The basketball world again waits on a LeBron James decision, and this one could determine just how powerful the U.S. team is heading to Rio.
The roster is nearing completion, nearly three weeks before the deadline. But it’s also on hold until James makes up his mind.
“That’s an important decision,” USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said Monday.
Colangelo added that he’s realistically down to 14 or 15 players under consideration for the 12 spots, with somebody either getting bumped up or bumped off based on what James decides.
“So LeBron is a swing,” Colangelo said in a phone interview. “If he doesn’t play, then we have to tweak it.”
Colangelo will give James time, and he’s indicated the answer won’t come until after the finals. If Cleveland can make it a long series, the Americans won’t have long to react if James passes on a fourth Olympics.
Game 7 would be June 19, and the Americans are planning to announce their team June 27. So Colangelo said Monday he’s working on two rosters, one with James and one without.
The original list of 31 features plenty of enticing choices at forward: Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Carmelo Anthony, Paul George, Draymond Green and Kevin Love are among the options to help the U.S. cope if it didn’t have James. Curry’s teammates Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala and Houston’s James Harden also could move from guard to forward in some lineups.
“I don’t worry. I don’t,” Colangelo said, pointing to the Americans’ depth. “I just feel very confident.”
But no player can match the Olympic resume of James, the Americans’ career leader in points and assists who could join Anthony as their only four-time Olympic basketball players.
Curry withdrew from consideration Monday for what would have been his first Olympics, citing “several factors – including recent ankle and knee injuries.”
He didn’t say what the other factors were. Several athletes have expressed concerns about the water in Rio de Janeiro and the Zika virus, though Colangelo said no players have pulled out because of those.
“All injuries,” he said.
Still, those other factors would make it easier for players if they choose to withdraw, without the usual criticism they face when declining to represent their countries, as Durant did in his late withdrawal from the 2014 Basketball World Cup.
Curry is the highest-profile absence for the two-time defending gold medalists, who will already be without NBA All-Stars Chris Paul and Anthony Davis. Forwards Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge are also unavailable, leaving DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond, Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan as big men options.
Paul, who won two golds with the U.S., had already chosen not to play this time, and fellow point guards John Wall of Washington and Mike Conley of Memphis are coming off injuries. The Americans still have Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving and Portland’s Damian Lillard as possibilities at the position.
Curry likely would have started either ahead of them or alongside one in the U.S. backcourt, as he did as the shooting guard next to Irving at the World Cup. He made 44 percent of his attempts then from the shorter international 3-point arc, and the Americans will miss his shooting against the zone defenses they face.
Curry has won a pair of world titles and had spoken of wanting the chance to win Olympic gold, but he missed six games in the postseason with a right knee injury.
“My previous experiences with USA Basketball have been incredibly rewarding, educational and enjoyable, which made this an extremely difficult decision for me and my family,” Curry said.
“However, due to several factors – including recent ankle and knee injuries – I believe this is the best decision for me at this stage of my career.”
Curry, the first player to be voted a unanimous MVP and the NBA’s leading scorer, could have been the team’s biggest star in Rio, with Kobe Bryant retired and James still uncommitted. Perhaps it could be Durant, who starred for the Americans in the 2012 Olympics and 2010 world basketball championship before dropping out in 2014 after George’s broken right leg.
Colangelo said USA Basketball is continually checking in with players to gauge their interest, believing everyone who hasn’t pulled out yet is interested if selected. And he can’t worry about the ones already gone.
“You know what, you’ve got to be a big boy about it,” Colangelo said. “These are the cards that are dealt.”
Follow Brian Mahoney on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/Briancmahoney