Who should represent USA Basketball at the Paris Olympics? Here’s a suggestion

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Almost immediately following USA Basketball’s fourth-place finish at the 2023 FIBA World Cup, NBA superstar LeBron James made it known he wants to participate in one final Olympics next summer in Paris.

James, who won gold medals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, has already recruited Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Jayson Tatum, Anthony Davis and Draymond Green to join him, The Athletic’s Shams Charania and Joe Vardon reported. Devin Booker, De’Aaron Fox and Kyrie Irving are also reportedly interested in playing.

The question becomes: Is this who we want representing us in 2024?

The decision lies with NBA legend Grant Hill, USA Basketball’s managing director, but that will not stop us from advising him on which 12 players to entrust capturing a fifth straight Olympic gold medal. Here goes …

Starters

PG: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

Curry is arguably the greatest point guard in NBA history, inarguably the greatest shooter the game has ever seen, and somehow the 35-year-old has never represented his country in the Olympics. Curry commands constant attention inside of 35 feet, and everyone on the roster will benefit from the spacing he generates.

SG: Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns

Booker is a lethal scorer from all three levels who, like Curry, can dominate games whether he is the primary ball-handler or not. Pairing them is unfair. Neither can be left open, even for a beat, and good luck matching them offensively if you are any other backcourt but Canada’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jamal Murray.

SF: Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

The lone American on this past season’s All-NBA first team, Tatum can score every bit as effectively as Curry and Booker. He is also an elite defender and rebounder. Tatum is listed at 6-foot-8, but standing next to Celtics center Robert Williams III, Tatum is taller. His length and athleticism is a nightmare on the wing.

PF: Kevin Durant, Phoenix Suns

Speaking of which, Durant is a 7-foot sniper. You can make the case that he is the greatest scoring weapon the sport has ever produced. The lone person I have ever seen block Durant’s jump shot is Tatum, if only because Durant cannot defend himself. His length is its own inherent defensive advantage, even at age 34.

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C: Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat

With so much offensive firepower in the starting lineup, you need someone who will focus solely on defense. Adebayo is a skilled passer who willingly cedes the scoring load to more capable threats. He has the size to battle beefier international bigs in the paint and can switch across any position on the perimeter.

Reserves

G: Tyrese Haliburton, Indiana Pacers

The U.S. can field any number of dynamic point guards as Curry’s backup, including Damian Lillard, but Haliburton’s size allows coach Steve Kerr to wield massive lineups. Haliburton has no issue serving as a visionary table-setter for spectacular scorers. He is also bordering on becoming a 50/40/90 shooter himself.

G: Jrue Holiday, Milwaukee Bucks

Give me a lockdown defender against the point of attack. You need one stop, Holiday can get it opposite anyone in the world, as he proved winning the NBA title and Olympic gold in a matter of weeks in 2021. He can also score efficiently from the bucket to the 3-point line, facilitate or do whatever anyone asks of him.

F: LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

James will be a few months shy of his 40th birthday when the Olympics tip next summer, and it is no guarantee he will be one of the 12 best American players alive any longer, as hard as it is to imagine. Still, you want him there. He is the active face of the sport and still the smartest competitor on any court.

F: Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat

Imagine thinking you can catch a break when Tatum goes to the bench and seeing Butler foaming at the mouth from the scorer’s table. He is relentlessness personified on both ends of the court and stamped as one of the great clutch performers of his generation. Butler will not let Team USA take its foot off the gas.

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F: Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers

We are assuming healthiness across the roster, and when healthy, Leonard is as destructive a two-way force as there is. He might not even have to play in these games. As a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency option, though, unleashing Leonard on the world for a handful of minutes in any game is one heck of an alternative.

F: Paul George, Los Angeles Clippers

If you want an established star-level talent who would embrace the role of a 3-and-D wing, George is your man. Mikal Bridges is a rock-solid option, but consider for a moment George needing only to concentrate on his All-Defensive skill when he is not spotted up in the corners, where he shot almost 50% last season.

F: Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans

Again, it is probably a pipe dream to expect Williamson to perform in the summer after a full season, given his injury history, but unbridled ambition belongs at the Olympics. Williamson’s force and athleticism would be a spectacle on the global stage, for there is no other basketball player built like him — here or anywhere.

C: Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers

Need better center reserves than World Cup participant Walker Kessler? Why not add a player who can transition from defending the perimeter to protecting the rim as well as anyone but Giannis Antetokounmpo. Davis has the ability to be the game’s most disruptive defensive presence. His offense is an afterthought.

LeBron James and Stephen Curry are advancing in age, but they are still both capable of forcing the basketball world on its heels. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

LeBron James and Stephen Curry are advancing in age, but they are still both capable of forcing the basketball world on its heels. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Does this team have enough shooting? Well, the starting lineup boasts Curry, Booker, Tatum and Durant. A handful more players have hit 40% of their 3-pointers at least once in a season. I think they will be just fine.

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How about defense? Holiday, Butler, Tatum, Leonard and Adebayo as a five-man unit might result in some country quitting on the spot. Besides, how much defense does a team with this much scoring really need?

The U.S. should be concerned that Nikola Jokić is poised to join a Serbian national team that finished second at the World Cup, but Adebayo and Davis are both better options than most countries can throw at him. When Bogdan Bogdanović is Serbia’s second option, and the U.S. has a wealth of superior players up and down its lineup, how worried should we be, really, about Jokić’s advantage at the center position?

This is what I do not get about Hill’s obsession with recruiting reigning MVP Joel Embiid to play center for Team USA. Embiid is the face of basketball in Cameroon. It is beneath a team so loaded to pine for foreign-born players who only further the talent gap. Let every other country compete for Embiid’s services, and Team USA should still have an overwhelming edge, even against the teams that regularly practice together.

Does the roster listed above really need more than a week together to win another gold? The U.S. can patch together a team of alternates exponentially better than the outfit that lost three times at the World Cup …

Alternates

G: Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

G: Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers

G: Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies

G: Marcus Smart, Memphis Grizzlies

F: Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics

F: Mikal Bridges, Brooklyn Nets

F: Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves

F: DeMar DeRozan, Chicago Bulls

F: Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans

C: Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis Grizzlies

C: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors

C: Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers

Come on, now. This should not be fair. The world may be catching up, but a fourth-place finish at the World Cup with USA Basketball’s C or D team is not indicative of the status of the sport in its birthplace. Hill just needs to send his best and remind the global stage that Olympic gold still runs through the United States.

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