Friday , Sep , 08 , 2006 Oly Sandor

FIBA fallout: Pistons should represent USA Basketball at the 2008 Olympics

Chemistry is the difference between winning and losing in team sports-or for USA Basketball, the difference between a gold and bronze medal at the 2006 FIBA World Championship.

Other teams had chemistry, the Americans did not.

Exhibit A: the Greeks showed incredible chemistry, executing a perfect pick-and-roll offense in their semi-final win over the Americans.

Exhibit B: the Spaniards displayed even greater chemistry, overcoming the loss of injured-superstar Pau Gasol to win the World Championship.

The Greeks and Spaniards did not develop their chemistry by having players participate in six week tryouts or commit to summertime training sessions like USA Basketball.

They did it by having their best players train together for years-sometimes decades.

And now USA Basketball has a problem. On the one hand, to field a winning team, American-NBA stars would have to make a real, long-term commitment to the national program. On the other hand, few American-NBA stars will actually make this kind of multi-year commitment.

But another option exists-one that will shock the NBA ‘playa’ world of Cadillac Escalades and thirty inch spinners.

Send the Detroit Pistons to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. That’s right, the Dream Teams are finished and over; in its place the Detroit Pistons, who will represent USA Basketball at the 2008 Olympics.

It makes perfect sense-counter the chemistry and skill of international basketball with the chemistry and skill of an NBA team like Detroit.

Picture this, first half of last Friday’s semi-final. Greece scores a basket on a simple pick-and-roll play. The Pistons, yes, the Pistons call a timeout and adjust.

And that’s it. Game over.

Greece tries to run the same pick-and-roll play, but have little success. Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton get over the hi-screen, while Tayshaun Prince and Nazr Mohammed disrupt passing lanes with their length. And Rasheed Wallace-he’s everywhere.

Perhaps, that’s too simple. After all, Detroit stumbled in the 2005-06 playoffs and Greece could make adjustments on offense.  

But the basketball world thinks it’s worth considering. Randy Nohr, an assistant coach with the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds and a former player with Canada’s national team, thinks it’s an interesting idea.

“They might do better. I’m not one hundred percent sure,” Nohr said. “But they probably would do better just because they (Detroit) already have all their plays. They know how to play with each other. But it’s hard to say”

What isn’t hard to say-Detroit’s current squad could defend any European national team.

There’s another point worth considering. USA Basketball spent the entire tournament figuring out player roles. For example, nobody thought LeBron James should start at the 1-spot until the bronze medal game against Argentina.

After shifting positions, James had his best game of the tournament -filling the box-sheet with 22 points, 9 rebounds, and 7 assists-and getting extended minutes next to Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade.

James, at lead-guard for the entire tournament, changes everything. America probably defeats Greece and holds their own against Spain in the final.

Not to worry. Detroit’s coaching staff won’t waste an entire tournament figuring out how the parts fit. They know Billups gets the rock late in games; Hamilton and Wallace spread the defense with their outside stroke. And Antonio McDyess provides scoring off the bench.

There are legitimate concerns with sending an NBA team. Reggie Theus, a former NBA star and an up-and-coming college coach with the New Mexico State Aggies, pointed out the biggest problem.

“I think that it would hurt them (Detroit) in the overall scheme of things for the season,” Theus said. “Because you have the chemistry of a team that plays year round-that would be better for USA in that sense. But I think it would hurt them (Detroit) in the other picture-their everyday (NBA) jobs.”

Fair enough. Right now, NBA players and franchises are not obligated to participate in international competitions. The feeling is an NBA team, like Detroit, would get tired playing in the Olympics or World Championship. Fatigue hurts their chances of celebrating an NBA Title in June.

Well, too bad. The world’s best soccer teams pull double-duty, playing in their own domestic league and taking part in international club tournaments. Most players on these teams represent their country at the World Cup and European Championship.

One NBA team can’t do the same?

Commissioner David Stern could compensate the Piston players and organization for representing USA Basketball. How would Detroit’s veteran players feel about ten extra home games during the regular season? How about an extra first round draft pick or additional money to spend on free agents?

Of course, the stakeholders, American-NBA players, NBA owners, and USA Basketball, would have to iron out the details of compensation.

There’s also concern about player injuries. Piston players are at risk taking part in summertime tournaments. Again, this hinders Detroit’s chance at a June playoff run.

Well, too bad. Injuries can happen anywhere. Players get hurt running off-season pick-up games and balling during NBA sanctioned summer leagues in Vegas, Orlando, and Denver.

Why are the Olympics and World Championship a greater risk than NBA summer leagues?

The main point is that USA Basketball has to think outside the box. The Detroit Pistons should go to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing because sending an all star team probably won’t produce a gold medal.


Oly Sandor is an NBA analyst and free lance journalist. His unique takes have been featured in the most prominent basketball websites, magazines, and radio stations. Contact him at [email protected] or check out more of his work at