It’s Jerry Colangelo’s last run as director of USA Basketball and he would like to go out with a gold medal in the Tokyo Olympics. Yet putting this team together in the aftermath of the pandemic and a delayed NBA season that has not yet been completed has been one of his biggest challenges.
Instead of an offseason training camp with players competing for 12 spots, USA Basketball will begin camp this team with 12 pre-selected players, most coming off an exhausting season without much rest. Still, Colangelo was able to get some fresh faces — Damian Lillard, Jayson Tatum, Bam Adebayo, Zach LaVine, Jerami Grant — along with veterans to compile an intriguing team and gold favorite.
It’s uncertain whether this method of team-building will be effective. Mainstays such as LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, and James Harden are passing on the Games. There will be some new faces and Colangelo is satisfied with his efforts.
“It’s been a tough, tough way to put things together,” he said. “When COVID hit, the postponement of the Olympics for at least a year, no one quite was sure about what would transpire and when. The compactness of two NBA schedules back to back changed things a great deal. I think ultimately, it had some impact on injuries that have transpired in the league. And so, you deal with the cards that you’re dealt.
“And I think, with the great efforts of our organization, I think we’ve put together a strong team to represent the United States. It’s exciting for me always to be involved in putting the team together. And I think this year we have a blending of players with experience, international experience, some medal experience, and then new blood, which is always important.
“So, with the staff we have and the commitment that I believe this organization has, we’re looking forward to a terrific, not time, but a terrific opportunity to be successful. And trust me, that’s our goal. There’s one goal in mind, and that’s to bring back the gold medal.”
When the NBA scheduled an abbreviated 72-game season, it wanted to ensure the Finals concluded before Team USA took the floor for its first game. A potential Game 7 of the NBA Finals will take place July 22. Team USA’s opening game against France is July 25.
Players such as Devin Booker will be flown by private jet to join their teammates in Japan after the Finals, according to Colangelo.
“We had to adjust. In other words, it wasn’t normal,” he said. “It was difficult. But these are the ramifications of a travesty that we went through with COVID, worldwide. We’re thankful that we have the opportunity to come through all of that and still field the team and participate in the Olympics, even though it’s going to be different. The fact that there won’t be any support for us, in terms of an American crowd or contingent of people, we won’t have that. We won’t have spouses. We won’t have family.
“It’s very limited. But you know, the way I’m looking at this is, if this is the way it is, when we leave Las Vegas on the 19th and arrive in Tokyo, we’re just a family. We’re going to be in a hotel, practice court, and games, six games, and we’re there on a mission. And we’re going to be in that foxhole together. That’s the feeling I have, and I believe that is something everyone understands.”
Tatum was one of the first to commit. Instead of tryouts, Team USA circulated invitations and Tatum eagerly accepted. He played with the World Cup team that finished in seventh place in 2019, but he was injured during the medal round.
Tatum has established himself as one of the game’s prolific scorers in the two years since.
“A couple years ago, we lost in the World Cup, and that was disappointing,” Colangelo said. “But we had two injuries that cost us, one of them was to Tatum. I think he’s very, very important to this team. I think he’s continued to develop. He was one of the early players who reached out to me, and I mean months ago, to express his commitment and his desire to participate on the Olympic team.”
One controversial selection was Cavaliers forward Kevin Love, who was a member of the 2012 Olympic Team and 2010 FIBA championship team but has played in just 103 games over the last three NBA seasons and appears to be on the decline. Love was last an All-Star in 2018.
“I guess the best reason to say why Kevin Love [was named to the team] as an extra big was because of his international experience,” Colangelo said. “Yes, it’s true, he hasn’t played much of anything over these last couple of years, but the skill set he does bring to the table, the commitment that he’s made regarding physical conditioning, he’s a versatile guy up front who can rebound and hit shots. Who’s to say how many minutes people are going to play? You’re not playing 12 players. And so it was a matter of filling out the roster with role players.”
