Jerry Colangelo ponders: Fair to pick Kobe Bryant over a Kawhi Leonard or Paul George for Team USA?

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Kobe Bryant has said playing for Team USA in the 2016 Rio Olympics “would mean the world” to him. USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo has said he’s open to the idea.

But, according to Colangelo, Kobe wants the spot only if he earns it.

Despite stoking the flames of the Kobe-to-Rio movement, Colangelo implies he’d have a tough time choosing Kobe over more-productive alternatives.

Colangelo, in a Q&A with Sam Amick of USA Today:

On sacrificing a spot for Bryant based largely on the sentimental component and the fact that a) the 12th man won’t play much and b) Team USA will be heavily favored to win gold regardless of who fills that spot …

“Let’s just put it this way: on one hand, you have what you just proposed. On the other hand, if someone is left off the team, like Kawhi Leonard or Paul George — and I’m just using names — for that purpose, then you have to weigh that fairness, to some degree. That’s all. So it’s not an easy call, and it’s one that I don’t have to make for quite some time. And I’m going to stick to that. I’ve got plenty of time.

Kobe cannot make the 2016 Olympic team based on merit. There’s no on-court role – situational defender, off-the-bench scorer, you name it – where he’s the best option.

If Kobe makes the team, it will be spun as the Americans needing a veteran leader. As Colangelo has always said, he doesn’t pick the top 12 players. He assembles the best 12-man team. Perhaps, the 2016 squad would benefit from Kobe’s mentorship.

But that’s a tough case to make credibly. Colangelo can easily assemble a roster full of players who won a gold medal in the 2012 Olympics and/or 2014 World Cup. This group needs insurance depth more than Kobe’s leadership.

The Americans are heavily favored for Rio, but they’re not invincible. With just 12 roster spots, injuries could quickly leave the team short-handed. It’d be fluky, but flukes happen. Picking a Kawhi Leonard or Paul George over Kobe would guard against that worst-case scenario.

Plus, it’d maintain the faith current players have in Colangelo. We’ve seen that erode a bit lately, with both John Wall and Damian Lillard bemoaning the opportunities they received to make the team. But perception of Colangelo remains high overall.

If George or Leonard are sitting home watching Kobe in Rio – especially if something goes wrong – Colangelo would face plenty of second-guessing.

The safe – and fair – solution is omitting Kobe. He has had his time with Team USA. Now, it’s someone else’s turn.