Despite injuries, U.S. men thinking gold
Not quite a Dream Team, still the Olympic favorite.
The U.S. men's basketball team heading to London isn't the powerhouse it could have been, a squad that might have been so stacked that its only worthy rival would have been history.
Injuries have cost the Americans three top players, along with probably any notion they could have won a mythical matchup against the famed 1992 champions.
What remains is good enough to make the Americans golden again.
"I think this team will be a stronger team than we had in '08," USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said.
"If we do what we're capable of doing and we stay focused and have the mental toughness, then we should prevail. I believe that in my heart of hearts, but we have to go out and do it."
The Americans always face comparisons to the Dream Team, and Colangelo even invited its members when he named a 20-man roster pool in January.
But Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have since been lost to injuries, removing three players who started in the All-Star game. What's left is still potent — how about LeBron James and Kevin Durant in the same frontcourt? — but probably not good enough to beat Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and the rest of their Hall of Fame predecessors.
The Americans don't care. The guys they're worried about are Pau Gasol, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.
"It's possible now that some will say with those losses, well then any discussion about comparison is probably out the window, and you know it's really not that important or significant," Colangelo said. "That was then, this is now. That was them, and this is us. You know, let's go out and do the job we have to do and then people can make any comparisons they wish after the fact."
Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Deron Williams all could return from the reigning gold medalists. Durant, who had the best tournament ever by an American player two years ago at the world basketball championship, headlines the returnees from that team.
As for the notion that the Americans are so weakened they could actually — gasp — lose?
"They got to get the ratings up, don't they? They got to ask something, it can't be all good things," Anthony said.
Turning serious, Anthony added: "If we go out there and do what we have to do, and prepare for this Olympics like we did in '08, we'll be fine."
Even at full strength many Dream Teamers dismissed the Americans' chances of beating them. Charles Barkley insists the current group wasn't deep enough; Johnson saying his team would "crush them." But Chris Mullin was at least originally willing to consider that this could have been the best team ever, noting that the 2012 squad's top players were all in their primes, while Bird and Johnson were near the end of their careers in '92.
"Kobe, LeBron, Dwyane Wade, all the best guys are playing," Mullin said earlier this year. "Derrick Rose, you name it. Dwight Howard."
Well, forget Howard, who had back surgery. Forget Rose, who tore knee ligaments. And forget Wade, who needs knee surgery. Fellow Heat star Bosh also dropped out after straining an abdominal muscle during the second round of the playoffs.
Their competitors also have problems, from Spain losing dazzling rookie point guard Ricky Rubio to a knee injury, to Parker's eye injury in a bar brawl that put his availability for the French in jeopardy.
Plus Spain and everyone else has to deal with the Americans' athleticism. James and Durant, the NBA's MVP and runner-up who battled in the NBA Finals, now get to play together.
"I envision it's going to be pretty dynamic," James said. "Two guys who like to get out and get in the open floor, two of the biggest competitors that we have in the game today, so it's going to be fun."