One of the biggest surprise additions to Team USA was Kevin Durant, who played on the 2016 team but also went through a long playoff run with the Nets. Durant is also coming off a torn Achilles’ sustained just two years ago. Yet, he told Colangelo he is in. Durant will be 33 in September.
“This guy is a very, very special individual,” Colangelo said. “And I remember meeting him at the  Final Four and invited him to come to our training camp. And his eyes were as big as you can imagine. He was so excited. He said, ‘I’ll be there.’ And so, he’s always had this great enthusiasm for playing USA Basketball, for playing the game of basketball.
“He’s been a real ― in my opinion — a real warrior. I love the guy as a player and love him as a person. And the fact that he stepped up as he did to commit himself didn’t surprise me. I was very pleased, because he’s a very important part of our potential success.”
Carlisle defends his hire by Pacers
Rick Carlisle felt it was time for a change after 13 years in Dallas, and the Pacers needed a coach after a disastrous season under Nate Bjorkgren, so it appears to be a perfect marriage.
But as the president of the National Basketball Coaches Association, it’s Carlisle’s responsibility to fight for a diverse and extensive interview process with coaches. The Celtics, for example, interviewed as many as 12 candidates before deciding on Ime Udoka. The Pacers targeted Carlisle the moment he resigned from the Mavericks.
Former Nuggets coach and Celtics player Brian Shaw was apparently called in for an interview but declined because he believed he would not be seriously considered.
Carlisle defended his hiring, but also said the NBCA prefers a more extensive process.
“When an opportunity like this comes up, you listen,” he said. “The mutual interest was strong and things developed from there. In terms of the hiring process, as the president of the coaches association, we’re always talking to the league about a diverse hiring process. It’s something that we’ve gone on record to talk about. Every situation is different. One thing we always acknowledge is a team can hire who they want to. That’s their prerogative. But if you’re asking me in general, we always are in favor of a wide-ranging and diverse hiring process.”
Said Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard: “This search was definitely different than last year. Last year, we interviewed about 15-plus and over the course of five or six weeks we really narrowed it down. We did something a little bit different this year. We identified some characteristics we felt like were really important for this team. We’re in a win-now. We really wanted someone to have a championship pedigree. That was the foundation of our search.
“Rick became available. We were planning on a pretty big and wide search, but Rick and I had a couple of conversations. There was definitely mutual interest at the beginning and quite frankly once Rick was interested in us and us interested in him things moved very quickly.”
Mann explains how Clippers rebounded
Lowell native Terance Mann enjoyed an eventful second NBA season with the Clippers. He turned himself from a spot reserve as a rookie into a potential cornerstone with a stirring playoff run, including a 39-point performance in the clinching Game 6 in the Western Conference semifinals.
With Kawhi Leonard out with a knee injury, the Clippers managed to beat the Jazz four consecutive times before losing to the Suns in six games in the West finals. The Clippers, who lost a 3-1 lead to the Nuggets in the bubble last season, were able to respond favorably with their first conference finals appearance. And Mann was a critical part of the resurgence.
“I learned a lot about these guys,” Mann said. “It was great being out on the court with them. I’d go to battle with any one of these guys. Everybody was ready to fight when their name was called. And just about ourselves, I learned I’m ready to fight when my name is called. I’m ready to win and I’m ready to do whatever it takes to win.
“So I’m kind of excited to attack this offseason and take my game to the next level.”
The Clippers entered this season on a mission. The club dealt with injuries to Leonard and Paul George throughout the season but still earned the fourth seed. First-year coach Tyronn Lue maintained that this Clippers team was not the same one that collapsed in the bubble.
“At training camp, we had everybody. Everybody was healthy. Everybody was excited,” Mann said. “Everybody had a bad taste in their mouth from the year before and the bubble. Everybody knew our goal was championship.
“But to do what we did with the injuries we had was great. We got to a place this organization has never been.
