One of the more interesting pieces I’ve read about the latest Dream Team incarnation was what Chris Sheridan had to say about Kevin Love after the Team USA win over Argentina on Sunday, because it went against everything I’ve watched about Love. Sheridan’s sources told him USA Basketball power brokers Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski are upset with Love because of a supposed sense of entitlement, and have played him in garbage minutes as a result. Supposedly, he believes he’s owed more than what Coach K was willing to play him. Not only did it not jive with the Love I’d watched but the way Team USA works if it wants to win.
This isn’t a criticism of Sheridan’s post. Not only do I put a lot of trust into someone who’s covered Olympic teams since 1996 but adding to that is Love’s not-so-secret self confidence. He’s always been one of the more open players to the media and his confidence from being one of the best offensive and rebounding threats since Moses Malone naturally comes out. I’ve enjoyed my interviews with him precisely because of it. It only seems right he’d be honest with his coaches, too.
But this isn’t the playoffs, when you need a guy to say, give me the rock. This is called Team USA for a reason.
Love’s supposed swim against the current of Team USA’s mantra of we, not me, is a case of curious timing for a player I consider one of the smartest and best at knowing where he is on the floor at any time. It’s confusing then as to why he’d pick this moment to play an entitlement card when his awareness has been uber elite since he was getting orange slices and a juice box after each game.
Save for Michael Jordan tearing away the grip Magic Johnson and Larry Bird held on the NBA with his Dream Team performance in 1992 (mostly from the stories we’ve all heard now about that Monaco practice), there has been zero benefit to being the alpha male on a Dream Team. Dwyane Wade got more publicity for his role as super sixth man in Beijing than the starters, and who fills that spot this year has been one of the most intriguing storylines. Carmelo Anthony said it best in 2010 when he said he liked FIBA basketball moreso than NBA; the two are distinctly separate. There is a difference in how you build a team to win in FIBA and how you play to win. Because of those differences being the standout here won’t blow up your profile back home. If that is the reason he started selfishly, per Sheridan, then it’s in vain because after all, who is doubting that he’s the game’s best power forward, anyway?
To hold that title, he’s beaten doubts along the way. In high school, opposing fans would taunt him for having baby fat, which he didn’t like. In college and the pros he was called too unathletic, too white to hold his own. His first coach in the pros, Kurt Rambis, stuck Love in a doghouse nearly their whole time together. Those have never let him be a slacker player and have led him to a starring role on his teams. But guess what: On a U.S. Olympic team, there’s no such thing. If that was his motivation it’s a dead end. The reward for being one of the world’s best basketball stars is simply being on this team, taking part in this weird experience every two years to four years where you step outside your normal role and get after it. There’s huge pressure, but no one is mistaking this for a harbinger of next May.
Theoretically with this much firepower assembled in one team, Love would have time to coast more than he does with the Timberwolves. In reality, he doesn’t have that luxury because of how LeBron James can be used in the post, Anthony Davis‘ increasing comfort at this level and the tendency to spread the floor more in FIBA. Coach K can take a page from Erik Spoelstra and win a title with small ball and leave Love out of the equation if needed. Love’s passing and rebounding can be absolutely artful and the addition of his shooting makes him rare among any generation. He makes every team he’s ever been on better — even one as talented as this. He just needs to understand there’s little added value to his NBA perception from being the best Olympian, because the two aren’t equal.
Other than the Larry O’Brien Trophy, an Olympic gold medal is the best way to show you have no equal in hoops. That, instead of worry about the U.S. pecking order, should be Love’s goal.
What do you think?
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