Why US Basketball Might Not Make it through the Olympics


But in some ways that’s still what they’re trying to do.

Only two players in the USA’s 12-man squad for the 2019 world championships have returned to the Olympics: Khris Middleton and Jayson Tatum. For comparison, seven players have returned for France, and French coach Vincent Collet has been in charge of the team since 2009.

“Most of these teams have been planning for five, 10 years,” said Draymond Green, “and the consistency they have in their offense, the consistency they have, the familiarity between them, that’s all we can do.

For all their talents, the Americans don’t have all of their best players or the most experienced players in international competition here in Japan. A few names stayed at home, including LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and James Harden. Imagine Cristiano Ronaldo sitting at a World Cup.

But priorities are different among current US players, and the Olympics aren’t the World Cup – at least not for Americans. For example, it was very enlightening to hear Dallas Mavericks star quarterback Luka Doncic say before the tournament that he would rather win a gold medal than an NBA championship with Slovenia.

Taken together, these are not ideal conditions for success. Rudy Gobert of France – and the Utah Jazz – seemed almost sympathetic after the game, describing all the minor aspects of the international game – especially officiating – that Americans would find unusual and disturbing.

“So, there are many nuances,” Gobert said.

The US will be fine for now. As the Americans’ opponent on Wednesday, Iranian Hammad Haddaddi, helpfully remarked, “They are much, much, much better than us.”

But Sunday’s loss carried warning signs about the limits of raw talent.

Popovich, for example, was frustrated when he called “dry positions” when the team’s attack looked lethargic and failed to score. By comparison, France seemed smooth, confident, and self-aware.


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