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A Golden Finish

The Original Dream Team is still tops in USA basketball history, but this year's group faced a much tougher task...

The Original Dream Team is still tops in USA basketball history, but this year's group faced a much tougher task...

As I watched Team USA celebrate their early Sunday-morning victory over Spain, giving them the gold medals they so desperately sought, I got thinking about the make-up of the team.

There was a point in time when the US really could send most of its Tier II type NBA stars and still take home the gold medals.

Obviously over the past few Olympic games and World Championships, that’s no longer the case.

Even though the US steamrolled through most of the games leading up to the Gold Medal finish, seeing Spain fight back to within a basket with about eight minutes remaining was a stark reminder to me that every Kobe, Lebron and Dwyane was needed to pull this one out in the end.

Each made a countless number of huge plays throughout the tourney but this finale really made me wonder what would have happened had these top talents not participated. I mean, this wasn’t like 2000 when players like Shaq, KG, Kobe and other top dogs of the NBA decided not to play for their country. No, this time around, I’d be hard pressed to identify a single player left off this US team who was either a better individual talent, or better fit, than the final 12 gold medallists.

To back this up, let’s take a look at last year’s All-Star selections.

All five of the East starters were on the US roster (Kidd, Wade, James, Bosh and Howard) while in the West, two All-Star starters were also Olympic starters (Kobe and Mello) and Carlos Boozer and Chris Paul came off the bench in both situations.

Who else from last year’s All-Star teams would have been key additions?

Well perhaps you could have argued in favour of someone like Caron Butler over Tayshaun Prince, or Rip Hamilton over Michael Redd, but in terms of players that would be stars in the same light as the Kobe’s, Lebron’s and D-Wade’s, I don’t think the US left anyone outside in the cold.

Allen Iverson is still one of the most talented players pound-for-pound in the league but was he a good fit for this US team? I’d argue not. And the same I think could be said about players like Amare Stoudemire, Paul Pierce and Rasheed Wallace, even if their games perhaps fit the international style. Perhaps KG might have been the one exception but was he that much of an upgrade over the likes of Bosh and Howard in a competition like this?

In fact I think beyond the players themselves, the individuals who put this team together, and the coaches who orchestrated things on the court from day one, really deserve a lot of praise. As we’ve seen with past US teams, it takes the right balance of coaches in order to allow all these superstar egos to mesh successfully. Coach K and his crew did a great job of this, and I think their task was much harder than the one Chuck Daly and the original Dream Team faced back in 1992.

In fact, yesterday Sports Illustrated’s Jack McCallum posted an interesting comparison between the two US Olympic basketball teams.

He argues that while both were dominant in Olympic competition, the 2008 team still wouldn’t be able to hold a candle to the original Dream Teamers.

It’s a tough call because of the changing climate of international basketball, but I’d have to agree that the ‘92 team just had too much size and power up front.

With Beijing now wrapped up, Steve Aschburner looks at NBA training camps only about six weeks away, and what the individual players on team USA will have to take back to their respective clubs in terms of "learnings" from their Olympic experience.

He had this to say about Chris Bosh:

Chris Bosh: One of the NBA's most anonymous All-Stars, Bosh blended into the scenery with the Redeem Team, too, agreeably slipping into team-player mode. His 18 points against Greece during pool play were uncharacteristic for a big guy, concentrating on defense, on a guard-dominated squad. Letting the game come to him, though, is a luxury on a Raptors team that always leaned heavily on him. Splitting that load with newcomer Jermaine O'Neal, and putting some of that freedom to use in transition, will be Bosh's best chance of curing Toronto's hiccup of last season.

Bosh did have an excellent Olympic tournament and finished things off against Spain with eight points and seven rebounds in 23 minutes. CB4 showed throughout the tournament how deadly he can be against international competition and as a pleasant surprise to Raptors’ fans, showed how dominant he can be defensively when he isn’t expected to do everything else for a team, something that we’ve discussed on the site and are hoping to see more of now that JO is in the fold.

For the rest of the Raptor Olympians, the results were a bit more mixed.

On one hand, Roko Ukic looked solid running the show for Croatia however his shot selection and efficiency left little to be desired.

On the other, Jose Calderon was once again a rock at the 1 for Spain (when he wasn’t coming off the bench or being haphazardly moved around in the rotation) but suffered an injury that could linger into the NBA season. Calderon didn’t play in Spain’s final two games (which probably had Bryan Colangelo breathing a sigh of relief) however he’ll need lots of rest and treatment to ensure that this injury doesn’t keep popping up over the course of the regular season. Considering that Toronto’s freshly-minted starting point guard has never played a full season as a starter, the last thing Dino fans want is an injury that hasn’t completely healed.

The final Raptor I wanted to mention before ending these Olympic thoughts is Carlos Delfino. Sure, he’s no longer a Raptor, or an NBA player for that matter, but catching glimpses of him in this tourney and seeing his box score numbers for Argentina did have me pondering "what if" scenarios. He finished the tournament by dropping 20 and 10 on Lithuania in Argentina’s bronze medal win and for the tournament, was consistently one of the top scorers.

That’s not to say that Toronto should have gone over the luxury tax to keep him, but his play in the tournament did admittedly make me wonder whether this was a player who was only starting to come into his own as a pro, and perhaps his best years therefore will be played back overseas. It’s a shame in some ways as I’d much rather have Delfino on the bench than someone like Joey Graham, but really at this point, there’s not much you can do.

Just like the Olympics in Beijing, looks like we’re just going to have to wave bye to Count Chocula and start looking ahead.