Team USA didn’t send the best the country had to offer to the FIBA World Cup and the results it received weren’t the best. Now that they have suffered their a loss for the first time in 58 Internationa games, how will the Americans respond? Chris Mannix paired up with Sarah Kustok to discuss this landmark loss and what we should expect next.
(Listen to the latest Crossover podcast here. The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Chris Mannix: The USA basketball team lost early on Wednesday to France in the quarterfinals. Not a huge shock. It is the first time in 58 international games that USA Basketball has lost. They will not be able to compete for a gold medal at the FIBA World Championships. We kind of saw this may be coming. These are very good players: Donovan Mitchell is an elite guy, Kemba Walker is coming off an All-NBA season. But if you want to grade the type of team it is, it’s probably the USA Basketball’s C-plus team. And when you’re going up against these international teams, they don’t necessarily have the same level of talent but they’re playing together for a long time. So, I guess, your reaction to the US bowing out in the world championships?
Sarak Kustok: I think a few of my initial thoughts on all of this: one, as you started to bring up, I think sometimes people can overlook continuity and how important that is with these teams and so many of these international teams have played together for so many years. They have talent. Yes. But they also have such a great familiarity with one another and this Team USA group has just been together for the course of the last few months, few weeks and so that takes some time.
With that being said, I think it was really a huge positive that now they’ve earned themself a spot in the Olympics. So I think that’s something that can be taken off the plate of concerns or pressures or stresses. So I think that was a great thing, and I think even the game with France, you could look back on it and pick it apart, and there was some runs and they had the lead and you go back and forth with a lot of things more than anything.
When you think about a team representing a country you want to think about the character, the way they play. These guys played hard and they cared. They were gritty. Were they perfect at all times? No. They could have made some more shots at different moments, but you saw them grow together, you saw how much they cared. I think that there should be a lot of pride in this group. Would it have been nice if they continued to advance? Of course. But I think with all that being said, in the way in which we saw them develop and grow together I think you should feel good about the the performance and the effort that group put out.
CM: Yeah, I mean look, it was a good effort and they did lose guys along the way. Kyle Kuzma having to bow out before everything started, Jayson Tatum getting hurt early in the tournament takes another score out of the mix. It was a flawed team, though. They elected to go small with this group. I mean, they had some centers. Myles Turner’s a big man, Brook Lopez was there, Mason Plumlee was there. But they were a smaller team and that hurt them against France, they’ve got Rudy Gobert. He played terrific in this game, they also didn’t bring a lot of shooters and that’s perennially a problem for USA Basketball. Joe Harris, as you know well, can make shots but not a lot of guys that are what you would consider reliable three-point shooters. And when you have the de facto star of your team like Kemba Walker really struggle against that man-to-man defense that France played in this game, the margin for error is just really small.
Now you lose. Big deal. It ends a streak, it’s sort of kind of a run that USA went on beginning back at the ’08 Olympics. But you wonder what this means for 2020 and will this inspire players the star players to come back and regain their status as the No. 1 team in the world or is there going to be apathy? For now you can certainly make the argument that the FIBA World Championships are terrible timing. You’ve got to you basically end the world championships and like a week or two later you go into training camp. That wasn’t appealing, and then if you want to do both the World Championships and the Olympics you go from World Championships right to your season. If the season goes longer it is like a year-plus of full-time basketball. But I’m curious whether guys like LeBron will be inspired to play or will there be more apathy towards them?
SK: I think guys at this moment in time are prioritizing the NBA and their NBA season. So, I think maybe some decisions, for example with someone like LeBron, may depend on how the NBA season plays out the postseason. For him, if that comes into effect, how that impacts his decision. But just in general some of those other top-tier players were asked prior to the guys in this group. I think so much has to do with the timing and we’ll find out. We’ll see when it comes down to who decides to play next summer. But I think so much of it had to do with timing, location, just how this would have played into them preparing for the upcoming season.
And you and I, we know this and we’ve talked about this ad nauseum throughout the course of so many discussions that the NBA season is a grind. And when you’re getting ready for training camp, you want to be as mentally and physically prepared as possible. And so a credit to those players who, as I said, went out there and played for Team USA and put forth a great effort and were so dedicated. But also I could see the flip side of some of those who decided that it wasn’t in their best interests, in the best interests for the NBA, their NBA team to play. So, with all of that being said, there will be more motivation when it comes down to who plays next summer. I think there is a different level of push when it’s coming after your top priority after the NBA season, after what happens with your playoff run as opposed to prior to it.
CM: I think you’ll see everybody play next summer. I really do regardless of how a player season ends, when it ends for a few reasons. The schedule is so much more favorable. The Olympic schedule is effectively August. It gives you most of September off before you head into your training camp. So there is a longer rest period, which I think is going to matter to a lot of players. The second part is, for whatever reason, NBA players don’t think of the World Championships like they matter. It’s not. There are two different mindsets about winning a gold medal at the FIBA World Championships and winning a gold medal at the Olympics. It’s just as simple as that. And third, I think there will be a lot of guys inspired by the fact that this team bowed out early. It gives a little bit extra juice to try to go out and make that team, and Jerry Colangelo reminded me that, as recently as a year ago, players were showing up for the minicamp saying they were going to play in 2019. Circumstance came in the way, injury at the end of season. I think there are going to be a lot of players that sign on to play. I think the US team will come back with a vengeance in 2020.