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Coming into the Rio Olympic tournament, Team USA – packed from top to bottom with NBA stars – was a huge favorite to win the gold. Two weeks later, golden medals hung from the necks of some of the League’s finest basketball players. They ended up cruising to another Olympic gold victory with eight wins, but the future is all but certain for this particular national team.
The biggest change that will affect the future iterations of Team USA is the fact that coach Mike Krzyzewski is no longer going to be with the team. In case you forgot, it was Coach K that once again established Team USA as the invincible force that they are after a few years of being vulnerable in international competitions in the mid-2000s.
He came on for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics which he won and followed with two more Olympic golds. In the meantime, he also won gold medals at two FIBA World Cups, in 2010 and 2014. He had also served as assistant coach on numerous Team USA incarnations in the past as well, most notably the original Dream Team from the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona.
Starting with the next major competition, Krzyzewski will no longer be the man behind the helm, patrolling the sidelines and guiding Team USA to more victories.
While losing Coach K will definitely be a big downer, it is not like Team USA will be left in incapable hands. The next coach is going to be Gregg Popovich, one of the best coaches in the history of the game and an all-around character who will make Team USA even more interesting to watch.
Besides being a fantastic coach who understands international basketball, Popovich might also inspire some former members of Team USA to come back and play for the national team in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. For example, one of the two most notable absentees from the Rio team, LeBron James,already said that he would love suiting up for Pop in Japan.
The future of Team USA will also need to involve addressing some issues that have reared their heads in a few games during the tournament. For example, playing only offensive-minded players is no longer a recipe for victory. It might have been ten or twenty years ago when NBA stars were able to outscore anyone. Today, when national teams know how to play defense on Team USA, this insistence on offense is simply not enough.
This was most visible during periods when Kyrie Irving, Carmelo Anthony, and DeMarcus Cousins shared the floor. While we love these three players on the offense, their defensive abilities are not exactly stellar. During those stints of time when this trio shared the floor, Team USA struggled to contain their opponents. As soon as Paul George would come in for Carmelo or when Kyle Lowry would come in for Kyrie, things would turn around, and quickly so.
It is also becoming clearer and clearer that Team USA has to feature as many top-tier players as possible. We do not wish to sound like there was something wrong with the Rio Team USA, but the fact is that some of the league’s absolute players did not play, such as LeBron, Steph Curry, andRussell Westbrook; just to name a few.
In the future, if Team USA does not feature all of the top players from around the NBA, it will need total effort from the players who do play for the team. On a few occasions during the Olympic tournament, the American team took the foot off the pedal and it almost resulted in losses. And even when they were fully engaged, the aging Spanish team still kept the game interesting to the very end.
As European and South American teams get better in the years to come, and they will, Team USA either needs to bring all the top guns or have everyone locked in 100 percent of the time.
If we are being totally honest, we welcome a prospect of more competitive major tournaments, but we also think that Team USA has something of an obligation to be the best.