Team USA has found itself in three-straight competitive games, battling deep into the fourth quarter with Australia, Serbia, and France. It’s now officially in play: The United States’ men’s basketball team may not win gold at the Olympics. But it’s not time to panic, because The Ringer is here to help. We can fix Team USA — here are our top suggestions for the squad before the knockout stage:
Shorten the Rotation
Jonathan Tjarks: The U.S. has three wings who can guard multiple positions, stretch the floor, and move the ball — Kevin Durant, Paul George, and Klay Thompson. That’s the backbone of your team, and the personnel advantage you have over the rest of the world. Now that we are in the medal round, they should be able to play 30–35 minutes each, especially given how often the action stops in the international game for fouls.
It can be hard for NBA players who are used to playing big minutes to find a rhythm when they’re drifting in and out of a crowded Team USA rotation, and the easy way to build continuity is to give your best players big minutes and let them play together for long stretches. I’d play those three as much as possible and build lineups around their versatility.
Someone Needs to Be Kobe
Chris Ryan: The very thing that makes Team USA such a likable bunch is the thing that is making it so hard for them to dominate these games. Nobody is willing to be a ball-hogging, chance-taking bully who shouts “I got this!” while his teammates sigh, fine. This is a squad of alpha-minus stars. At any given point, in any given game, almost any one of them could take over. But there is no understanding among them — or among the coaching staff — of who it should be. You look at box score and you see four or five attempts from some of the biggest stars. Someone needs to get greedy. Someone needs to be Kobe.
Kevin Durant cannot take 10 shots over two games. Not if he wants to be the Kevin Durant we think he is. In the absence of LeBron and Steph, KD is next. This should be his Olympics. He needs to have an ’08 Kobe vs. Spain game.
A lot of this will come if Coach K does what Tjarks is suggesting and shortens the rotation — guys will have a clearer idea of their roles if that happens. But beyond that, some old-fashioned, you-shall-not-pass basketball needs to be played. We know Durant reveres Kobe. Now he has to play like him.
Coach K Needs to Be an Asshole Again
Tate Frazier: What makes Coach K great is his ability to instill a sense of fear in his chosen “star” player in the hopes of pushing him to police the team. Traditionally, K has established this military-style designation in profanity-filled practice time, and built the team up by breaking the Harrison Barneses of the world down. This time around, though, his system has instead been telling his starting point guard, Kyrie Irving: “F you.” K’s formula does not work without commitment and a belief from a true veteran presence. Carmelo Anthony, 32, is the only one in Rio who’s seen the rocky road: from Coach K clashing with LeBron in 2006, all the way up to the juggernaut we see today. The next veteran option is Kyle Lowry, 30, leaving a void of go-to guys for K to rely on. It looks like there’s been a lax practice atmosphere in Rio, and K’s recent ploy of being the “cool coach” by sacrificing practice time has not translated to focus and results on the floor. The real Coach K would prescribe Kevin Durant with about an hour of “help & recover” to get right on the defensive end. And he would most definitely enforce enough sprint time to make Snapchat an afterthought. Or K can continue to parlay his friendship with the players, with the slight chance of losing out on the ultimate success of another gold medal. What does a potential loss look like, you ask? Well, K described it well earlier this week when discussing Team USA’s living arrangements: “I’m going to go back to the boat. See you guys. I get seasick, too.” Yes, this could all very well lead to our nation’s nightmare, Kryzyzewski vomit.
Get Draymond Green Into FU Mode
Riley McAtee: Only Harrison Barnes has played fewer minutes for Team USA than Draymond Green, who has basically been a no-show on the court in Rio. Even when he does see some action, he’s been playing like it’s Game 3 of the Western Conference finals. He’s taken 13 shots, eight of which have been from beyond the arc (where he’s 1-of-8) and he has 13 rebounds total across five games. His 2.4 points per game is dead last among American players.
He needs to find his groove. The international game is suited for nontraditional big men who can switch 1-through-5 on defense — Rio should be right up Draymond’s alley! There’s nothing to suggest that he has any nagging injuries, but then again, Green has had a busy, busy summer. Maybe his head isn’t totally in the game.
Team USA Doesn’t Need Fixing
Shea Serrano: When I was in the 9th grade, I had a bicycle. I’d gotten it for a birthday a couple of years earlier, so it was a little small and also fairly beat up, but mostly it still worked. I could ride it to the store without much worry because the store was close to my house and also the terrain to get there was flat and easy. Same for the park, and several of my friends’ houses, and also the main neighborhood basketball court. The bike was just a little bit broken but I could ride it anywhere that was close to my house and I’d feel completely comfortable and fine on it. If I tried to ride it too far or too fast, however, then things would get nutty, or could get nutty. If I tried to ride it down one of the hills in my neighborhood, for example, there was always a fair chance that one of the tires was going to fall right TF off halfway through the ride, which means there was always a fair chance that I was just a few seconds from disaster in those particular situations. And let me tell you something: I liked it. I liked that very discernible amount of danger. It made ordinary things feel way more exciting, because all of a sudden ordinary things felt like secretly deadly things.
So you’re asking me how I’d fix Team USA? My answer: I wouldn’t. I say don’t fix them. I say we just ride it out and see what happens. Let them be just a little bit broken. Let every game carry with it the potential for disaster. It makes things way more interesting.
No, Seriously — Team USA Doesn’t Need Fixing, Traitors!
Jason Concepcion: Fix Team USA?
I’m sorry, what? Is there something wrong? I don’t know, since when is 5-and-fucking-0 in anything a problem?
You know what I think needs fixing? That cotton candy–ass attitude. FIVE-AND-ZERO. Last I checked, that spells U-N-D-E-F-E-A-T-E-D. You know who else started out 5–0? The United States of America, this great land of ours. Count em up: Revolutionary, 1812, Mexican, Civil, and Spanish-American. Bang, bang, bang, boom, bang.
Here’s the thing, is Team USA v. 2016 a mild disappointment because they aren’t kicking ass hard enough, don’t try basically at all on defense, can’t find reliable 3-point shooting, and (let’s be fair) don’t really scare anyone because LeBron, Westbrook, and Curry aren’t there? Yes. WE’RE GOING TO WIN GOLD ANYWAY.
Oh, but I thought we were too dominant! That we should bar players over 25 from playing! You know, give the college kids some experience on the international stage, bring some drama back to the proceedings. Listen, if all Team USA basketball is is a sports-esque frisson derived from the memory of American exceptionalism shot through with slightly more of a chance of losing, then what the hell are we even doing anymore? If we’re going to not-really-almost lose, then I want do it with the best players in the world. That’s the America I know.
Here’s what Team USA has done and what it’s going to continue to do:
- Be on vacation in Rio, going to spas that turn out to not be spas but, like, honest mistake.
- Win basketball games without really trying that hard.
- Be a constant pain deep in Coach K’s soul, a pain that only grows with each blown rotation, turnover, enthusiastic bench celebration, and overheard conversation about apps he doesn’t recognize.
Now, chill the fuck out and enjoy the knockout round.