Will Dwight Howard re-join Team USA for another gold medal run in 2012?
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The United States senior basketball team took home its first gold medal at the FIBA World Championships in 16 years behind the masterful play of Kevin Durant and the gritty play of Lamar Odom and Chauncey Billups. The win was something the "Redeem Team" could not accomplish in 2006 in Japan. There, the team led by Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony -- along with Dwight Howard -- took home the bronze after a shocking loss to Greece in the semifinals.
The heartbreak of the 2002 sixth place finish in Indianapolis is officially erased and the bronze medal finish at the 2004 Olympics is now a distant memory. The 2008 Olympics seemed to ring in the official return of American dominance in international basketball. Maybe dominance is too strong a word.
Worries entering this summer abounded as players from that gold-medal winning team opted not to compete in Turkey. The team the Americans sent to Istanbul, lacked size and international experience. There were plenty of versatile players who could guard multiple positions but not a lot of the "star power" from the 2008 team. That is, except Kevin Durant.
Durant blossomed into an NBA mega superstar throughout the two weeks in Turkey with his scoring performances, setting a U.S. record for scoring in the FIBA World Championships. He said he is committed not only to joining the team in London in 2012, but also in Spain in 2014 for the FIBA World Championships.
So who will be joining him in London?
It is widely believed many of the key players from that gold-medal winning team will return -- perhaps even knocking out many of the players who helped win a gold medal in Turkey. Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade are all expected to be in London.
Unarguably the team's biggest weakness was at the center position and that could see a push for Dwight Howard's return to the National Team lineup. It led to a lot of criticism of Howard from the national media, who felt Howard should have played with the national team for the "alpha dog" reps. I think it is safe to assume with the way Kevin Durant played that he was the straw that stirred Team USA's drink.
Howard was a late pull out to the World Championship team, but everyone I think had the sense he was going to sit this year out and focus on his individual game. It is pretty scary to imagine Howard on this World Championship team filling the middle and playing the role he played with Olympic team -- mainly rebounding and putbacks. The U.S. played well and did a good job on the boards, Howard's absence notwithstanding.
And Howard certainly would not have solved the team's half-court offense issues. Remember teams are allowed to use zone defenses and be more physical. Not only that international teams are more willing to use their fouls and send opponents to the free throw line if it makes it harder for the other team to score.
So our question turns from will Howard play for the World Championship team to will Howard play in the 2012 Olympics?
His answer seems to be he would like to. He has expressed interest in playing for the Olympic team and re-joining the U.S.A. basketball program. Not having to qualify in the FIBA Americas tournament will surely entice the superstars that opted to sit out the World Championships to return for another gold medal run (also considering it is Mike Krzyzewski's last trip with Team USA before he steps down).
Howard will likely join his fellow superstars if they opt to go again. By then, you hope, Howard will have developed the kind of offensive game that will demand opponent's respect and also keep them from sending him to the free throw line. If it has not developed to that point, then it may not be good for him to play in the Olympics.
In any event, it might be better to construct a team similar to the one the U.S. sent to Turkey. What I liked about that team was they were willing to work, were liable to make mistakes and fought through them, and everyone had to truly fulfill a role. It would be nice to see some carryover besides Durant onto the Olympics team -- Russell Westbrook and Lamar Odom certainly earned consideration for their efforts.
It is two years down the road. All the questions can be answered then, I guess.