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Monday, June 16, 2008
Team USA update: Who will make the Beijing roster?

By Chris Sheridan
ESPN.com

The plan has changed for Team USA as the countdown to Beijing can now be tallied in weeks rather than months.

Tryouts in Las Vegas for the final two or three roster spots are out, suddenly deemed impractical and unfair.

Bringing an extra big man may be out, too, although that decision is still being debated at the highest levels of USA Basketball.

And going young seems to have an edge over going old as Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski and managing director Jerry Colangelo whittle down the roster to choose the 12 players who will don red, white and blue this summer in an attempt to end the eight-year gold medal drought that has changed the landscape of international basketball.

"We're at 13 or 14 right now," Colangelo told ESPN.com. "The bottom line is: When we pick the 12, we're going to war with those 12."

SPORTSNATION'S DREAM TEAM
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Colangelo said the roster should be finalized and announced sometime between June 20 and 25, and the team will report to Las Vegas for a team meeting on June 27 and a practice on June 28 before the official 12-man roster is submitted to the United States Olympic Committee on July 1.

The Americans will also list six alternates, but USOC and IOC rules make it extremely difficult to alter the 12-man roster afterward unless one of the 12 sustains a verifiable injury.

The U.S. team's main training camp begins in Las Vegas on July 20. It plays an exhibition against Canada on July 25 and boards a commercial flight to Asia on July 26, not to set foot again on American soil until the gold medal winner has been determined.

So who's going?

And whose stock has risen and fallen since the Americans dominated the Tournament of the Americas last summer?

Here's a look at how ESPN.com is handicapping the roster race, from those who are locks to those on the bubble to those on the national team's full 33-man roster who are completely out of the picture, based upon conversations with USA Basketball officials and sources throughout the NBA:

LOCKS


Carmelo Anthony
Pencil him in -- no, go ahead and use indelible ink -- as the starting power forward.

He was Team USA's most consistent performer two years ago at the World Championship in Japan, and again last summer in Vegas, where he admitted he enjoys FIBA basketball more than NBA basketball.


Carlos Boozer
He brings a physical, low-post offensive game that will be utilized against opponents who will be able to slow the pace and make it a battle of half-court sets.

The none-too-proud owner of a bronze medal from 2004, Boozer is one of four or five Athens Olympics veterans who will be taking another shot at the gold.


Chris Bosh
With the Americans short on big men -- especially if Tyson Chandler does not make the final 12, he could end up as the default backup center behind Dwight Howard.

And given Howard's shaky free-throw shooting, Bosh could be the center Americans will have to use if they find themselves in a tight fourth quarter.


Kobe Bryant
That banged-up pinky will remain banged up until the end of August, because Bryant has said nothing is going to keep him from his quest to restore American dominance to the world of international basketball.

If last summer is a precursor, Bryant will ask for and receive the defensive assignment of guarding each opponent's best perimeter player.


Dwight Howard
A prediction: If the Americans go with only three traditional bigs, there will come a game against a physical opponent in which a referee with an agenda (go ask Tim Duncan if this ever happens in FIBA competitions) will whistle him for three quick fouls, forcing the U.S. team to play Bosh or Boozer in the middle.


LeBron James
Speaks more Mandarin than anyone else on the team, and wants more than anything to stop being referred to in FIBA circles as LeBronze (for his third-place finishes in Athens and Japan). He's also the morning-line favorite to lead the team in entourage size.

Most important is whether he can shoot anywhere near 76 percent from the field as he did last summer.


Jason Kidd
The elder statesman, the distributor, the only guy on the team bus who can brag (as he did last summer) that he's gone 38-0 in international competitions with the senior national team.

He'll be the starter, but Coach K and Jerry Colangelo have already decided they're bringing three point guards to China, so Kidd could end up being no more than a 22-minute player.


Michael Redd
The designated zone buster -- something the Americans didn't have in Athens when they faced 40 minutes of zone defense in every game (with the exception of their semifinal loss to Argentina, when Manu Ginobili and Co. played them straight up).

It remains to be seen whether being the subject of trade rumors will be a distraction to Redd when he's half a world away from Milwaukee.


