Team USA right now is a basketball version of The Amazing Race. Thirteen players set out on the same flight for Madrid, Spain, where they had to complete tasks against Lithuania and Spain. Having successfully finished those, it is on to Greece where a new task awaits them.
In Greece, somebody is going to be last to the mat. Phil is going to be standing there with Mike Krzyzewski and some guy dressed like Socrates who welcomes them to Greece. Then it happens. “I’m sorry, you’re the last player to arrive. I’m sorry to tell you, you have been eliminated from Team USA.”
There are 13 players on the Team USA roster, only 12 can go to the World Championships. There is one more very hard cut to make.
Friday, the smart money said Russell Westbrook and his Mohawk were headed back to the States. Then the USA looked sluggish against Lithuania and it was Westbrook’s speed and game that pushed the USA back to a tempo it liked. The USA won because of him. Hard to cut him.
Stephen Curry has played sparing minutes since turning an ankle, maybe he goes. Except that he is the best pure shooter on the squad. Some team is going to pack the 2-3 zone down against the USA and dare them to win with jumpers (actually, a lot of teams are) and you’re going to want your best shooter around.
Maybe Eric Gordon goes. Except he has done nothing but impress. He can shoot the three and he is the strongest guard penetrating the lane behind Chauncey Billups (Derrick Rose can take the physicality, too, but Gordon is a physical beast). The coaching staff loves him, those guys almost never get cut.
Some have suggested Kevin Love goes, but that is lunacy. First, you need him along the already-thin USA front line. His minutes have been down after he got kicked in the calf a few games back, but this is a big man who can rebound, hit the midrange and is the best outlet passer on a team that wants to run. You do not cut him. The same way you can’t cut Tyson Chandler and were reluctant to let JaVale McGee go.
The problem for Krzyzewski is that there are no good options – anyone you cut hurts you in some way. Despite his great showing against Lithuania it could still be Westbrook. He might be my choice still – what he brings pushing the pace is fantastic but may be a skill most easily duplicated. Which may not seem fair. But the game isn’t always fair. This is Amazing Race – you are always just one bad taxi driver away from going home.