To rule the Olympics, Team USA needs to call in The Avengers – The Athletic

The names are what draws attention, as such a collection of names should. LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant — that’s enough star power to make a nation take notice. A basketball globe, even.

Certainly, that’s enough firepower to put Dennis Schröder in his place.

To be clear, and unequivocal, whenever the NBA sends its best American players to compete against the rest of the world, the ones headed to the Hall of Fame or regulars on the All-NBA list, they’ll be just fine. The day is coming when that won’t be the case. But as good as the rest of the world has gotten, that day isn’t here yet. America’s best is still preeminent, which is why America has won the last four Olympic gold medals.

But it’s clear USA needs its best, or least a few of its best, to survive the gauntlet that has become international basketball. Typically, the U.S. men’s basketball team doesn’t send its best to the FIBA World Cup, which NBA stars treat more like the regular season with the Summer Olympics being the playoffs. Even before this latest black eye on American hoops, the elites of the modern era were looking to Paris as their platform. Stephen Curry, who because of injuries has yet to play in the Summer Games. LeBron, who has been off the world stage for more than a decade. And Durant, who loves the Olympic stage.

And it’s Paris. What better locale for one last mission together?

But something about losing on the international stage always galvanizes the best players. The ensuing shame walk the players take always provokes an Avengers-style collaboration. We saw it with The Dream Team. We saw it with The Redeem Team. And now, after USA finished fourth in the 2023 FIBA World Cup, NBA stars are uniting like Autobots who got the signal.

Jayson Tatum. Devin Booker. Damian Lillard. Kyrie Irving. De’Aaron Fox. This would be a legit All-NBA contingency.

But the real specialty of The Supreme Team being formed behind the scenes, what makes this potential collection unique from the other superstar revenge tours, is the chemistry already in place among them. This could be as much of a ready-made cohesive team as the U.S. has ever put together in the NBA era.

This is important because what America needs more than ever is a team. Not just for 2024, but as an ethos moving forward.

The days of slapping together a roster and being the best in the world are gone. Team USA needs a team — and a ton of talent — to win gold in Paris. (Ezra Shaw / Getty Images)

The massive disadvantage America is always charged with overcoming is the familiarity other nations have after years of playing together. The steady growth of international play over these last three decades means Team USA can’t just overwhelm Team Kumbaya with athleticism anymore. That’s been true for a while now. Beating these other countries that boast NBA talent and experience together requires a steadily increasing talent quotient.

It’s not enough to just have more talent. The U.S. needs a sensibly constructed roster ready. The U.S. needs a bent, a style of play and prototype roles. The U.S. needs enough engrained camaraderie to know how to push one another’s buttons, how to play off each other and maximize their individual strengths, and the connectedness to navigate rough patches and opponents playing out of their minds.

The team America might be taking to Paris isn’t the usual sudden meshing of unfamiliar names. This roster has some kumbaya of its own to go with its ridiculous levels of talent.

LeBron, Curry, Durant, Anthony Davis, Draymond Green and Irving have shared thousands of minutes on courts together. Against each other. With each other.

Durant, Tatum, Green and Lillard all won gold together in Tokyo.

Booker and Durant will have a season playing together.

But even more important is how they play. Just looking at the six who reportedly are committed — James, Curry, Durant, Davis, Tatum and Green — they have shooting, size, defensive acumen, a floor general and players who can thrive off the ball.

Obviously, they can create shots. But the greater value in international play is the ability to counter zones, adjust to physicality and manufacture offense on cold nights.

Add in Booker, Fox and either Lillard or Irving, and the second unit has all three levels of scoring covered with a variety of size, speed and craftiness. It should be noted all of them are accustomed to doing their thing against traps, fouls and even officials — necessary in the international game.

Of the four guards considering joining the 2024 contingent — Booker, Fox, Lillard and Irving — only three make sense. One of those spots should go to a big man or at least a stout defender. USA will need size. Booker and Fox feel like they should be locks as players who are young enough to carry the torch moving forward. So either Lillard or Irving.



Why Team USA not winning the FIBA World Cup was not a total loss

America has a few options for the backup big man. It might be prudent to get a true big body. Brook Lopez comes to mind, as does Andre Drummond. If they go undersized big, it should be someone with a proven track record for being able to bang, rebound against bigger players and do the dirty work. Such as Bam Adebayo, who won a gold medal being that guy in 2021. Or three-time NBA champion Kevon Looney, who’s become one of the best dirty-work centers in the NBA. Or Robert Williams, whose paint presence could come in more than handy.

It might be worth the investment to give that spot to Jaren Jackson Jr. He was the starting big for the fourth-place squad. But he could use experience, and certainly, life would be different for him on a team like this. Here’s an intriguing name for now and the future: Evan Mobley. He’s a highly skilled 7-footer who is a good defender and rebounder, though he could use some bulk.

Anthony Edwards deserves a spot on this team. Mikal Bridges made a great case as well. They could benefit from playing with and learning from international professionals like Durant, LeBron and Green, on the short list of players with multiple NBA titles and multiple gold medals.

But I’d be willing to put Bridges on ice to see if Kawhi Leonard or Jimmy Butler are interested. Bridges wasn’t quite the defensive stopper America needed. The U.S. could use an upgrade.

The distinct way these stars play is what American basketball needs on display. Their example of versatility, their unique cohesion and their vast experience are answers to the rest of the world’s strength over America. The flaws of the World Cup team, aside from its size, was the inability of the players to find other ways to be effective when their main way didn’t work. And the struggles of the team’s defense point directly to the waning cohesiveness. Certainly, they got along fine. But defense requires more than that. And they didn’t have the luxury of time to develop chemistry on that end.

The homeland is down on the pros after the U.S. lost three of its last four games. The reputation of hoop in the States must be avenged after losses to Lithuania, Germany and Canada.

Queue the explosions in the background. Queue the dramatic music. Queue the closeup shops of serious stares and shiny uniforms. Que the Zack Snyder-style of super-fast- to super-slow-motion cinematography. Queue the confident strut of basketball’s American heroes.

USA basketball needs a team. This one sounds supreme.

(Photo of LeBron James and Stephen Curry: Noah Graham / NBAE via Getty Images)

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