“In training camp, we were all excited for the season and ready to do exactly what we did; prove people wrong, shock a lot of people. We knew we had a lot of depth. We knew it was going to be different guys all the time because we had so much depth. It came up just how we thought it would. We just came up six wins short.”
The pressure was on George after a difficult postseason in 2020, and he delivered with an All-NBA season and sparkling postseason, responding when Leonard went down. This season provided hope for an organization that had stumbled repeatedly in clutch moments.
“[Leonard and George] grew a lot as leaders, I’m not going to lie,” Mann said. “It took them some time to figure out the team out, figure out what everybody was about. But a big part of it was having T-Lue back. It wasn’t too new. Everything wasn’t unfamiliar just because T-Lue was with us before. He played a big role in helping Kawhi and PG learn the team and lead the team.”
Mann said Leonard and George were indeed leaders, perhaps not vocally but by example.
“I mean, so many games, so many ups and downs, so many different scenarios where these guys had to step up and be leaders, which they did,” Mann said. “But yeah, I mean, I think through their play, mainly through their play, Kawhi, I think it was Game 6 in Dallas I want to say, just completely changed the game and how he played. Kept us in the series.
“And then PG, what he did this series for us, just took everything on his shoulders and every single game played as hard as he could. Those two guys definitely played a big role in their leadership.”
Mann credited the Clippers’ support system with his development. The club was invested in his success and he advanced because of his work ethic.
“You know, everybody had a hand in my development this season, and when I say everybody, I mean from top to bottom from Pat Beverley to Reggie Jackson to [Rajon] Rondo to PG to Kawhi, to Serge [Ibaka], to everybody just helping me give advice,” he said. “Marcus Morris was a big help just keeping my confidence. So I can’t attest it to one person or one thing. One thing I’ve learned, I took something from everybody’s game. I stole something from everybody’s bag this year and tried to add it to mine. So that’s just how it was this year and everybody was happy to have me. Everybody was happy to help me develop.”
Team France at the Tokyo Olympics this month will have a Celtics flavor. Former Boston big men Vincent Poirier and Guerschon Yabusele have made the French team. Of course, those names don’t bring back fond memories for Celtics fans. Yabusele was the 16th overall pick in 2016 but never panned out and was waived. Poirier was a signed to a two-year deal in 2019 but was considered unplayable by coach Brad Stevens and was eventually traded to Oklahoma City . . . The Pelicans’ coaching job remains open and one of the top candidates, Jacque Vaughn, took his name out of the running, leaving New Orleans assistant Charles Lee as the primary candidate. The job is intriguing, as the team has rising stars such as Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram, but the organization has struggled to maintain a consistent plan and will now have its third coach in two years. Also, the Pelicans are not expected to pay the salary of other more prominent teams, such as the Celtics, Trail Blazers, and Mavericks . . . The criticism the Trail Blazers are receiving for hiring former All-Star Chauncey Billups to be their coach over Becky Hammon may affect teams’ desire to interview Hammon. If teams do not go with Hammon, they may fear backlash for not hiring what would be the NBA’s first female head coach. Hammon’s résumé compares favorably with many of her male counterparts and the excuses are running dry as to why she or South Carolina coach Dawn Staley or Duke coach Kara Lawson are getting passed up for these opportunities. There are openings in Washington, Orlando, and New Orleans and none of them appear to be serious candidates for those jobs . . . The Magic were flirting with former point guard Anfernee Hardaway for their coaching position, but with a strong incoming recruiting class and the University of Memphis without an NCAA Tournament appearance in his tenure, Hardaway decided to return. He also hired former NBA coach Larry Brown as an assistant. The 80-year-old Hall of Famer told the Globe two weeks ago that he was open to returning to the bench as an assistant. He last coached in the United States at SMU . . . Former Celtic James Posey, who had been in search of an assistant coaching job, has joined former WNBA great Tina Thompson’s staff at the University of Virginia. Thompson is entering her fourth season as Virginia’s coach.