NEW YORK (Reuters) - A spate of late withdrawals, a serious injury to Paul George and several marquee names missing appeared to put Team USA under a cloud for the 2014 Basketball World Cup and for future international competition.
Instead, a group of sharp-shooting NBA regulars were unbeaten in Spain and produced a 129-92 victory over Serbia in the final to underline the depth the U.S. have at their disposal.
Stalwarts LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul were missing from the initial training camp, with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love and Blake Griffin bowing out late in the process before Indiana forward George broke his leg in training and could now miss the NBA season.
Instead, James Harden, Anthony Davis, Klay Thompson and Kenneth Faried, who along with dynamic guards Steph Curry and Kyrie Irving, were blended into a band of brothers by coach Mike Krzyzewski and his staff.
Krzyzewski, however, did not see it as an onerous task to customise and then build a team for the competition.
“There’s always a different team,” he said of USA Basketball’s strategic plan to pick from an enlarged roster for international competitions.
”We had a different team in Beijing. We had 12 different players in Istanbul, we had five guys from the Olympics and five from the world championships in London.
“Here we have four guys who have been at least on one of the teams and the rest are new. That’s just what’s going to happen in our program.”
Bereft of iconic scorers, the team had to share the ball with Harden, the top U.S. scorer with an average of 14.2 points, the 18th best in the competition.
Thompson averaged 12.7, Faried 12.4 and Davis 12.3, while the backcourt of Irving and Curry contributed 12.1 and 10.7, respectively, for a well balanced, unselfish team that also shared minutes to stay fresh and aggressive.
The U.S. still averaged more than 104 points in an unbeaten 9-0 run to gold, topping the team scoring by more than 21 points per game.
Krzyzewski said they needed to be team focused given how competitive their opposition was - pointing to Olympic silver medallists Spain, who boasted NBA players Pau and Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Ricky Rubio yet did not make the semi-finals - to illustrate the point.
“We know how good everyone is,” he said after the final.
”I don’t think any gap has been widened. I don’t think there’s a gap.
“Spain is a magnificent team and it just takes one bad day, so what we’re trying to do is make sure we don’t have bad days.”
The team could have experienced bad days given their tumultuous run-up to the tournament, which had observers questioning the commitment of U.S. players to the World Cup, while even NBA Commissioner Adam Silver acknowledged that to Americans, the Olympics were far more important.
“There’s no question that the Olympics has been historically a bigger event,” Silver told reporters before an exhibition game at Madison Square Garden before they left for Spain.
After the sickening injury to George, which led to Durant dropping out, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban railed about risks taken by NBA teams in supplying players for events where the proceeds are pocketed by international organizations.
Silver acknowledged the debate would be renewed at the next NBA owners’ meetings.
“I do anticipate that it’ll be a hot topic at the competition meeting and at the Board of Governors meeting, just because it always has been,” said Silver.
Silver said that while stakes were high for the league, so were the benefits to players and to growing the game globally.
Silver stressed it was a personal decision for players, who under the current agreement can choose to play so long as there is not an injury concern by his NBA team.
“They come out better young men as a result of having participated in these events,” asserted Silver.
Editing by Greg Stutchbury