July 19, 2024

Inside Day 1 of Team USA’s Olympic training camp: ‘Greatness in the room’


Follow our Olympics coverage in the lead-up to the Paris Games.


LAS VEGAS — Kawhi Leonard was present and a full participant. Jayson Tatum was neither.

And when Day 1 was over, Team USA coach Steve Kerr made a pronouncement so potentially shocking to one of the 12 stars on the American men’s Olympic team that a replacement may be needed.

“This is not 1992 — Steph (Curry) and I are not going to be like (Dream Team coach) Chuck Daly and Michael (Jordan), we’re not playing golf every day,” Kerr said.

No, no, USA won’t actually need to swap Curry out for someone less enthused about golf. He can spare a summer. Curry, an avid, scratch golfer who normally would be preparing for the American Century celebrity tournament he won last summer, is part of the team that assembled and practiced for the first time Saturday at the University of Las Vegas in preparation for the Paris Olympics, where Team USA will try to win a gold medal for the fifth consecutive Games.

This is arguably the most talented men’s basketball team ever assembled, with the greatest shooter of all time (Curry), the NBA’s all-time leading scorer (LeBron James), USA Basketball’s all-time leading scorer (Kevin Durant), 11 current All-Stars, two current NBA champions (Tatum and Jrue Holiday), and a staggering array of former champions and past gold medalists.

Twelve future Hall of Famers, as Kerr predicted recently. After watching this group work out together for the first time Saturday with the start of training camp (save for Tatum, who will join the Americans for practice Sunday but was busy signing his $314 million contract with the champion Boston Celtics), Kerr’s initial takeaway was simple.

Yep, “they’re Hall of Famers.”

“It’s remarkable to see the talent in front of me as I’m addressing the team,” Kerr said.

The comparisons to the 1992 Dream Team — the first American Olympic team with NBA players, led by the best and most famous players of the times, like Jordan, Charles Barkley, and Larry Bird — have come fast and furious since Kerr’s squad was announced last spring. But in the team meeting Friday night, and in film sessions Saturday, Kerr and his coaching staff used the time to show the current stars clips of opponents shoving USA Basketball around at the World Cup last summer, and in competitions prior.

While only two players on the current roster — Tyrese Haliburton and Anthony Edwards — were part of the American team that finished fourth at the World Cup, Durant, Tatum, Devin Booker, Holiday, and Bam Adebayo were all on the Tokyo Olympic team that lost its first game to France, was nearly eliminated from the tournament, and eked out a gold medal over the French.

For years, each USA men’s team has been warned how the rest of the world has caught up. If they didn’t believe their coaches years ago, a combination of the global stars emerging as MVP candidates in the NBA and the numerous losses USAB has suffered from 2019 to now, have proved the point.

Which is why Kerr and Curry have work to do, and not so much golf to play.

“Chuck and Michael had a great time together on game days, playing 36 (holes),” Kerr said. “Those days are long gone. We have our hands full, despite the amazing roster we have.”

Steve Kerr


“It’s remarkable to see the talent in front of me as I’m addressing the team,” head coach Steve Kerr says. Team USA is vying for its fifth straight Olympic gold medal. (Steve Marcus / AP)

Kerr said the first day of practice included “controlled” scrimmages with numerous lineup combinations. Speaking of those, after James finished his remarks to reporters Saturday, and made his way through the throng of reporters toward the exit, he turned to The Athletic and said, “Off the bench — have you lost your mind?” — a light-hearted reference to a hypothetical lineup this outlet described in Friday’s training camp preview in which James was not among the starting 5, because of defense.

Kerr could play James, Durant, Curry, and Joel Embiid (a two-time NBA scoring champ) together. In that scenario, there would be multiple guessing games in play, with opponents trying to determine who, if anyone, they could possibly double-team, while the Americans try to figure out whom to guard.

They could, for a change, play Embiid and Anthony Davis, two essentially 7-footers (Davis is listed at 6-10 but has incredible reach and plays big), with James (who is 6-8) and Durant (6-11) and Tatum (6-8) on the floor in easily the biggest lineup the Americans have ever featured.

Or Kerr could move Holiday, probably the best defender as a guard in the NBA, into that lineup next to Leonard, who when healthy is a top overall defender in the league. Bam Adebayo is a perennial NBA All-Defense honoree who started every game in the previous Olympics. Where will he fit?

Maybe Haliburton, one of the best passers in the league; Edwards, who is being eyed as an heir apparent to the aging American stars; and Devin Booker, one of the top scorers in the league, can just stand on the side and play pickleball. (That’s a joke — any one of them could win a close game for Team USA.)

“You can feel the greatness in the room,” Holiday said.

Embiid has never played internationally, not in an Olympics or a World Cup. Born in Cameroon and a French citizen who received his French passport on the promise (perceived promise, if you ask Embiid, or assurance, if you ask French officials) that he would play for Les Bleus, Embiid said his participation this summer was about more than which country he chose to represent. He said it was about “the dream” of being an Olympian — a quadrennial event that was huge in Embiid’s house growing up.

If the French crowds boo him during the Olympics, Embiid said, so be it.

“I don’t think it should be anything, but if it’s more than that, I embrace it,” Embiid said. “I don’t think you can get worse than playing in New York in the playoffs.”

Holiday can become the only male basketball player to win two NBA Finals and two Olympic golds in the same summer. Durant can become the first male to win four golds in men’s basketball.

Leonard, like Embiid, has never played internationally, and this is the first Olympics for Curry, who otherwise played in two World Cups.

James and Davis haven’t played in an Olympics since 2012 — which was Durant’s first Games and Kobe Bryant’s last.

Most iterations of Team USA since 1992 have had staggering amounts of star power, but none quite like this. And that was the initial takeaway from Day 1 of camp — with three weeks of practices, friendlies, trips to the Middle East and to London, and then six crucial, potentially stressful, Olympic games in two French cities (Lille and Paris) to follow.

“Moving around — that’s what’s stood out the most to me,” Durant said. “You see these dudes and you compete against them, and some of these dudes you probably don’t like during the regular season. And then you get with them and you see who they are as people, see their approach to the game. It’s inspiring to be around.”

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

LeBron James off Team USA’s bench? Unlikely, but welcome to life on the modern Dream Team

(Top photo of LeBron James at Saturday’s practice: Brian Babineau / NBAE via Getty Images)





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