As the United States men’s basketball team celebrates its third-straight and 15th overall gold medal, it also ushers out what will be considered one of it’s best eras under head coach Mike Krzyzewski and sparks the rise of Gregg Popovich as the squad’s newest leader.
Popovich, a five-time NBA champion with his San Antonio Spurs, is universally respected around the league and globe both for his genius-level basketball acumen and his no nonsense style and the program should march towards the next Olympics, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan, with the same fervor it did in Rio this year.
But what kind of roster, or rather, who will join Popovich in four years and can the U.S. play even better than a perfect record in the most recent Games and a 76-game winning streak under Krzyzewski?
Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James, who sat out a trip to Brazil to rest after leading his NBA squad to its first championship, already told USA Today that he’s long admired Popovich and wants to play for him.
“First off all Coach K and Gregg Popovich are two my favorites of all time," James said. "To be able to play for Coach K in the Olympics and world championships and to be able to go against Coach Pop in the NBA, it would be a treat. Obviously my body has to continue to be in the form that it is today four years from now."
Other players could follow James’ lead, and it’s very possible more will make themselves available for Team USA. Many superstars like the Golden State Warriors Stephen Curry, the Houston Rockets James Harden, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Russell Westbrook, and the Los Angeles Clippers Blake Griffin opted not to play in Rio either due to injury or fatigue, and many believed fears over the Zika virus was another reason.
This year’s team, though it won the gold medal by averaging 100.9 points, 47.1 percent shooting, 24.0 assists, and fewer than 12 turnovers a contest, did at times look underwhelming and didn’t live up to the potential many would place on a hand-picked, NBA All-Star-laden squad.
But with Popovich’s experience and the respect he maintains around the NBA, it’s possible 2020’s squad could improve and be even more dominate. And, for what’s its worth, the president of USA Basketball, Jerry Colangelo, says the team can’t experience a lot of turnover four years from now.
"We can't go back again with 10 new players," Colangelo said Sunday. "That's not going to happen."
Here’s a quick list and breakdown of who might be available and could return from 2016’s team or come back after sitting out Rio. More than 12 players are listed, so some won’t be on 2020’s roster.
Projected Players For 2020 Tokyo Summer Games
Should Curry be healthy, he’ll be 32 in 2020 and it’s difficult to predict if he will be as dynamic a playmaker, but the U.S. will need another shooter following Carmelo Anthony’s retirement. Also the team barely shot 37 percent from three. Lillard’s been passed over for All-Star berths and the Olympic squad before, but if he extends his scoring dominance over the next few years he could be a lock to help with dribble penetration at the international level. Butler played well in Rio and his perimeter defense is a must-have on the international level. Thompson’s shot wasn’t falling for much of the Games, but like Curry he brings an almost perfect stroke the team will need. Irving should be a lock, if he wants to play, after leading Rio’s team with 39 assists and averaging 11.4 points.
James’ spot is there if he wants it, even if he’s not the same player four years from now. Durant reinvigorated his place among the NBA’s most elite players with a dominate showing in Rio, and with Carmelo Anthony retiring he’d be the leader and could equal the New York Knick’s new record of three gold medals.
Leonard may be another sure-fire pick with his Spurs coach Popovich at the helm, and with some Olympic experience under his belt Green could bring his point-forward skills to Tokyo.
Cousins was a monster and outright impossible to guard in Rio, and Jordan was the hero of the semifinals victory over Spain as well. Davis, who does at times play with reckless abandon and hasn’t played a full NBA season since joining four years ago, could size up the second gold of his career by returning. The New Orleans Pelicans star was part of 2012’s gold medal team before ever stepping foot on an NBA floor.