The USA Basketball Men's Senior National team is in its final day of preparation for the FIBA Tournament of the Americas. The toughest part of the pre-tournament training came yesterday when Kevin Durant and Nick Collison were asked to step down from the active list. The two players will still be among those in consideration for a spot on the 2008 Olympic team.
The 2007 squad is deeper and more experienced that the 2006 World Championship team. There are quite a number of changes.
Here are a few:
The 2007 roster had quick, but sleek and slender Chris Paul and Kurt Hinrich as the key ball handlers.
The 2008 team will have the strong, veteran leadership of Jason Kidd and Chauncey Billups.
The 2006 team relied upon Dwight Howard, Elton Brand, Chris Bosh, Antawn Jamison and Brad Miller. (Lamar Odom, the best interior defender, was not able to play due to the death of his child).
The 2007 squad has already lost Brand, Bosh and newly appointed senior team member Carlos Boozer to injury. They will now rely upon Howard, Amare Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler.
The 2006 team had Shane Battier.
The 2007 squad has Billups, Kidd, Mike Miller and Tayshaun Prince.
The 2006 squad struggled from outside, just as the 2004 Athens team did. Battier and Hinrich were the best outside shooters and Carmelo Anthony performed very well, except in the 2006 semifinal game against Greece.
The 2007 squad has Michael Redd, Miller, Prince and Kobe.
The "x" factor:
The 2006 squad had Dwyane Wade.
The 2007 squad has Kobe Bryant.
So, without a doubt the edge goes to the current 2007 team. Although I must note that Dwyane Wade's contribution to the current group would be astronomical. If he were not injured, Wade could play multiple roles and would likely anchor a second unit that would have a major impact on games in the late part of the first quarter when Coach K would substitute and bring in extra speed, scoring and full court pressure defenders.
I would also note, some pretty good players have been set aside for the time being. They include: Shawn Marion, Paul Pierce, Lamar Odom, and the injured Brand and Bosh.
On the 'comp' at Las Vegas, I point out that Venezuela, Panama, Brazil and Puerto Rico all failed to make the "round of 16" in Japan last summer. From the Americas region, only Argentina and the USA prevailed and both countries made the 'final 4' of the tournament, the USA finishing third and Argentina in fourth. (Spain and Greece finished with the gold and silver, respectively).
So, tournament predictions anyone?
The chalk of chalk is 1). USA 2). ARG 3). BRZ
The sleepers: Always tough Puerto Rico.