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Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Venezuela slip allows U.S. to bid for hoops tourney

By Andy Katz
ESPN.com

Team USA won't have many roster changes for the 2007 Tournament of Americas, but how it plays defense and where it plays is likely going to change for next summer.

Venezuela, viewed as a trouble travel spot by the U.S. and home to arguably one of the most anti-American leaders in Hugo Chavez, may be out as host.

According to multiple sources, Venezuela didn't come up with the necessary payments in time to secure its site in Caracas as the host. That forced FIBA Americas to open up the bidding. FIBA spokesman Javier Otero said in an e-mail Tuesday that Venezuela is still in the bidding process along with Chile, Puerto Rico and the United States.

The executive board of FIBA Americas, which has more Latin American representation based on the number of countries, will meet Oct. 2 and a decision, according to Otero, will be made Oct. 10. The winner of the Tournament of Americas earns an automatic berth to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

While national team managing director Jerry Colangelo doesn't want to comment on why the event may leave Venezuela, he did say that Las Vegas is the choice of the U.S. if it is selected to host.

Meanwhile, Colangelo said that he expects the U.S. to focus on having varied defensive options to combat its inability to stop Greece's pick-and-roll during the FIBA World Championship semifinal loss in Japan earlier this month.

Colangelo also said that Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, who didn't play because of a knee injury, told him as the team was leaving Japan that he was committed to playing in 2007 and '08.

Bryant was in Japan for a Nike event and planned on attending the final, but once the U.S. lost, the team left a day before Spain and Argentina played for the gold medal.

"We were walking out of the hotel and he was walking in, hugged me and said, 'you know I'm there for you next summer,' " Colangelo said.

He added that Chauncey Billups of the Detroit Pistons told him the same thing after he participated in the Las Vegas training session but didn't go with the team because of family commitments. Colangelo said there could be roster tweaks -- although no staff changes are expected -- with the possibility of adding another point guard. Who? New Jersey Nets point guard Jason Kidd's representation called Colangelo when he returned from Japan saying that Kidd wanted to be considered for next summer.

"I know there are going to be a few who weren't with us that will want to participate," Colangelo said. "We might invite a player or two, but we had guys who paid a price through six weeks of hard work and built up equity, and that's important to honor that too."

Colangelo said he expects Michael Redd of the Milwaukee Bucks, who missed out on this summer because he got married, to participate as well.

Colangelo said that if Las Vegas were chosen, then the Thomas & Mack Center would be the host arena for the 10-team event. Teams could use UNLV's Cox Pavilion as a practice facility, and if need be arenas at the Orleans and MGM casinos could be made available for the mid-August event.

If Venezuela isn't the host then it wouldn't be in the event. The same is true of Chile, with neither one qualified.

In 2003, the U.S. won in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where FIBA Americas is based.

USA Basketball is banking on ready-made facilities and first-class lodging to convince the committee. But the location could be a political issue that is out of USA Basketball's control.

If the U.S. gets the bid then it wouldn't leave its training facility, a huge competitive advantage.

When Colangelo was at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., two weeks ago, he was asked a number of times about the pick-and-roll. His said that the U.S. would alter its defense.

"We felt we could pressure everybody and take them out of their game, and that works against 90 percent of the teams, but Spain, Argentina and Greece weren't bothered by that kind of pressure," said Colangelo. The U.S. didn't play Spain but did beat Argentina for the bronze.

"When the picker is taking you with a moving screen like they [Greece] were, that was the first time we saw it," Colangelo said. "No one was able to do that against us to that degree. It was an eye-opener.

"We're not going to throw all your cards at you," Colangelo said. "We're not going to be straight man to man or zone. We're not worrying about scoring. If Michael Redd, Chauncey, Kobe and a healthy Amare [Stoudemire out with a knee injury] were on this team, then that makes a difference. Our talent will allow us to score. We're going to focus on defense."

And, if all goes according to plan, Team USA won't have to worry about playing in a potential hostile environment, either.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.