Dwyane Wade
Colangelo visited him last week in Chicago, where Wade has been working out with trainer Tim Grover.

"I liked what I saw physically, though his timing is still a little off, but by July 20 he'll be fine. I also think his focus is back where it needs to be," Colangelo said. Wade will come off the bench as the sixth man.


ON THE BUBBLE


Chauncey Billups
Again, Colangelo and Krzyzewski have already decided to bring three point guards, and the guess here is that Mr. Big Shot will be the odd man out from the foursome that also includes Kidd, Chris Paul and Deron Williams.

His recent hamstring injury doesn't help his cause, nor does the slippage in his game that has been evident for the past two seasons.


Tyson Chandler
It appears it'll come down to him or Tayshaun Prince for the final roster spot. In his favor: He blocks shots and rebounds, and he's a banger down low (remember, FIBA basketball is much, much more physical than NBA basketball).

Working against him: He's a poor free-throw shooter, which opponents will exploit.


Chris Paul
His lack of size and lack of experience were exploited by opponents in Japan, where Coach K took the starter's job away from him and gave it to Kirk Hinrich.

But he has grown substantially as a player in the two years since, and his speed and penetration skills are factors the Americans will need to exploit in their favor. Probably belongs on the lock list, not the bubble list, but we're being extra cautious here.


Tayshaun Prince
He can defend four positions with his length, he can play inside and outside, and he can make free throws and bust zones.

But he'd pretty much be the 12th man, and conventional basketball wisdom says you always protect yourself by bringing an extra big man in case injuries and/or fouls become a factor.


Amare Stoudemire
May have talked himself off the team when he told the Arizona Republic at the end of April that he was concerned about the long-term strength of his post-microfracture knees -- and how it will impact the value of his contract extension.

Colangelo has asked for total focus and commitment, and the 33-man roster is littered with guys who have wavered their way into watching the Olympics from their couches.


Deron Williams
The higher-ups in USA Basketball see him as a long-term asset who can fill Kidd's role as team leader at the 2010 World Championship in Turkey and the 2012 London Olympics. He's a better shooter than Kidd and he's stronger than Paul -- the latter factor being something to focus on when the Americans have to defend teams with tall point guards.

Don't forget: Greece's big backcourt overwhelmed the Americans in Japan.


OUT OF THE MIX

Gilbert Arenas: His bridges were burned in '06.

Shane Battier: Ankle surgery knocked out a Coach K favorite.

Bruce Bowen: Like Arenas, complained too much after '06 cut.

Elton Brand: Still recovering from major Achilles injury.

Nick Collison: In the mix for 2010 and 2012.

Kevin Durant: Will practice against Team USA in Vegas with select team.

Kirk Hinrich: A fifth wheel behind point guard foursome listed above.

Antawn Jamison: Was on Japan team in '06, but played little.

Joe Johnson: Coach K loves him, but superfluous for an already-small roster.

Shawn Marion: Came up lame the last two summers. Might be an alternate.

Brad Miller: Like Jamison, went to Japan but didn't play much.

Mike Miller: The weak link on the '07 team.

Adam Morrison: Recovering from torn knee ligament.

Greg Oden: Recovering from microfracture surgery.

Lamar Odom: Didn't play in '06 or '07.

Paul Pierce: Also squeezed out by not playing in '06 and '07.

J.J. Redick: Only on roster as option for 2010 and 2012.

Luke Ridnour: Battling Redick for 33rd man status.


PREDICTION

With Coach K planning to use Anthony and James extensively at the power forward spot, there is serious consideration being given to bringing only three true bigs to Beijing.

I think it would be a colossal mistake, but it wouldn't surprise me. Still, I have to believe sanity will win out and Chandler will get the nod over Prince for the final spot. So here's my 12:

Starters: Kidd, Bryant, James, Anthony, Howard
Reserves: Wade, Boozer, Bosh, Paul, Williams, Redd and Chandler

Chris Sheridan is an ESPN.com Insider. He has covered the U .S. senior national team since the 1996 Olympics.