The U.S. team just went undefeated in the London Olympics and won the gold medal. So one could easily argue that USA Basketball should simply follow the same exact formula for the upcoming 2016 Rio Games.
That is, select the next Olympic team just a few weeks before the 2016 Summer Games. And then have the team play a short exhibition season before traveling to Rio.
But following this same formula again in four years would be extremely hazardous to the U.S. team's gold medal chances at the next Olympics.
As was apparent this summer, the world is catching up quickly. Unlike the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the U.S. team was involved in three very competitive games this summer, none of which were decided until late in the fourth quarter.
All three games could have resulted in a loss for the U.S. had the team not responded at the end of each game.
With the level of basketball talent continuing to rise quickly worldwide, the U.S. can't just stay pat.
In order to avoid such a set-back occurring in Rio and ensure that the U.S. remains top dog in the world, two changes to the team's Olympic preparation and composition must be made.
First, the U.S. cannot wait until just a few weeks before the Rio games to select its team. Instead, it needs to select a national team two years prior, in 2014, composed of players who will commit to playing together internationally for the next three summers up through the 2016 games.
As was apparent in the Lithuania game, one advantage that other countries have over the U.S. is that their players have been competing together internationally for many years. So, they have a fluidity and level of teamwork that the U.S—with only a few weeks of time playing together—struggles to match.
If a long-term national team is selected in 2014, however, it would allow these players to have at least two summers of practicing and competing together before the 2016 Olympics.
The first summer, they would participate in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain. And then, in the summer of 2015, the team would practice together for a few weeks and play a limited slate of exhibition games.
So, by the time the Rio games arrive in 2016, the U.S. team would have enough time playing together to establish good team chemistry before they have to take on the world again for gold.
Now, there are definitely problems with this approach.
Injuries and other unforeseen circumstances will certainly lead to changes in the national team's line-up over the course of three summers of competition. And NBA owners obviously will not be pleased that that their multimillion dollar investments will be risking their health for a prolonged period of time.
But this approach will ensure that at least a core group of U.S. players will establish a bond commensurate with what some of the international teams have established.
Second, the U.S. team needs to find a way to incorporate more young talent into the program for 2016.
Except for Kobe Bryant, no U.S. player has announced their retirement from the national team.
In fact, just this week, Lebron James declared that he definitely plans to play in the Rio games.
Thus, in Rio, the U.S. team may have a 31-year-old Chris Paul and a 32-year-old Deron Williams playing in their third Olympic Games. And a 32-year-old Carmelo Anthony and a 31-year-old LeBron James playing in their fourth games.
Although certainly none of these players will be too old to compete at those ages, they will all have a lot of NBA mileage on them at that point in their careers. And they will all probably be a step slower than they were in London.
It may sound like sacrilege given the lofty status of these superstars, but it is time for at least a couple of these players to hang up their spurs in terms of Olympic basketball. This would give up-and-coming NBA stars—such as Kyrie Irving—a chance to join other young studs like Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis in the quest to bring home gold in 2016.
Otherwise, the U.S. risks falling flat on aging legs in Rio.