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The Denver Stiffs Olympic Basketball Preview...

I finally got around to watching "Road to Redemption" on NBATV tonight, and I'm fired up to talk and watch USA Olympic Basketball. I've even set my DVR recorder to tape Team USA's exhibition against Turkey at 6am MST on Thursday on ESPN2.

For those of you who haven't yet seen "Road to Redemption" - a mini-documentary about the US team preparing for the Beijing Olympics - I strongly suggest watching it. Not only does it have great on and off-the-floor footage, but it gave me a new appreciation for what Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski set out to do with the team three years ago. And yet in spite of all their knowledge, effort, scouting, strategy, and so forth, I still think there a few glaring errors on the USA squad that could (emphasize: "could") trip us up in the Olympics beginning next week.

I've been an Olympic basketball junkie ever since they held the team tryouts at McNichols Arena in 1988. I remember watching a young Alonzo Mourning almost make the team and waiting behind Rony Seikaly in the concession area as he got a hot dog before I did (no joke, by the way). At least Seikaly gave me his autograph.

I also remember being emotionally crushed when our team of soon-to-be NBA players lost in the Seoul Olympic Games to a collection of professional aged members of the USSR squad, including Arvydas Sabonis, (former Nugget) Sarunas Marciulionis and, in the NBA's attempt to thaw out the Cold War over All-Star Weekend, eventual three-point shootout participant Rimas Kurtinaitis. I frankly don't remember if the 1988 US team faced Yugoslavia or not (we definitely didn't lose to them, the US lost just once, to the USSR), but that team featured professional European and future NBA players Drazen Petrovic, Toni Kukoc, Stojko Vrankovic, Vlade Divac and Dino Radja.

With the other countries already featuring pro players (and not wanting to lose again), the Dream Team Era began and a series of walkovers followed starting with the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and continuing with the 1994 Toronto World Championships and the 1996 Atlanta Olympics (at which I became the only person from Denver ever to watch Efthimios Rentzias play in person...also not a joke). But regardless of the fact that those 92-96 teams were just flat out better than their international counterparts, consider this: they had ample centers and shooters. Two things that none of the teams post-1996 - including the present one featuring the Nuggets' Carmelo Anthony - have had. And if there are two things you need in international basketball, it's centers and shooters.

In 1992, the original Dream Team featured centers David Robinson and Patrick Ewing to go along with shooters Chris Mullin and Larry Bird.

In 1994, centers Shaquille O'Neal and Alonzo Mourning were joined by shooters Reggie Miller and Mark Price.

And in 1996, Dream Team The Sequel featured three centers in Robinson, O'Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon and shooters Miller and Mitch Richmond.

Comparatively, the 2000 team - which was a Sarunas Jasikevicius three-point attempt that fell about one foot short away from missing the gold medal game - had the shooters in Ray Allen, Allan Houston and Steve Smith, but only one center in Mourning.

And we all know what's happened since. The disastrous 2002 World Championships team, coached by none other than George Karl, had no true center (Antonio Davis and...gulp...Raef LaFrentz had to fill in at the five spot) and finished an embarrassing sixth. That "effort" was followed by the 2004 bronze medal-winning team which didn't feature a single shooter or one true center (Tim Duncan has always been listed as a power forward, probably to preserve his All-Star Game starting steak). Personally, I'd have had both Barry brothers on the '04 team over Stephon Marbury, Richard Jefferson or Melo at that time. And the 2006 bronze medal-winning team, the nucleus from which will be participating in Beijing, also didn't feature a shooter unless you count Shane Battier, and one of the two centers was the seldom used Brad Miller.

Why are centers and shooters so important in international basketball? It's pretty obvious, but basically you need the extra centers because of the five-foul rule and the allowance for tipping in shots still touching the rim. And the shooters are a necessity to break the zones deployed by most international teams.

And yet with all the planning and attention to detail bestowed upon the current USA squad, we have a team with just one center (Dwight Howard), one pure shooter (Michael Redd) and a collection of supremely talented swing players (Melo, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and Tayshaun Prince) and point guards (Jason Kidd, Deron Williams and Chris Paul). In theory, this roster should bring the gold medal back to the US, but I would have made the following three adjustments to virtually guarantee it...

1) Of all the swing players, Wade should be the odd man out. Forget for a second that he's one of the faces of USA Basketball. Wade has been injured for two years and with the additions of Bryant and Redd to go along with Melo and LeBron, Wade's inclusion seems unnecessary to me. I'd have preferred to see another center - Tyson Chandler comes to mind - on the team over Wade.

2) Williams and Paul backing up Kidd seems redundant. With shooting being a premium in international basketball, Chauncey Billups should have been picked over one of these two guys. With Billups you get shooting, a ball handler and defensive toughness.

3) I like the idea of a role playing defender like Prince being on the team, but I'd rather have another bruising power forward in Prince's spot. Of the guys on the Senior National Team roster, my preference would be Amare Stoudamire or even Nick Collison over Prince. I just don't see Prince getting a lot of playing time behind Anthony and James, or even Chris Bosh and Carlos Boozer.

So there you have it. We're basically going into Beijing with a more talented version of the 2004 Olympic Team but with many of the same weaknesses. This squad as presently constructed should bring home the gold, but I wouldn't be the least surprised if it doesn't.

On a side note, Denver Stiffs reader Shane has put together this roster spreadsheet showing how often and how well each member of the current USA squad plays at certain positions, according to the data we've seen at Thanks, Shane!