There's been a lot of talk about the Olympic basketball competition adopting an under-23 rule (just like Olympic soccer). A lot of it is because NBA owners don't like the thought of their veteran players putting themselves at risk for another team (even if that team is Team USA). Another part of it is because, after playing 100-plus games in a season if they make the Finals, a lot of veteran players don't like feeling pressured to go out and play even more when they're worn out. And finally, there's the fact that the NBA is thinking about taking over the World Championships, and making it like soccer's World Cup. That tournament would have the best of the best, and they want a way for it to overshadow the Olympics.
That under-23 rule could be in place for 2016. But what if it were in place this year? It would mean no LeBron, Kobe, or even Durant for Team USA. (Remember, guys like Durant and Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love are 23 when the tournament starts, but if they follow soccer's rules anyone who turns 24 in the year of the tournament would be ineligible. And those three guys all turn 24 in 2012).
So THIS is what we think the 2012 USA Olympic basketball team would look like if it were under-23 only...
THE STARTING FIVE
Blake Griffin, C/F, Los Angeles Clippers: Okay, so he's hurt. But in our parallel universe, we're saying he's healthy. A true All-Star, The Blake Show is a no brainer as one of the low-post players.
Anthony Davis, C/F, New Orleans Hornets: The top pick of the draft is the kind of guy who can carry this team defensively. Davis is actually replacing the injured Griffin on the 2012 Olympic team.
Paul George, SF, Indiana Pacers: George is one of the best young defenders in the NBA, with a blossoming offensive game.
James Harden, SG, Oklahoma City Thunder: Every Olympic team needs sharp-shooters, and Harden certainly fills that role. He can also run the point in a pinch.
Kyrie Irving, PG, Cleveland Cavaliers: The NBA's next great point guard, Irving has it all. He can get into the lane at will, and he's an outstanding shooter.
Derrick Favors, C/F, Utah Jazz: Favors provides some muscle off the bench.
Cody Zeller, PF, Indiana University: The best player in college basketball, Zeller is the total package in the post. He has the skills to score in the halfcourt game, runs the floor like a deer, and has the toughness to push around down low.
Kawhi Leonard, SF, San Antonio Spurs: He's a key cog in the powerhouse Spurs' lineup. Leonard is not only a great defender, but if teams lose track of him he can knock down the open three or score at the rim.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, SF, Charlotte Bobcats: Kidd-Gilchrist is the kind of relentless competitor who makes any team better. He's the kind of guy you want on the court in a close game.
Jabari Parker, SF, Simeon Career Academy (Chicago): He'll be a senior in high school next year, but Parker is already being called the best high school basketball player since LeBron. He's a heady point forward who could fill a number of roles off the bench.
Jrue Holiday, PG/SG, Philadelphia 76ers: Holiday's ability to play both guard spots, plus his great defensive ability, makes him a natural to bring off the bench.
John Wall, PG, Washington Wizards: If Team USA wants to run-and-gun, Wall is the kind of guy they'll want on the court.
And these are the guys who just missed the cut...
SG/SF Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz; C/F Greg Monroe, Detroit Pistons; SG Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics; C/F DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings; SG Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards; SG Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors; PF DeJuan Blair, San Antonio Spurs; PG/SG Tyreke Evans, Sacramento Kings; SG Demar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors; PG Eric Bledsoe, Los Angeles Clippers; PG Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee Bucks; PF Kenneth Faried, Denver Nuggets; SF Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors