Team USA has officially captured its fourth consecutive gold medal in basketball at the Tokyo Olympics, but remember, we've already lost 25 percent of the time we'd typically have to begin preparations for the 2024 tournament. COVID-19 delayed the Tokyo Olympic Games, and now, Team USA and the rest of the field have only three years to begin preparations for Paris.
Fortunately, time is rarely something Team USA needs. Unlike their opponents, the Americans tend to finalize their roster only months before the tournament itself. Team USA won't even start looking at possible 2024 prospects until the 2023 World Cup. But that doesn't mean we can't start looking ahead. Here is a way-too-early look at Team USA's possible roster for the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
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Coach: Steve Kerr
Gregg Popovich could return as Team USA's coach in 2024, but he will be 75 at that point, and prior to Mike Krzyzewski, extended stays with Team USA weren't exactly common. The last coach to lead Team USA into the Olympics on multiple occasions was Henry Iba, who did so in 1964, 1968 and 1972. Ever since every coach prior to Coach K went one-and-done. Even if Popovich wants to return for 2024, it should be noted that his tenure hasn't been especially smooth even with a gold medal now in his back pocket. Team USA finished seventh in the 2019 World Cup, and the preliminary loss to France was Team USA's first since 2004.
Steve Kerr seems like the obvious compromise here. Handing the baton to his friend and former protege would likely appeal to Popovich. Kerr played for Team USA in the 1986 World Cup before joining Popovich's Team USA staff, and his track record as coach of the Golden State Warriors speaks for itself, and after spending much of his youth abroad, he embodies the international spirit of the Olympics.
Another candidate to watch out for would be Erik Spoelstra. The long-time Miami Heat head coach led the Select Team in Las Vegas earlier this summer, and like Kerr, he's won multiple championships. If Popovich is not retained, expect Team USA to lean on someone that has been in the program before. Fortunately, they'd have no shortage of options on that front.
Stephen Curry has won gold at the World Cup twice, but has never played in the Olympics. If Kerr is coaching in 2024, though, he'll do what it takes to recruit his Golden State partner. Even at 36, Curry's shooting will be lethal in the international game.
Holiday's defense made him perhaps the second-most valuable player on the 2020 team. Team USA likes to bring players back for multiple Olympic runs, and assuming Holiday remains a stout defender at the age of 34, he'd make plenty of sense as a returning guard. Before you wonder if he'd be interested in returning, remember, his wife, soccer star Lauren Holiday, has two gold medals. He needs one more to balance the household.
Bradley Beal was knocked off of this team because of COVID protocols. Team USA generally tries to give guys second chances when misfortune robs them of medal opportunities. Paul George comes to mind. He got hurt in 2014 but wanted to compete in 2016. He won gold then, and Beal should have a chance to do so as well.
Trae Young made a lot of noise about wanting to compete this year especially when Team USA was looking for replacements. Team USA director Jerry Colangelo said that he "didn't fit the bill" this time around, but that "he has a future with USA Basketball." That future should come in 2024.
Damian Lillard struggled through parts of the Olympics as a score-first guard. The lesson that Team USA learns time and time again is to emphasize passing in its point guards. LaMelo Ball might be the best passer in the NBA by 2024. He'd be a remarkable fit in the international game. Imagine him running fast breaks with Team USA-level athletes.
Devin Booker could make a strong argument for a second go-round, but his skill-set is relatively easy for Team USA to find in its player pool. Cade Cunningham might be good enough to play by then as well, but at this point, he remains unproven. Keep an eye on Anthony Edwards as well. He played for the Select Team before suffering an injury. He'll surely fight for a spot in 2024, and by then, he could be as accomplished as many of the other players on this list.
Kevin Durant really should've had won his fourth gold medal in 2021. He was the last cut from the 2008 Redeem Team and is still mad about it. Without a medal from 2008, he still needs one more to break the Team USA record for golds. He is such an Olympic legend that no age-related decline will be able to keep him away if he wants to play. History suggests that he will.
Jayson Tatum was one of the best players on the 2021 team, and after playing in the 2019 World Cup as well, he's becoming a fixture in the American program. By 2024, he may have replaced Durant as the most lethal American scoring forward in basketball. He might be a starter when 2024 arrives.
The basketball world deserves to see LaMelo Ball and Zion Williamson in transition together. The Pelicans star is already the best American interior scorer in basketball. Team USA won't be able to turn away such easy offense. If you want to get conspiratorial, Williamson will be coming off of his fifth NBA season in 2024. That's how much experience LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh had in 2008 when many believe they concocted their plan to play together with the Miami Heat. Williamson, Ball and Young will all be at around the points in their career in which tampering tends to become more serious, and super teams often emerge out of the Olympics. Keep an eye on those younger names and others as possible candidates.
Team USA always keeps a few defensive specialists on the roster for specific matchups. In 2024, they'll almost certainly have someone on the team specifically for the purpose of locking up Slovenian star Luka Doncic. Many of the best young defenders in the NBA such as OG Anunoby (Nigeria), Ben Simmons (Australia) and Lu Dort (Canada) are foreign-born. Mikal Bridges is American, luckily, and he'll add some very welcome shooting.
Team USA also tends to keep some shooting specialists. Duncan Robinson and Joe Harris might be options, but with Curry in place Team USA might be a bit more flexible on that front this time around. Another name to watch out for, despite Colangelo indicating that his time as an Olympian was likely over, is LeBron James. Remember, his Lakers contract expires in 2023. If the NBA changes its draft rules by then, his son Bronny could enter that draft straight out of high school. James has said that he wants to end his career playing with his son, so if he does so in the 2023-24 season, he might view the Olympics as one last hurrah. No matter what state the then-39-year-old James is in, he has earned inclusion if he wants to play regardless of his age or ability. Larry Bird could barely run in 1992. James is one of the few players of that stature.
Team USA just saw firsthand how difficult it is to build an all-American front-court for the Olympics. Most of the NBA's best big men were born in other countries and that really hurt Team USA's rebounding and rim-protection. They got by with a switching defense and its incredible shooting and athleticism, but with Nikola Jokic (Serbia) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece) possibly returning to the Olympics in 2024 after sitting out 2021, Team USA will need to get its big men exactly right.
Bam Adebayo is an obvious choice. He's not the big, bulkier option they'd want for a Jokic matchup, but switching largely worked for Team USA in 2021. They'll want to have the option again in 2024. His lob-finishing is especially powerful with the quality of pick-and-roll ball-handlers an American team always has.
Myles Turner is probably Team USA's best bet as a rim protector, and he comes with the added bonus of shooting well beyond the arc. That could prove problematic for Jokic. Kevin Love was originally on this roster specifically to draw Rudy Gobert away from the basket. Turner would give Team USA that matchup advantage.
The final spot is the hardest to fill. Jarrett Allen could provide some of Turner's defense and much more rebounding, but without a 3-point shot, those traits just aren't worth it. There are a number of possible star big men entering the draft in the coming years, but among them, only Chet Holmgren is American. Evan Mobley is as well, and even if Holmgren has a higher ceiling, Mobley is likely going to be the better player in three years thanks to his more developed body and extra NBA experience. He projects as an elite all-around defender that can shoot 3s, a balance between Turner and Adebayo.