Tuesday, April 3, 2007
Updated: April 4, 9:40 AM ET
Team USA update: Waffling by LeBron irks Colangelo
By Chris Sheridan
If LeBron James wants to assure himself of a trip to the Beijing Olympics, he'd better show up for more than a cameo in Las Vegas this summer.
In a blunt retort to James' statement that he is only "50-50" on playing for the United States at the Tournament of the Americas Olympic qualifying tournament, Team USA managing director Jerry Colangelo told ESPN.com that James could be jeopardizing his status as one of the five or six core players for the Beijing Olympics.
"Unless people have a legitimate reason for not participating, I expect them to uphold their three-year commitment. I'm standing by my commitment and I expect people to stand by theirs. If someone chooses not to participate just because they'd rather not play, that person would put himself at risk as far as who ultimately represents us at the Olympics," Colangelo said.
Coming off a third-place finish at last summer's World Championship, Team USA will attempt to qualify for the Olympics at the Tournament of the Americas in Las Vegas Aug. 22-Sept. 2. Because two spots are at stake for teams from the region, the most important game will be the semifinal on Sept. 1.
Team USA will have a roster that looks quite different from the one Colangelo brought to Japan last summer, with new additions Jason Kidd and Carlos Boozer -- both former Olympians -- expected to play alongside Kobe Bryant, Michael Redd, Chauncey Billups, Shawn Marion and Amare Stoudemire, none of whom was on last summer's Japan roster due to extenuating circumstances.
"It'll be based on merit, but you could see a number of changes," Colangelo said.
Colangelo also said Team USA members Paul Pierce and Lamar Odom, both of whom are expected to have surgery in the offseason, will not be in the mix for spots on the 2008 team.
"I don't have a rule, but it just makes common sense that if you miss the first two events you don't go to the third," Colangelo said, adding that he also does not expect to have Dwyane Wade, Joe Johnson and Chris Paul on the Tournament of the Americas roster because of their various injuries and possible surgeries.
In addition to Kidd, Boozer and Greg Oden (who attended camp briefly last summer), at least two other new players are expected to be invited to training camp in mid-July. One is all but certain to be Kevin Durant of the University of Texas, and another could be Deron Williams of the Utah Jazz.
Colangelo expects everyone on the roster to attend mini-camp in Las Vegas in mid-July, with 15 players being brought back Aug. 12 when the team assembles for camp 10 days prior to the Tournament of the Americas.
Whether James is among those 15 is something to keep an eye on.
James gave his "50-50" prognosis last month, saying: "Right now, I'm 50-50. My girlfriend is expecting another [baby] in June. Health is always an issue. You have to re-evaluate things, go through the season, go through the playoffs and then look at it afterward." James has waffled to varying degrees throughout the season when questioned on the subject, repeatedly saying he wants to sit down with his family to discuss it after the NBA season.
But his "50-50" comment clearly did not sit well with Colangelo, who excused two players last summer for personal reasons (Redd had longstanding wedding plans that conflicted with the World Championship schedule, and Billups wanted to be with his wife for the birth of a child).
"I'm not giving out a free pass, that's my point," Colangelo said, emphasizing that he expects the same level of commitment from everyone on the roster, not just James. "You have to look at each individual situation and weigh it."
Jeopardizing his spot on the Beijing roster would be a huge risk for James, who has been studying Mandarin as he seeks to become even more of a marketing and pop icon in China. There's are financial implications, too, for James, who would lose more than $250,000 in endorsement bonuses from Nike, Coca-Cola and Upper Deck if he failed to make the 2008 Beijing roster.
Kevin Garnett, a member of the 2000 U.S. Olympic team who in 2005 declined Colangelo's overtures to rejoin Team USA, told reporters in Minneapolis on Thursday that James needs to do what's right for James.
"The body can only take so much," Garnett said. "It's hard to make other people understand that. But sometimes, you have to do what's best for yourself for you to be productive. It's easy to sit in the back and critique what others do, but it's one of the hardest things to do in our league.
"Let me tell you what's going to happen. LeBron is going to step up and not going let the pressure dictate what he's doing," Garnett said. "I think USA Basketball is trying to throw it on him. He's human. Otherwise, he's going to break down and no one wants to see that. At one point he'll step up and speak up, and that's all right to do that. Your body is telling you. You have to listen to your body. If he's going to be effective in the playoffs, he'll have to do that."
Colangelo also said he wants to have a clear-the-air meeting with Gilbert Arenas, whose departure from the team during an exhibition tour of South Korea was less than amicable. Colangelo said he unsuccessfully tried to contact Arenas when he was in Washington last weekend, getting a message that Arenas' voice mailbox was full.
"We need to have a conversation, and he needs to say some appropriate things," Colangelo said.
Colangelo traveled last month to China to secure Olympic housing for his team, finally pulling out a DVD of last summer's US loss to Greece in the World Championship semifinal and watching it for the first time.
"It was like reliving a nightmare. Everything I remembered, that's what I saw," said Colangelo, who refused to pin blame on head coach Mike Krzyzewski or anyone else for the team's inability to defend the high pick-and-roll play that Greece executed to perfection time after time, building a huge third-quarter lead that withstood the Americans' late comeback attempt.
"No one bears blame. The bottom line is we didn't accomplish what we set out to accomplish, and we all share in the responsibility, good and bad, beginning with me," Colangelo said.
Team USA will open play in the Tournament of the Americas on Aug. 22 against Venezuela. Other first-round opponents will be the U.S. Virgin Islands, Canada and Brazil, whose best big man, Nene, is not expected to play because of his strained ties with the Brazilian basketball federation. The other side of the Tournament of the Americas draw includes Uruguay, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Panama and defending Olympic champion Argentina, whose best player, Manu Ginobili, is expected to announce soon whether he plans to compete this summer.
Argentina coach Sergio Hernandez plans to travel to the United States and Europe later this month to speak with his country's top players to determine who is in and who is out. Argentina finished a disappointing fourth in Japan, losing its semifinal match to eventual champion Spain when Andres Nocioni missed an open 18-foot jumper at the final buzzer, then dropping the bronze medal game 96-81 against Team USA.
"There are three [FIBA Americas] teams who ought to win the [FIBA Americas] Championship, because of their global status," Hernandez told PA Sport. "They are Argentina, Brazil and the United States.
"There will be only two [Olympics] spots for these three."
The teams finishing third, fourth and fifth in the Tournament of the Americas will gain berths in a new 12-team pre-Olympic second-chance qualifier July 7-13, 2008, at a site to be determined.
Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.