Saturday, July 7, 2012 | 2 a.m.
The debate may be USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo’s favorite part.
On Friday night in Las Vegas, after the first day of Team USA’s training camp at the Mendenhall Center, Colangelo planned to get together with his basketball inner circle, which includes coach Mike Krzyzewski and assistants Jim Boeheim, Nate McMillan and Mike D’Antoni, to compare and contrast their six candidates for the final three spots on the Olympic roster. Injuries pushed the announcement back, but the official 12-man roster is finally coming out Saturday during a press conference at 5 p.m. at Wynn Las Vegas.
Colangelo said no decisions would be made until after Saturday’s practice, which is closed to the media, but Friday night’s meeting would take care of most of the work. The group is picking three from the following group: Blake Griffin, James Harden, Andre Iguodala, Rudy Gay, Eric Gordon and Anthony Davis.
“It’s great to hear different opinions and to see how people can be influenced to some degree and how you can also be steadfast in what you believe in,” Colangelo said. “I love to hear coaches stand up for a player, just fight for him. I mean, it’s a big deal. There’s only going to be 12 players representing the USA in the Olympics … and we don’t know what the future holds regarding age limitations. For many of them, this might be their only bite at the apple, so there’s a lot at stake.”
The three players who don’t make the official roster will be in the Team USA pool and can be called up to the main squad up to 48 hours before the first game on July 29. Team USA plays its first exhibition game Thursday, July 12, against the Dominican Republic at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Injuries have been a major storyline with this team heading into camp and continued to dominate conversations on the first day. Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul, who is all but guaranteed a spot on the team, reinjured his left thumb and had to leave to get an X-ray. Colangelo didn’t think it was serious, but Paul wasn’t the only one who missed some time. Gordon, a New Orleans Hornets guard, finished practice on the bench after getting poked in the eye.
Brooklyn Nets guard Deron Williams, who recently agreed to a five-year, $100 million deal, isn’t doing contact drills until he signs his contract. Miami Heat forward LeBron James and Davis, the Hornets’ No. 1 overall pick, also sat out the scrimmages. James is just giving his body a little more time to rest after winning the NBA championship, while Davis is recovering from an ankle injury he suffered this week.
Davis is the one who may suffer most by missing time. Krzyzewski guessed that Davis was at “less than 75 percent” health and said he doesn’t know how Davis may fit with the team because he hasn’t played with the rest of the guys.
But how healthy will Davis be in three weeks, when Team USA plays its first preliminary round game at the London Olympics? The coaches and Colangelo must weigh that against what they know (or think they know) they will get from guys like Griffin or Iguodala.
“The guys who will fill out the roster all give things that we could use, and we just have to figure out what might be a little bit more important than another,” Krzyzewski said.
Colangelo likened it to a menu. Hungry for another shooter? That’s Gordon. Need a defensive specialist? Iguodala. Rebounds above the rim? Griffin. Athletic wing? Gay. Scoring guard? Harden. You’re already in Vegas, so feel like gambling? Davis.
“He has qualities that nobody else has in this building, because of his incredible length and shot-blocking ability,” Colangelo said of Davis. “The question with him is the physicality.”
For their part, most of the guys on the fringe were just trying to enjoy the experience and let the coaches worry about the decision.
Griffin said he gave himself a little time off after the season and has felt good while getting back into full-time workouts in the past few weeks. Gay may have been the most impressive player on the court and Harden is putting the NBA Finals loss behind him by making the most of his opportunity alongside Oklahoma City Thunder teammates Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, who will both be going to London.
“It’s a dream come true,” Harden said. “Hopefully I can make the team and enjoy that experience with them.”
Davis was the only one who seemed particularly frustrated, and it’s hard to blame him. While he didn’t expect to have this opportunity so early in his career, Colangelo’s point about this perhaps being a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity seemed to hit home with the former Kentucky Wildcat.
“I’m anxious to be on the court and be healthy again,” Davis said, “show the coaches my full abilities.”
They’re unlikely to see that before Saturday evening. And that’s OK. It probably made that Friday night debate all the more interesting.
Roll the dice with Davis or hedge your Olympics bet on a veteran?
“I’ve been known to (gamble), but maybe I’m one voice in the wilderness,” Colangelo said. “We’ll see (Friday night).”