The NBA’s best American players descended on Las Vegas this week to take part in a USA Basketball minicamp, with the 2016 Olympic squad expected to be picked from a 34-player pool.
One player not in Vegas was Kobe Bryant, and considering how the last few years have gone for Bryant, that should come as no surprise. Three straight season-ending injuries and generally bad play when healthy has him on the cusp of retirement and a general afterthought when it comes Team USA.
Or maybe not an afterthought, because USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo has opened the door for Bryant to be a part of Team USA next summer in Rio, according to Chris Sheridan of Sheridan Hoops:
“If he had a great year, it would be a great story for him to try to close out his career by winning a gold medal,” Colangelo said.
It’s certainly easy to chortle at this, and even easier when you read this:
Colangelo says that Kobe told him he'd like to "ride out to the sunset" with a gold in Rio, but he wants to earn the spot, not be handed it
— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) August 14, 2015
Based on what we’ve the past few years, it’s darn near impossible to envision Kobe playing well enough to be deserving of a spot over most of the players who were in Vegas, let alone making the 12-man roster. Staying healthy will be enough of a chore, but even when he was healthy last year, he wasn’t any good. He shot 37 percent from the field and couldn’t play a lick of defense.
Bryant’s best-case scenario is somehow staying healthy, limiting his poor shots, improving his efficiency and playing more of a facilitator role. But even in that best-case scenario, it still might not be good enough to actually earn a spot on what should be an absolutely loaded American team, assuming the top stars play.
Michael Wonsover over at Today’s Fastbreak went through the USA Basketball minicamp roster and looked at a potential squad for the Olympics. His locks included: LeBron James, Anthony Davis, James Harden, Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, DeMarcus Cousins and Kawhi Leonard. That’s already eight players. Then there are the studs currently rehabbing from injuries like Carmelo Anthony, Paul George and Kevin Durant. That’s 11.
In the next tier he had Klay Thompson, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Kyrie Irving. That’s already 15 players, with players like Jimmy Butler, John Wall, Kevin Love, Dwight Howard, Draymond Green and Mike Conley all even further on the outside looking in. That’s over 20 players who, assuming good health, will likely be more deserving or as deserving of a spot as Kobe. Out of this group there will likely be some injuries and maybe some guys who decide not to participate, but it’s still hard to see where Bryant fits in here.
And yet, it appears we shouldn’t rule anything out. Even if Kobe doesn’t “earn” his spot (and just how good would he have to be to “earn” it?), would USA Basketball extend an invite anyway since it would be his last chance to win another Olympic gold medal? Would he accept that invitation after saying he wanted to “earn” it? It would be pretty cool to see Bryant “ride out into the sunset” with a third gold medal, and it would be similar to a 35-year-old Larry Bird winning gold in 1992 and then retiring right after that. Also, it’s not like picking a diminished Kobe would kill Team USA’s chances at gold.
But even so, it would stink for a deserving young player to miss out on the Olympics just so Kobe can go in some type of “lifetime achievement award” role. Sure, that snubbed young player could play in the 2020 Olympics, but you never know what could happen between 2016 and 2020.
At any rate, this next year is going to be fascinating for Kobe as he battles Father Time and makes his push for that coveted Olympic spot.