Will LeBron be back for 2016 Games?
Gold medalists again, Team USA could have a different look for the Rio Olympics
LONDON -- Eight points is all it takes. Eight points would be more than enough. With just eight more points, LeBron James would become the highest-scoring Olympian to ever pull on a USA jersey.
To get 'em, James has to be willing to come back to the Summer Games for a U.S. record fourth time, when the Olympic torch is passed from London to Rio in 2016.
Enter Kevin Durant. It was just last week that Team USA's leading scorer told ESPN.com that he still thinks there's a decent chance he and a few other prominent players can convince Mike Krzyzewski to stay on as the Americans' coach. Now Durant says he'll be making the same personal pitch to James as well for Brazil. "I'm going to talk to him," Durant said. "I'm sure he's had his fair share [of the Olympics], but I would love to play with him again."
And if James decides he needs to step away from the international stage? "If he passes the torch on to me," Durant said of the figurative variety, "I'll be ready."No one doubts that after the tournament, and finish, Durant just had. With the first 30-point game ever produced in the final by an American, Oklahoma City's face of the franchise finished with 156 points in eight games, good for an average of 19.5 points per game and eclipsing the 145 points that Spencer Haywood racked up for the United States in 1968. Leading up to Sunday's gold-medal game, as Chris Paul memorably said, Durant's teammates occasionally had "to yell at him to shoot the ball." Yet he had stopped deferring by the time Team USA was confronted by a stubborn Spain in the deciding game and recognized his own growth afterward. "When we first got together, I was passing those shots up, making unnecessary dribbles and messing our offense up," Durant said. "I didn't want to be the guy taking all those shots, the one guys didn't want to be playing with."
He needn't worry. No less an authority than Team USA elder statesman Kobe Bryant -- Krzyzewski's only player older than 30 and the only member of the 2012 squad who is a definite to retire from international duty -- came away convinced that the twentysomethings don't need his guidance any longer.
"The other guys are good to go," Bryant said.
It's a list, of course, that still starts with James, who has never imposed himself more on the world stage than he did at these Olympics, be it with a historic triple-double against Australia or a dagger triple in Marc Gasol's face to clinch the gold medal just days after telling reporters: "I'm not a 3-point shooter."
He also routinely guarded other teams' big men, prompting one Olympic correspondent (OK, it was me) to tell LeBron he was in danger of making the mythical Olympic All-Tournament Team as a center.
"Do whatever y'all want to do," James said when asked if he could live with that classification.
It'll eventually fall to USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo to sit down with James and address the future, but Colangelo leaves London with much to do beyond that, starting with the search to replace Krzyzewski. The loose plan, Colangelo says, is securing Krzyzewski's replacement by the start of 2013, then proceeding to the small matter of assembling a roster for the 2014 World Cup of Basketball in Spain.
The challenge there? Determining how many members of this victorious Olympic squad to invite to Spain and how many to offer time off until Rio.
As one team insider puts it, there is certain to be a measure of "new blood" recruited for the team that goes to the World Cup in Spain. Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving is sure to be the first of those youngsters summoned, alongside current Team USA 12th man Anthony Davis, for the event formerly known as the FIBA World Championship. It figures to be a much longer wait before James decides anything firm.
Pretty much every time he was asked at these Olympics, James would always bat the questions away, saying: "Let me get through this first." If anything wore on him this summer, it was the daily media grind, with Team USA besieged by reporters from all over the world before practices and after games. Those were obligations that James always fulfilled but also the only part of the trip that made him look as weary as you'd expect for someone who played 85 regular-season and playoff games in a lockout-compacted season and then had to report to his national team after just a couple of weeks off.
Now, then, is not the time for Durant and Colangelo to make their Rio pitch. They know that LeBron, more than anyone in the U.S. traveling party, needs a break.
But Colangelo, as stated on Sunday, thinks the prospect of a fourth Olympics and the unique significance of that submission on James' résumé, as he continues to separate himself from his peers, will be a strong lure.
"It probably sounds crazy to think that after winning a gold medal this is bittersweet, but it is. It is sweet to be able to have this gold medal around your neck, but it's tough because you don't get this opportunity anymore. ... I hate that in a couple of months these guys are going to be my enemies."” -- Team USA point guard Chris Paul
Krzyzewski, meanwhile, is betting on Colangelo's charm to seal the deal.
"You can replace a coach," Krzyzewski said. "You can replace players. What [Colangelo has] done, I think he's the most irreplaceable part of this.
"[The players] trust Jerry and they also come to him for guidance. He can be their friend. He's not the Phoenix Suns' owner anymore. You want to be around people that can help you."
Said James: "I think between me, Coach K, CP [Chris Paul] and Melo [Carmelo Anthony], we've been through it all. We were part of the whole rebuilding of the USA team, trying to get back to where it was before."
The journey from the despair of defeats at the 2004 Athens Olympics (to Argentina) and the 2006 Worlds in Japan has Paul referring to the two gold medals that followed, in Beijing and here in London, as "the funnest" time of his life.
"It probably sounds crazy to think that after winning a gold medal this is bittersweet, but it is," Paul said at Sunday's postgame news conference.
"It is sweet to be able to have this gold medal around your neck, but it's tough because you don't get this opportunity anymore. I hate that in a couple of months these guys are going to be my enemies."
"Might be the best team I ever play on," Kevin Love said after crucially helping the undersized Americans hold Pau Gasol to just one fourth-quarter point after Gasol shredded the Americans inside for 15 points in Sunday's third quarter.
"It was a tremendous experience, both on and off the court, how we formed a team in such little time," said Team USA swingman Andre Iguodala. "What people don't realize is that these teams have been playing with each other since they were teenagers. For us to put a team of superstars together in three weeks or a month and a half, and what we built we built camaraderie, we worked hard together, we sacrificed for one another."
Said Paul: "'08 was all good and well, but there was something about our 2012 team that was just special. I hate that this was our last game playing together. It's something that we'll never forget."
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