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Team USA vulnerable in World Cup?

 

When the FIBA World Cup jumps Aug. 30 from Barcelona, Spain, USA Basketball might be more vulnerable than it has been in recent memory.

Not since the disastrous run to a bronze medal at the 2004 Olympic Games, and the same finish in the 2006 FIBA World Championship, has the American side appeared to be so weak.

LeBron James is home. Kobe Bryant is no longer part of the equation. Same goes for Dwyane Wade.

This USA group was supposed to be led by reigning NBA MVP Kevin Durant, but he bailed after going through training camp with the team. He cited rest, but it marked yet another high-profile defection for this group this summer.

Blake Griffin, Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge all left the team before camp even started in Las Vegas. The three best power forwards in the world all took a pass for various reasons.

Before Durant's departure, USA Basketball suffered another huge loss in the form of Paul George. Most know by now, George suffered a gruesome leg injury during the team's intra-squad scrimmage. George will be gone for the upcoming season for the Indiana Pacers.

Less than a week later, Durant informed head coach Mike Krzyzewski and director of USA Basketball, Jerry Colangelo, that he was withdrawing.

"You have to do more to get your guards shots," Krzyzewski told NBA.com. "I mean, these guards are really good, but they were complementing one another - Kevin with those guards. Now we have to look at developing our inside and getting the guards more involved."

Coach K was correct about his guards. The American side boasts a number of strong guards including James Harden, Steph Curry, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson and a returning Derrick Rose.

The former MVP with the Chicago Bulls, Rose only played 10 games the last two seasons due to two separate knee injuries. He declared himself fit enough to participate and he made the final USA roster heading to Spain.

The rest of the roster consists of Anthony Davis, Kenneth Faried, Andre Drummond, Mason Plumlee, DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan.

The Americans are still a quality team and probably remain the favorites for gold. The guards can score at will. During scrimmages and pre-tournament warm- up games, Krzyzewski has started Harden, Curry, Davis, Faried and, if his knees are alright, Rose. Otherwise, Irving has gotten the nod.

The group is formidable. After watching them play, it's pretty clear Coach K will need to lean heavily on Harden, Curry and Davis. The Unibrow is clearly the best big on the team and that's one of the causes for concerns about this team.

Davis, Faried, Cousins, Plumlee and Drummond are the upfront guys and their presence will be needed against the Americans' main rivals for gold, Spain.

The Spanish team boasts a front line of Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka. That trio is long and incredibly skilled. Matching up with them, when the U.S. is so guard-heavy, will be a challenge for Krzyzewski. It's probably one of the reasons Drummond made the team over someone like Portland's Damian Lillard, who is the superior player, but with all of the point guards and potential problems versus size, Drummond is going to Barcelona.

Spain is the competition for USA. As the host country with a potentially rabid fan base, and based on a talented roster, Spain would have been considered a shoo-in as the second favorite. Factor in that Spain's greatest strength, those bigs up front, jives squarely with the Americans' biggest weakness and potential exists for the home crowd to get a show.

Spain is not all giants patrolling the paint. Ricky Rubio is as exciting as almost anyone on the planet with a basketball in his hands. Jose Calderon is steady. Rudy Fernandez can be dynamic as well.

The only other country you might hear about having any kind of a chance is Lithuania. Jonas Valanciunas, the center for the Toronto Raptors, is a bona fide force and there's plenty of quality shooting for Lithuania.

France and Brazil could be in the hunt for a medal and there are plenty of NBA players outside the top three teams. Goran Dragic, the reigning Most Improved Player, will represent Slovenia, while Omer Asik will play for Turkey.

The story of the FIBA World Cup should be about who is in Barcelona, not who skipped it. The tournament will go on and the US and Spain should meet very late in the competition.

That Spanish team is going to be very difficult to overcome, especially at home. But the Americans haven't lost an international competition since 2006. They won't want that streak to end.

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