After an incredible 2015-16 NBA season and LeBron James making good on his promise to deliver a title to championship-starved Cleveland, there’s still more basketball to be played this summer.
Yesterday, USA Basketball released the 12-man roster who will participate in the Rio Olympics — and this team is going to look a lot different than ones fans are used to.
To start, many of the best players in the world have declined offers to take their talents to Rio. James, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard, and many others have decided to stay home, either to rest, recover from an injury, or because of supposed fear of the Zika virus.
This team leaves coach Mike Krzyzewski with quite a few choices before the U.S. plays its first game of the tournament.
Let’s break the team down by position.
Point Guard: Kyrie Irving, Kyle Lowry
Normally, this would be a position reserved for Curry or Westbrook. But both will be watching the Olympics from their living rooms.
Irving is fresh off winning the NBA Finals and wants another honor to add to his trophy room. It was a long season for the former Duke guard, and Coach K would do well to rest him early in the tournament and give Lowry a run at the starting spot for a couple games.
Lowry is an All-Star, received a few surprise votes for MVP consideration, and steered the Raptors to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in the team’s history. He may not be as skilled a dribbler or as efficient a shooter as Irving is, but he is a more than capable backup and one that should get a chance while Irving works his way back to full fitness.
But onces he’s back up to speed, expect Irving to tear through the international competition like he did the Warriors’ backcourt.
Shooting Guard: Jimmy Butler, DeMar Derozan, Klay Thompson
Once again, a position that would likely be taken by someone who has opted out (James Harden), it will be interesting to see who establishes themselves as the starter.
Thompson, like Irving, is coming off a brutal NBA Finals that went seven games and left many players physically and emotionally drained. He would be a guaranteed starter if he was 100 percent, but only time will tell.
Meanwhile, this is a chance for Butler or Derozan to make a statement for the starting spot. Butler didn’t participate in the playoffs and looks to be one of the freshest members of the team, while Derozan had a few games in the Eastern Conference Finals that he’d like to forget. They each bring something different to the position — Thompson has pure shooting and excellent defense, Butler has explosiveness and smart passing, and Derozan brings high-volume shooting and the ability to get to the basket.
The fight for this position is going to be fascinating to watch. Odds are we see each start depending on the game.
Small Forward: Harrison Barnes, Kevin Durant, Paul George
With no James, Durant has a great opportunity to entertain the American fan base and prove the fact that he is one of the best forwards in the world. Talks of free agency will have ceased by then as well, and a distraction-free Durant is something the world should truly fear.
George is still one of the most athletic and explosive forwards in the game and has been a joy to watch for quite some time. His ability as a shooter and driver to the basket is well known around the NBA. Unfortunately for him, the two best things that he does (shooting and driving) are also things that Durant excels at, making George one of the most lethal sixth men in this tournament.
As for Barnes, he significantly devalued himself in the Finals and many are angry that he even made the team. The outrage on Twitter alone speaks for itself. He plays one of the most versatile positions on the court, but don’t expect to see much of him until the Americans hold a healthy lead.
Power Forward: Carmelo Anthony, Draymond Green
This will be Anthony’s fourth Olympics, and he is the only player on the roster who won gold in 2008 and 2012. Despite that he will have a true fight on his hands to hold the starting spot over Green.
Whatever your opinion on the Golden State forward, it’s undeniable that he is one of the most polarizing players at his position. His ability to guard nearly every position and also play on the perimeter makes his skill set invaluable to Coach K and should make Anthony wary of getting starting minutes.
Rest could come into question after Green’s long run to and in the NBA Finals, but it’s not like him to avoid a challenge. Anthony may be the oldest player on this team, but that likely won’t guarantee him much when Green is gunning for him.
Center: DeMarcus Cousins, DeAndre Jordan
This is one of the most interesting positions that Coach K has to choose from. Jordan and “Boogie” Cousins bring entirely different things to the lineup.
Want to stretch the floor and push out a lethal lineup of shooters and length? Dial up Boogie and give him freedom to rain three-pointers and dominate inside while pounding the boards. Want someone to bully the opposition in the post, play lockup defense down low, and provide highlight reel dunks for the tournament? Let Jordan get loose and watch him smash the competition.
Both will likely alternate as the starter but this is one of the most solid positions Team USA has. Look for them to pummel teams in the post.
There may be a few big names missing from this team, but let’s not quite crown them the newest incarnation of the 2004 team that finished with bronze. Team USA has more than enough to challenge any team in the world, especially in a diluted tournament that this Olympics is shaping up to be.
Photos: Twitter (roster), Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images (Anthony and Cousins)