Before Team USA held their mini-camp in July, I posted about the 'three year plan' brought in by new USA Basketball head Jerry Colangelo. Although his theoretical innovations were to establish a core group of players in order to establish continuity, to conduct a real tryout where no one's spot on the team was guaranteed, and to include role players on the final selection as opposed to just superstars, so far the plan has yielded neither results, nor any of the supposed innovations.
Here's a little ClipperSteve quote from last month:
So imagine my surprise when I read this morning that neither Battier nor Hinrich are in camp. Why? 'Personal reasons.'
Hinrich played only 13 minutes last month in the intrasquad scrimmage to close minicamp. Only J.J. Redick played less.
Battier also was a frequent starter in Japan. He was in minicamp but wasn't expected to return this week because of a family matter, with Detroit's Tayshaun Prince or Mike Miller of Memphis possibly taking his spot.
With the losses of Hinrich and Battier, at most four players from the 2006 team will be competing in 2007. By way of comparison, there were three repeats from 2004 in Athens (before the vaunted 'three year plan') to 2006 in Japan. Wow. Impressive results from that new approach.
As we've seen with Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison, Bruce Bowen and others, the bridge out of Team USA camp is highly flammable. Once you've 'cut' one of your core guys (even if you give them some sort of cover story, as was the case with Arenas' supposed injury last summer), they don't show up for the next 'try out'. (By the way, Jamison wasn't even cut - he made the team, and then was unhappy with his playing time.) As for the charade of 'personal reasons' in the cases of Hinrich and Battier, I'm fine with giving these guys a chance to save a little face. But I sure don't expect them to show up next July to try to make the Beijing team, only to have 'personal reasons' crop up again. Do you?
Which leaves Team USA with little continuity and no role players (sure, Tayshaun Prince could still make the team, but don't count on it, and don't count on him getting minutes if he does).
I'm not even suggesting that there was necessarily a better way to handle all of this, short of a radically different approach like using an existing NBA team to compete in these competitions. But don't tell me that you're going to do things differently, that you're going to sacrifice super-mega-stars for role players, that you're going to sacrifice super-mega-stars for continuity, if it's not true. Have a backbone for the love of the FSM. You want continuity? Cut Chauncey Billups and keep Kirk Hinrich, who was, oh that's right, your starting point guard in Japan. You want role players? Cut Kobe Bryant and keep Shane Battier, who was your starting small forward in Japan and is one of the great role players in the NBA. But if you want to put together an All-super-mega-star team, then ask all the best players and reserve their spot on the team if they agree to play. Just like it's been done since 1992.
It's a valid approach, and in the ego-driven NBA it may be the only viable approach. And if you have a great point guard like Jason Kidd, it will actually yield results the vast majority of the time. (Despite Team USA's recent hard times, Jason Kidd is undefeated in international competition. Coincidence? I think not.) But don't give me speeches about having a 'real tryout' and 'glue guys' and 'continuity' if it's just a load of crap.