International victory in men’s basketball was a foregone conclusion when it came to Team USA. But after Team USA failed to even medal in the 2019 World Cup, we wonder if it’s time to change things up. Their journey was unlike any we’ve seen since NBA players began playing internationally. But could Team USA’s failure be a sign of bigger problems for future tournaments, like the 2020 Olympics?
What happened to Team USA?
Team USA’s different look was a given for a variety of reasons. Entering the initial training camps, it was the first year without a star player like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, or even Carmelo Anthony. Current superstars such as James Harden, Anthony Davis, and Damian Lillard declined before ever showing up.
Still, a slate of promising young talent seemed ready to take on international competition. Sacramento Kings De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley III trained as part of the Team USA select team. They appeared poised to make the final roster, but both withdrew; Bagley before the competition and Fox after the first exhibition.
Combine this with the fact that many of the NBA’s young up-and-comers are not from America, and the struggle to find talent makes sense. Giannis Antetokounmpo, the NBA’s reigning MVP, hails from Greece. Serbia, who Team USA lost to in a consolation match, has young phenom Nikola Jokic and other players like Bogdan Bogdanovic and Boban Marjanovic.
Whether the struggles were due to lack of commitment from America’s own players or a growing sense that the world is catching up, the NBA should be able to put together a team that is, at least, competitive. And they failed to do even that. Their core of Donovan Mitchell, Kyle Lowry, Jayson Tatum, and others just couldn’t hold off the competition.
Team USA’s worst finish ever
Typically, a U.S. loss in international competition means they were in contention to win it all. The closest comparison to the 2019 team was the 2002 team, which ranked sixth in the World Cup. Headlined by Paul Pierce, Baron Davis, and an aging Reggie Miller, this team could at least hang their hats on losing to the eventual champions, Yugoslavia, who were led by NBA All-Stars Vlade Divac and Peja Stojakovic.
Two years later, Team USA disappointed again, this time on the Olympic stage. The team had talent, with a young core of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Carmelo Anthony to go with veterans like Tim Duncan and Allen Iverson. The team finished with the Bronze Medal, however, and Team USA spent several years trying to ensure this did not happen again.
It seems like the team needs to look at a similar reboot 15 years later. The seventh-place finish was the worst in Team USA history. The losses they accumulated were among the first the team has received in over a decade.
Fixing Team USA for the 2020 Olympics?
Looking forward, team president Jerry Colangelo and head coach Gregg Popovich will have to think about how they can stop this from happening again. While they have the commitment from the players, this team never clicked. Shoe deals, injury concerns, or general apathy toward international play make things more complicated. The days of the Dream Team are over, and former mainstays like James and Wade are either retired or approaching their final years.
Perhaps, the team could get long-term commitments from guys in the years approaching the competition, or maybe it’s time to start incorporating college players or more athletes from the rookie class. Last time Team USA disappointed, it began 13 years of domination. Could this spur another run like that?
The team’s disappointing finish was enough to get them a berth into the 2020 Olympics next year, but without some retooling, this could be another recipe for disaster.