5 Squads Who Could Cause Major Problems for Team USA at FIBA Tournament
After starring for the United States in the 2012 London Summer Olympics, LeBron James, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony all declined to participate in the 2014 FIBA World Cup.
Oklahoma City Thunder forward and 2014 NBA MVP Kevin Durant subsequently decided to withdraw from FIBA competition, saying in a statement, via ESPN.com, that, "I need to take a step back and take some time away, both mentally and physically in order to prepare for the upcoming NBA season."
Despite the uneven participation and setbacks, Team USA remains a dangerous and incredibly talented squad.
With former MVP Derrick Rose running the point with fellow floor generals Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving, the United States will roll into Spain with some of the very best playmakers in the business. James Harden's scoring and Anthony Davis' interior dominance also headline a roster that remains the envy of the world—even if it's missing some of the NBA's premier names.
But for all its talent, Team USA isn't invincible.
Here are five teams ready to give the United States a run for its money.
It's easy to forget the Lithuanians gave Team USA some trouble two years ago at the London Summer Olympics.
The United States led by just four points at halftime and by just six at the end of the third quarter.
Despite the retirements of Darius Songaila and Sarunas Jasikevicius from the national team, Lithuania has remained competitive—reaching the Finals of 2013's EuroBasket tournament and ultimately losing to the vaunted French team.
Two NBA big men now anchor the Lithuanian front line.
Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas mans the middle, while Houston Rockets big man Donatas Motiejunas plays power forward. This team boast some serious size and skill, perhaps enough to outshine its fellow Eastern European teams (including Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia and Ukraine).
The Lithuanians probably aren't threats to take the tournament, but they could cause some real pain for the conventional contenders.
The Argentinians would find themselves higher on this list but for a couple of significant absences.
San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili is sitting out World Cup play as he recovers from a stress fracture in his leg, and Carlos Delfino—who now belongs to the Los Angeles Clippers after a trade from the Milwaukee Bucks—is out with a foot injury.
As Spurs Nation's Dan McCarney reported regarding Ginobili, "The CABB [the Argentine Basketball Federation] cited a clause in the agreement between the NBA and FIBA that prohibits players from participating with their national team when there is 'reasonable medical concern' for the player’s health."
"I very much regret the bad news," Ginobili wrote in Argentina's La Nacion, per McCarney. "I wanted to say goodbye to the team on the court and be with my friends, but it cannot be. I'll be with the team as long as possible, trying to add from the outside and supporting at all times."
Unfortunately, that puts a serious crimp in Argentina's otherwise respectable perimeter shooting.
Still, this team has some weapons.
Chief among them are Indiana Pacers power forward Luis Scola and New York Knicks point guard Pablo Prigioni. Former NBA role player Andres Nocioni (now of Real Madrid) will once again lend his talents, too.
Argentina won gold at the 2004 Summer Olympics and claimed a bronze medal at the 2008 edition, but its aging core may complicate things from here on out. All the same, this remains a team worth watching. It may not match the United States when it comes to sheer talent, but this club has a winning tradition on which to stand and enough firepower to keep things interesting.
It's been awhile since Brazil made serious headway at the FIBA World Cup. Its last medal—a bronze one—came in 1978. The club finished ninth in 2010 and 19th in 2006.
But after finishing fifth at the 2012 London Summer Olympics, the Brazilians have reason to be hopeful.
Like Lithuania, this team is outfitted with a strong front line—one that has more than its fair share of NBA representation. The roster includes the Washington Wizards' Nene Hilario, the San Antonio Spurs' Tiago Splitter and the Cleveland Cavaliers' Anderson Varejao.
Throw in the never-shy Leandro Barbosa, and you have a pretty well-rounded rotation.
The big question is whether elite size alone is enough to get this team over the hump. Much will depend on unsung starting guards Alex Garcia and Marcelinho Huertas. Without big contributions from the backcourt, Brazil stands little chance against Team USA—or even the next two clubs on this list.
For the record, the United States bested Brazil by a final score of 95-78 during exhibition play this summer.
While the contest certainly qualified as a blowout, the Brazilians held their own and gave the United States something to think about. Perhaps they can do even better when the games start counting for something.
Portland Trail Blazers forward Nic Batum has already earned himself a mixed reputation on the global stage.
During the 2012 London Summer Olympics, Batum punched Spanish guard Juan Carlos Navarro in the groin, drawing plenty of attention in the process.
"I wanted to give him a good reason to flop," Batum said afterward, per Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski.
Shenanigans aside, the 25-year-old Frenchman remains his team's best hope this summer. Without point guard Tony Parker running the show, Batum instantly becomes France's most well-rounded player. He can score, defend, pass and rebound—using his top-shelf length and athleticism to become one of the best players internationally.
And he'll have some help.
San Antonio Spurs forward Boris Diaw and Indiana Pacers center Ian Mahinmi anchor the front line while Orlando Magic guard Evan Fournier contributes some shooting prowess. Mickael Gelabale—who briefly flirted with an NBA career—also remains in the picture.
The French have been quite competitive on the international stage, finishing sixth at the 2012 Olympics and taking the silver medal at the 2000 games in Sydney.
If any team has the depth and chemistry to upset the United States, it may be France.
With Spain hosting the FIBA World Cup, one can only wonder whether the hometown team can pull an upset.
Put simply, the Spanish are the single greatest threat to the United States, thanks in large part to a core comprised of some exceptional NBA talent.
The front line boasts a rotation including Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka—a lethal combination of All-Star talent and elite shot-blocking ability. The trio compares favorably even against Team USA's Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond, Kenneth Faried and Mason Plumlee.
With Portland Trail Blazers forward Victor Claver adding a bit of depth, the United States has reason to be weary.
The backcourt also features a duo of NBA point guards: Minnesota Timberwolves' Ricky Rubio and the New York Knicks' Jose Calderon. Though less intimidating than the Spanish bigs, no team outside of Team USA can claim more capable floor generals.
Rudy Fernandez, Juan Carlos Navarro and Alex Abrines round out a rotation that could once again turn some heads.
Spain claimed silver medals in both the 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics, as well as a FIBA World Cup gold medal in 2006. With a still-formidable roster and a proven winning pedigree, rest assured Team USA won't take anything for granted should these two teams cross paths in Spain.