By Ryan Divish
Let's be real honest here. It's easy to look at the players on the U.S. Olympic basketball team and point out all the things that they are not.
The US. players are not great shooters; they are not great passers; they are not great defenders.
They are not suited to playing the international style of basketball. They are not doing a very good job of adapting to that style.
They certainly are not as likable as past U.S. players. They are not exactly the classic example of the Olympic athlete. They are not liked by most of the basketball fans, including many of our own.
Most important of all, they are not winning.
For the first time since NBA players were allowed to compete, the U.S. lost a basketball game at the Olympics in sound 92-73 defeat at the hands of Puerto Rico. As an encore two games later, the U.S. squandered an eight-point lead with two minutes left in a 94-90 loss to Lithuania.
A loss in basketball? Then another loss? By NBA players? NBA commissioner David Stern's toupee probably climbed right off his head.
It's easy to point out that the players on this team are far from the best the NBA has to offer. They are not the Dream Team. They are not Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson or Larry Bird.
These players are not even the best players in the league this season. They are not Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, Tracy McGrady, or Jason Kidd.
Still, the U.S. players are not on trial for rape. They are not busy engineering a trade from their respective team because they didn't get their way. They are not using phony excuses like security reasons. They are not worried about getting hurt or losing money. They are not too busy to represent their country.
For all that they are not, there is one thing that the players on the U.S. team are: They are there.
They are there competing, which is more than Kobe, Shaq or T-Mac can say. They are there taking the insults, listening to the critics and hearing the naysayers. They are there practicing, playing and trying to bring home a gold. They are there putting on uniforms with the letters U-S-A on them, and playing a different style of basketball with different teammates than they are used to.
There's no point to make excuses for the U.S. team. They do have some fundamental flaws in the team structure. It's look more as if the team was set up to sell Olympic jerseys than win basketball games. Big names sell jerseys. But do bronze medals?
In international basketball, there are two things you must have - a true point guard and at least two players that can shoot the basketball from beyond 20 feet.
Doesn't sound too tough come up with. But if you look closely at the members of the U.S. team, not one of those players fall into either of those categories.
Head coach Larry Brown has used Stephon Marbury, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James at the point guard. Neither of the three has established themself as the point guard with good reason.
Wade rarely played point this year for the Miami Heat. As one of the team's only scoring threats, he played shooting guard. James is the best passer of the three, and at 6-9 he plays very similar to Magic. However, his ballhandling and decision making are not quite up to speed, leading to turnovers and silly mistakes.
As for Marbury, there is not a player less suited for the international game. He is the new style of point guard that looks to shoot first, looks to shoot second and if all all else fails, considers passing as a last resort.
He isn't a consistent shooter and relies heavily on screen-and-rolls and drives to the basket, which is great for the NBA where everybody plays man-to-man defense, but not for the Olympics where most teams play zone. He is still capable of going off as evidenced by his 31-point game in the quarterfinals, but you can't expect that every night.
Obviously, Kidd is the point guard you want for this team. However, he had minor knee surgery at the during the season and wanted some extra time to recover for next season. Mike Bibby was also asked, but he didn't want to play and couldn't even come up with a legitimate reason why not. Instead, employing the reasoning of a father to a young child - "Because I said so."
As for the shooters or complete lack there of, the U.S. just doesn't have a guy that can consistently knock down shots from the closer international three-point line.
Carmelo Anthony is probably the most consistent shooter it has, but since he refuses to play defense and pouts when he isn't on the floor, he won't be playing significant minutes any time soon.
It's not that there aren't shooters in the NBA. There are. There just aren't any on this team. Michael Redd, Fred Hoiberg, the Barry brothers and even Duke's J.J. Redick can hit the three with their eyes close and are back in the U.S. working on their jumpers. What in the name of Larry Bird is going on with the selection process?
Instead, they have a bunch of players with the same type of game, which is slash and drive to the basket. Again, that style is great for the NBA or the And 1 Mix Tape Tour, but not so good against a practiced zone defense. Every drive by Marbury, Wade, James, Allen Iverson, Richard Jefferson and Lamar Odom is bottled up 17 feet from the basket.
Basically, what teams have done is dare the U.S. to shoot while packing the key, to take away any dribble penetration and neutralizing the U.S.'s best player, Tim Duncan.
The U.S. did its part by firing up enough bricks to build another Olympic Stadium.
The U.S. needs just one good shooter, to shoot their opponents out of their zone defense. You could stick Bird out there right now and he could knock down enough jumpers from the corner and wing to make teams think twice about playing zone.
The ending result has been an inconsistent, unpredictable and unfulfilling performances.
Yet in spite of all the team's flaws, it is still playing hard. Allen Iverson is playing with a broken thumb. Where is Bibby? Probably at home getting some new tattoos.
Regardless of how they finish, the players will be critiqued and criticized for everything they are not, which is a shame. One thing they definitely are not: too good, or to busy, to represent this country.