LeBron James was stretched out against a wall on Wednesday, answering a few questions before lacing up his shoes. Carmelo Anthony was doing the same thing in the corner of the gym, while Kobe Bryant went about his business across the way.
Talent was never going to be a problem for the US men’s basketball team heading to London as defending gold-medal champions. Never has been, ever since the Dream Team got together 20 years ago and changed the way the world plays basketball.
“We understand why we’re here,” James said. “We’re all superstars on our respective teams. Now we all have to be superstars on this team.”
Assuming that happens, any worries about bringing the gold home from London should pretty much vanish. Sure, Spain figures to be tough and the Russians and Argentinians will pose challenges. And there are some who question the lack of height inside on this team.
However, the US squad is so deep and athletic that the early chatter is that this team could be even better than the last gold-medal team — even without Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, both key performers in Beijing, along with that team’s only true center, Dwight Howard.
“We have the potential,” James said. “But we’ll see.”
Indeed, potential is a word used often about this year’s version of the Dream Team, which were to open its Olympic run with an exhibition game yesterday against the Dominican Republic. Bryant said the other day he believes this team would even beat the original Dream Team, and coach Mike Krzyzewski — an assistant on the 1992 team — seemed inclined to agree with him.
“This team can be very good,” Krzyzewski said. “They’re all in their prime or coming into their prime. In ’92 you had Magic and Larry Bird, who were past their prime. But if they were all in their prime together in 1992 we’d never see a team like that again.”
Potential, though, will only take a team so far. So far in their brief training camp on the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) campus, things have not gone exactly to plan.
A team that was supposed to be in place even before arriving last week in this gambling city was not, thanks to injuries to Wade, Bosh, Howard and Derrick Rose. The full team was not even announced until Saturday, when Blake Griffin, Andre Iguodala and James Harden were added to the roster.
Deron Williams could not scrimmage until signing his new US$98 million contract on Wednesday, Griffith missed a day of practice while tending to details of his contract and James has been limited in practice to rest up from the NBA playoffs. Chris Paul sprained his thumb on the first day of practice and missed several scrimmages.
Now, less than three weeks before the US tips off against France in their opening game at the Olympics, the team are very much a work in progress.
“It’s a disjointed start,” Krzyzewski said. “That has an impact — a negative impact — that we have to overcome.”
The buzz around the UNLV gym on a sweltering day that did not deter several hundred fans from waiting outside for autographs was about the opening exhibition game and the chance to start figuring out positions and rotations. The game against the Dominican Republic in the 18,000-seat UNLV arena was sold out, evidence of the star power of the team, if not the quality of the competition itself.
After practicing for less than a week, the first real game this team would play together could provide a lot of clues to determining how good it will be.