OK, he may still not be on the team that competes in Turkey, but he has at least earned himself a trip to Spain and Greece for the team's final few exhibitions.
It's seemed pretty clear for awhile now that if Eric Gordon was going to make this team, it was going to come down to the wire. When they cut the roster down from 19 to 15, he was considered to be on the bubble. A lackluster effort throughout camp apparently left O.J. Mayo as the first shooting guard sent home, and EJ earned a trip to New York with the team.
With only three more cuts left to be made, it seemed pretty clear that two of them would be JaVale McGee and Jeff Green. After all, McGee had already been cut once and only rejoined the team after Brook Lopez dropped out. As for Green, he just didn't add enough to the team to justify keeping him around. Sure enough, in the team's scrimmage versus China yesterday, neither McGee nor Green got off the bench as Coach K tried to hone in on the actual lineups he'd be using in Turkey. Then Team USA made it official this morning, announcing that they had cut the roster down to 13 in advance of their real warm ups for the tournament, and leaving McGee and Green off the penultimate list.
Which means that Gordon will either make the team, or be the final cut, but either way it appears that he'll get a chance to prove himself in game action against the likes of France, Spain, Lithuania and Greece in Friendlies before the tournament actually begins. Team USA officials have maintained for awhile that they might wait until the last minute to cut the roster down to 12, taking as long a look as they could at this team of new faces. The idea of taking extra bodies to Europe for the final preparations was always predicated on the 'bubble' players having an understanding of and accepting the situation. It's safe to say that McGee and Green would have been fine with being cut later, but that Coach K et al saw no point in prolonging the inevitable. In the case of Gordon, his laid-back demeanor and relative lack of ego makes it easy for Team USA to have him tag along and then put him in street clothes behind the bench in Istanbul. It's good and bad for the kid - he gets to stay with the team at least these extra couple of weeks, but he could easily be the final cut simply because the team leadership knows that it will be fairly painless for them to do so.
We went through the final 15 and predicted the last three cuts earlier in the week. The two easy ones are done and have gone according to that earlier prediction. It's certainly harder now. With six guards standing 6'3" or shorter still on the team, it seems all but certain that the final cut will be one of them. After all, can they afford to have half of their roster in Turkey under 6'4"? The other possibility would be Rudy Gay, who is best as a primary scorer, but would have to be a role player on this team, something he would seem incapable of doing. More likely though Gay will be kept around as insurance against injuries and end up as the 12th man.
If indeed it comes down to one of the guards, the conventional wisdom has for weeks been that it will be a choice between Gordon and Stephen Curry as the 'designated shooter' on the team. The 'logic' supporting this idea is so spurious that I can barely follow it. Why in fact would the team want to limit itself to two shooters? Not to mention that Gordon and Curry are far from one dimensional players. This is not Steve Novak we're talking about.
Of the six guards still with the team, five of them played the majority of their minutes at point guard last season. It's not a bad thing to have extra ball handlers on the floor, and offensively that is certainly where the other five candidates have an advantage over Gordon - each of them has a much better handle than EJ. If Coach K wants to have two top level ball handlers on the court at all times, there may not be a place for Gordon. On the other hand, there's little question that EJ is a better defender than Curry or Derrick Rose, and in particularly when the team encoutners backcourts with size in the tournament (Russia and Greece with Spanoulis at 6'4" and Diamantidis at 6'6"), it might be nice to have Gordon around.
I personally feel that the final cut should probably be Russell Westbrook. I think Westbrook is an amazing talent, but when I look at the six guards left on the team, I just don't see anything that Westbrook does that other players don't do better. In terms of strengths and weaknesses, he's almost exactly the same player as Rajon Rondo - except that Rondo is stronger at most things, and has valuable experience that may benefit the team in Turkey. Westbrook's tendency to play out of control at times and to put up terrible games with regularity also make him a candidate to be cut - in a single elimination tournament, consistent play trumps spectacular play. Finally, given that Rondo and Westbrook at among the worst perimeter shooters in the NBA, I really can't imagine having both of them on the floor at the same time. So for me it's clear that Westbrook is the one that needs to go. We'll see what happens. Both Curry and Gordon may suffer from playing for low profile NBA teams. Rondo the Celtic and Westbrook the Thunder (the new 'it' team) may both make Team USA if the NBA's marketing department influences the decision.
Gordon seems to have helped his case in the scrimmage against China yesterday. He was the second overall leading scorer for Team USA, putting up 15 points in only 16 minutes. For a scorer off the bench, you can't ask for more than a point a minute. I have not seen a box score from that scrimmage (the pdf on the USA basketball site won't load for me) so if anyone has a link for a box score, I'd appreciate it.
As for the remaining tuneups for Team USA, Krzyzewski and Colangelo are not messing around. Although France is severely weakened by the unexpected absences of Joakim Noah and Roddy Beaubois (not to mention the completely expected absences of Tony Parker and Ronny Turiaf and Mickael Pietrus), they are still one of the most athletic teams that will be competing in the Worlds. Spain is obviously the defending World and European Champ as well as the Silver Medalist from Beijing, and to many are the favorites this year. Meanwhile Lithuania is always good and Greece has a loaded roster that has given the US trouble in the past. This is no pre-season schedule of cupcakes. It could be good or bad for this team. If they get their clocks cleaned a couple of times in these warmups, it could shatter their confidence going into the tournament. But at least they will get an idea of what they are up against.
Back to Gordon, getting a chance to play in these final four tuneups, to remain with the team for at least two more weeks, to work with the coaching staff, to play with great players, to get some more exposure... these are all positives.