Stars like LeBron James, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook all decided to pass on playing in this year’s FIBA World Cup. While Carmelo Anthony was completely turned away. Will the team centered around Kemba Walker, Khris Middleton, and Jayson Tatum have enough talent to win gold in China?
On the latest Crossover podcast, SI’s Chris Mannix is joined by New York Times columnist Marc Stein to discuss the talent drop off in USA Basketball, why so many stars skipped the FIBA World Cup and more
(Listen to the latest Crossover podcast here. The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Chris Mannix: It’s an interesting time for USA Basketball. It feels oddly familiar, say like late ‘90s, early ‘00s when the teams were considered powerful but the top tier guys decided they didn’t want to play and that’s what we have today. Guys have dropped out for different reasons and there is obviously still talented guys over there, a few all-stars at least like Kemba Walker but LeBron and the top tier guys just decided not to play this year. What do you make of what USA Basketball is looking like this year?
Marc Stein: This is a jolt to their system. This is the weakest team in the Jerry Colangelo era and it’s not even close. To me, people are premature when they start talking like it’s a crisis. It doesn’t become a crisis until the top guys say they don’t want to play in the Olympics. In reality we have seen 10 top guys pull out who was never going to come here in the first place.
I think Canada had 17 NBA names on their preliminary roster and now they are down to five. In our part of the world in North America, the FIBA World Cup does not resonate. It is not important to NBA players and it’s not important to NBA fans and to sell guys on a six week commitment and give up six weeks of your summer when it almost goes to the edge of training camp, guys don’t want to make that sacrifice.
Now if we see that the top guys don’t want to play in the Olympics now USA Basketball has a serious problem. We are not there yet. I think next summer for Tokyo, all the big names and even LeBron would want to play. But this team is way weaker then they thought. Kemba Walker is the only All-NBA guy here and if Lowry doesn’t play, they will only have two all-stars, Khris Middleton and Kemba and that’s it. I was with the team in Spain in 2014 and I remember people was talking about that like it was a C team not even a B team. That team had Anthony Davis, James Harden, Kyrie Irving and a young Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson before they were Steph and Klay but still Steph was an All-Star. That team was miles ahead above this group.
Mannix: How much do you think it has to do with the cycle itself? Because there were a lot of guys that wanted to be a part of the Redeem Team and rebuild what had crumbled in the early 2000 USA Basketball. I don’t know if there are a lot of guys who are psyched about maintaining what they have there.
Stein: I think there is something to that but I think if we was still doing this before the 2020 games, we would be talking about a stacked team they have. Guys still want to go to the Olympics and next summer would be a star-studded group. I think guys are thinking about this year and saying even if I play in this, am I even going to make the Olympic team? I think deep down they know the answer is no.
Kemba Walker as the face of this team if he plays well, I think that has to factor in the Olympics. Next summer when they are picking the Olympic team, they are going to have to step back and say Kemba Walker really gave us a lot here, we need him. But there is only going to be one or two guys like that. I think C.J. McCollum just said it this week, if playing in the FIBA World Cup would guarantee his spot in the Olympics, he would have played but he knew it wasn’t going to be a guarantee because they have too many good guys that is going to want to come back next summer. I think that is the biggest issue.