By Mike Bresnahan, Los Angeles Times –
LOS ANGELES — This all started back in April, when LaMarcus Aldridge’s right hip stopped cooperating.
It was a non-issue for USA Basketball, which wanted the All-Star power forward for the Olympics in London but still had numerous post players on its list.
That list, which once had 16 centers and power forwards, is now down to four. Maybe five. The Olympics are three weeks away.
How’d it happen? Lots of injuries and some rushed choices in order to beat roster deadlines.
Aldridge, Dwight Howard (back), Chris Bosh (abdomen) are out of the Olympics, and top overall draft pick Anthony Davis is on the fence after sustaining a sprained ankle last weekend.
They can’t easily be replaced, mainly because the deadline has already passed for additional players to be entered into the drug-testing pool.
It has become so bad that Tyson Chandler, Kevin Love and Blake Griffin are the only healthy big men left on the list after Lamar Odom withdrew this week. Even Griffin is a question mark — he will undergo an individual workout for U.S. coaches to show he has fully recovered from a sprained left knee he suffered in the NBA playoffs.
A final roster of 12 players must be submitted by Team USA on Saturday, a July 7 date that has already been extended from June 18 by the U.S. Olympic Committee.
When the NBA season began in December, USA Basketball had a list of 37 players that were Olympic worthy.
It was pared down to 20 in January, with the following big men cut from the list: Al Jefferson, David Lee, Brook Lopez, Carlos Boozer, Kendrick Perkins and Amare Stoudemire.
Then the injuries began.
Chandler is the team’s only seven-footer, making him a shoo-in to make the final cut. Love’s rebounding and outside touch give him a guaranteed roster spot.
In a pinch, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony can play power forward. It’s international basketball, where outside shooting and speed are often more important than brute strength.
Remember, Odom played center when the U.S. won a gold medal in the 2010 World Championships.
As for the other roster spots, Kobe Bryant is a lock at shooting guard. James, Anthony and Kevin Durant make it at small forward. Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Russell Westbrook are the point guards. Derrick Rose will be missed (torn knee ligament) but there is still plenty of depth at that position.
Then it gets interesting. Five players (maybe six, if Davis is deemed healthy) gunning for three open slots.
Heavy on point guards, the U.S. needs some shooting guards to spell Bryant.
Small forwards Rudy Gay and Andre Iguodala are solid all-around players, but Iguodala has a slight advantage because he can play shooting guard.
Oklahoma City shooting guard James Harden looked great in the playoffs until the NBA Finals. He scored in double figures in only two of five games against Miami and shot 37.5 percent.
Shooting guard Eric Gordon barely played last season for New Orleans because of injuries, so he’s probably out.
As for the rapidly thinning post players, even if Griffin shows USA Basketball he is healthy, his poor shooting from the perimeter and free-throw line don’t exactly scream international ball, no matter how many players he dunks over.
Looks like this gold medal will have to be won from the perimeter. Or with pure speed. Anywhere but down low.