Team USA will play Poland on Saturday for the chance to finish in 7th place in the FIBA world cup. This comes after a disastrous 48-hour stretch that included back-to-back losses to both France in the quarterfinals and then Serbia in the consolation bracket. Even if the U.S. can win Saturday—the game in Beijing will be played at 4:00 a.m. EST—the Americans are assured of their worst finish in a major competition since 1992, when NBA players began participating.
So what does it mean?
1. Team USA should be much better by next year’s Olympics. In the 24 hours since the Serbia loss, I’ve seen a number of smart people shrug their shoulders at all this. Elite American players decided not to play, and a hard-working-but-obviously-flawed roster failed. It’s not a referendum on the state of the game, and it’s not even necessarily a reason to worry about the 2020 Olympics. The smart money says that the chance to avenge this year’s loss and play on the Olympic stage—in a massive Asian market, no less—will be enough to convince at least a few A-listers to play next summer.
Here are the players who stayed home this year: LeBron James, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, Jimmy Butler, Victor Oladipo, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal, C.J. McCollum and Paul George.
The players the U.S. sent to China instead: Kemba Walker, Donovan Mitchell, Marcus Smart, Joe Harris, Myles Turner, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, Mason Plumlee and Harrison Barnes.
If even two or three players from the first group join the second group, Team USA should be fine in 2020. I’m hoping that Lillard, McCollum, and Beal all go to Japan. Maybe LeBron joins them. Maybe a healthy KD uses the Olympics to reintroduce himself to the basketball public. We’ll see. There are also younger options who will deserve consideration (Jaren Jackson Jr., Trae Young, DeAaron Fox, Marvin Bagley, Zion Williamson), not to mention a few wild card options (Zach LaVine, D’Angelo Russell, Bam Adebayo, John Collins, Gary Harris, Otto Porter) who could make sense if Jerry Colangelo is loo