Jerry Colangelo: Kobe Bryant wants to play in 2016 Olympics only if he earns spot on Team USA

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USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said Kobe Bryant could make Team USA for the 2016 Olympics.

Kobe didn’t attend this week’s somewhat-mandatory minicamp, but his Olympic spot won’t be gifted. He’ll have to meet, as Colangelo tells it, self-imposed standards.

Colangelo, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

“And so, he also mentioned to me in a private conversation that if he had his druthers, he would love to ride off into the sunset playing one more time and winning the gold medal. And that would be the end. But he was very quick to say, ‘But, I don’t want a spot. I need to earn the spot. I need to be capable of playing at that level to be considered.’ And I said, ‘You got that. That’s always there for you, Kobe.'”

At 33, Kobe was already the oldest player on Team USA by four years in the 2012 Olympics. Considering the next-oldest player was Tyson Chandler, who also didn’t attend this week’s minicamp, that gap would likely be even wider in 2016.

Having a single older player isn’t unprecedented. A 35-year-old Jason Kidd was six years older than any Team USA teammate in 2008. Kidd won a gold medal in 2000 and didn’t play in 2004, when the Americans finished with a disappointing bronze. So, Kidd mostly provided veteran leadership in 2008, and the U.S. took gold.

But 2016 will be different. Unlike 2008, the Americans are coming off a gold-medal run in the previous Olympics. They have several players who can play well and carry themselves appropriately. They don’t need a designated elder statesman to guide them.

Granted, there would be something cool about Kobe ending his playing career with Team USA in the Olympics. It’d be akin to Magic Johnson playing in the 1992 All-Star game after retiring. It’s hard to imagine a better sendoff for the internationally inclined Kobe, who has had a great career that already includes two Olympic gold medals.

But a great career doesn’t mean Kobe can still play at the level of the 12 best available Americans. He almost certainly can’t. Kobe hasn’t produced in the last two seasons. That won’t get easier at 37.

If that’s what it will take for Kobe to reach Rio, it’s a huge longshot.