple of other names to watch: Jimmy Butler has won gold before and would bring an intensity Team USA could use. Mikal Bridges played well enough at the World Cup to deserve a chance to go to Paris and would be a better fit on a team where he is not asked to do as much shot creation but instead work off the ball. If healthy, Kawhi Leonard or Paul George would be strong fits on the wing, but those seem longer odds. James Harden could work as well if he buys into the system. After his World Cup play, Austin Reaves gets a look (but he was targeted at points on defense by Germany and Lithuania, which may make Kerr/Hill hesitant).
If there is a spot Team USA is set, it’s on the wing.
LeBron wants to go, and if he does he is the starting four by default. Draymond Green wants to go and his savvy play and ability to guard up (and still do it well) is welcomed. Beyond that duo, Aaron Gordon makes a lot of sense as a versatile two-way big man who knows how to move the ball and be physical.
If he stays healthy all season, what about Zion Williamson? He would be a terror in international ball, but it’s hard to see him playing 65+ games in an NBA season and then adding to his workload with Team USA. Still… it’s tempting.
Curry has never played in an Olympics and will be there — he was in before LeBron called. Lillard has Team USA experience and is such a versatile scorer and clutch player he makes the roster if he wants to go. LeBron is calling Kyrie Irving and if he wants to go he is just too big a talent to keep off the roster.
After that, Tyrese Haliburton’s play at the World Cup earned him strong consideration. De’Aaron Fox and his speed with the ball and play in transition make him a logical choice. Trae Young must be considered, but his defense could keep him home.
Ja Morant absolutely is good enough and would thrive on the court, but do Grant Hill and Steve Kerr want to deal with the PR situation even well removed from Morant’s suspension? A lot of guys have to say no before Morant gets the call, just for that reason
After looking at all that, a more realistic Team USA roster for the Paris Olympics could look like:
PG: Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, De’Aaron Fox
SG: Devin Booker, Donovan Mitchell
SF: Kevin Durant, Jayson Tatum, Anthony Edwards
PF: LeBron James, Draymond Green
C: Bam Adebayo, Kevon Looney
Is that enough to win gold? Remember, Lithuania beat the USA at the World Cup and will add Domantas Sabonis to the lineup. Serbia got the silver and will add Nikola Jokic to the mix. Germany isn’t going anywhere.
There is no easy path to gold, but with a lineup like this the USA would be the favorites to win their sixth straight — and deservedly so.