LAS VEGAS - From the string of U.S. romps to the sound of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the FIBA Americas championship was a reminder of the way international basketball tournaments used to look.
There never was much doubt about the outcome. The real questions involve next summer.
For starters, who is the favorite in Beijing?
“Obviously us,” U.S. star Carmelo Anthony said. “I guess us right now.”
Maybe so, but it won’t be easy — certainly not as easy as the Olympic qualifier. The Americans brought the strongest team they’ve had in years, while some of their chief rivals showed up with watered-down ones.
That will change in China. Count on Argentina’s roster looking more like the one that won gold in 2004 than the one the Americans beat 118-81 on Sunday in the championship game.
“The thing about Beijing next summer, everybody is going to bring their top players,” Anthony said. “So it will be a great experience. I can’t wait, I’m looking forward to it.”
He should be excited. With Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Jason Kidd joining Anthony at the core, the Americans have a team that compares favorably with the ones that helped them rule international basketball a decade ago.
And of all the problems U.S. basketball has faced recently, that’s been the biggest. When the brightest stars stopped playing, suddenly the color of the medals didn’t have the same shine, either.
“We are starting to get guys, the top guys to play again,” Kidd said. “When you got Kobe and LeBron and Carmelo, these guys are coming during the summer to participate and represent their country. You are getting the top guys. Maybe in the past, we just haven’t had the top guys.”
Kidd knows there’s no guarantee all of them will be in Beijing. He was among the players who helped the Americans win the 2003 qualifier easily but was forced to pull out before the team headed to Athens a year later.
The team’s other superstar, Dwyane Wade, will be back in the red, white and blue next summer, and Chris Bosh probably gets a spot if he’s healthy. That means at least two players who were in Las Vegas won’t be headed to Asia.
The Americans have three point guards, so there may not be a need for both Chauncey Billups and Deron Williams. The improvements James and Anthony made to their 3-point shooting lessens the need for a perimeter specialist, which could make Mike Miller expendable since he was outplayed by Michael Redd.
Tyson Chandler was the 12th man, so Bosh could end up with his spot. The Olympic roster must be named by June 28, and USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo said he’d like to have a minicamp before then so he and coach Mike Krzyzewski could get a last look at the team before making their final decisions.
Colangelo made a number of additions to the program to address some of the weaknesses that were exposed in last summer’s world championships. He won’t need to do nearly as much to bolster a team that averaged 116.7 points in Las Vegas.
“We have thoughts about the roster, we have thoughts about the way we played philosophically, but the most important thing is we had questions ourselves,” Colangelo said. “They’ve been answered, and it’s more about tweaking and fine-tuning than it is a major overhaul.”
The Americans’ average victory margin in Las Vegas was 39.5 points, but nobody expects that kind of dominance in the Olympics. No team in this tournament could match the U.S. talent or depth, but send the Americans to the European championships that started Monday instead of this qualifier, and they’d find a tough test almost every night.
“I think this kind of tournament in America, the game is better for U.S. team because they try to play that way. Fast, 1-on-1, running up and down the whole time, many points a game,” Argentina’s Luis Scola said. That’s good for U.S. team because they like to play that way. They have so much talent and so much athleticism. So it’s better for them this kind of tournament.
“When we play in Europe, Olympics or world championships, it’s a little bit different because European teams play zone, games like 60-70 points a game. So I think they feel a little bit more uncomfortable with that game.”
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
“The Olympics are going to be totally different because we’re going to be on foreign soil,” said Kidd, who helped the U.S. win its last major gold in the 2000 Olympics.
“Spain is very good, Serbia, you’ve got a lot of European teams, Italy, Greece. Everybody’s improved, the world’s gotten better. So it won’t be as easy, but that’s the challenge and that’s what we’re looking forward to.”
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