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Cutting the USA Basketball Team to 12 for the 2016 Olympics

USA Basketball announced on Thursday that 34 players have accepted invitations to the mini camp in Las Vegas next week. USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo made it clear that anyone expecting to make the 2016 Olympic roster has to attend the camp (sorry Derrick Rose). Cutting these 34 players down to 12 by next summer won’t be an easy task, although some might back out by then due to unforeseen injuries or a general lack of interest. Nonetheless, let’s split these 34 players into tiers to find out who has the best chance of making the final cut.

Lucky to be invited:Mason Plumlee, Harrison Barnes, Michael Carter-Williams, Tobias Harris, Victor Oladipo, Bradley Beal

September 14, 2014:  C DeMarcus Cousins (12) of Team USA, C Mason Plumlee (11) of Team USA and G Kyrie Irving (10) of Team USA listen to the National Anthem after winning the championship after Team USA defeats Serbia in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup championship at Palacio de los Deportes Stadium in Madrid, Spain. USA won 129-92. ***** NORTH AND SOUTH AMERICA ONLY ---- AGENTS OUT ---- NORTH AND SOUTH AMERICA ONLY *****

Mason Plumlee somehow made the FIBA team last summer, but his luck is going to run out when the Olympics roll around. This list is full of young and talented players, but none of them have the NBA experience or acumen to warrant making the final roster. Unless one of these players has a breakout season, they better make some other plans for next summer.

Good, but not Olympics good: Kenneth Faried, Rudy Gay, Andre Drummond, DeMar DeRozan, Gordon Hayward, Chandler Parsons

NBA: JAN 09 Nuggets at Kings

Kenneth Faried was, well, a manimal for the FIBA team in their gold medal run, averaging 12.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per game with an array of emphatic dunks, but he’s not a good enough NBA player to warrant an Olympic roster spot. Rudy Gay and Andre Drummond also performed well last summer, but neither is an ideal fit for this team.

DeMar DeRozan, Gordon Hayward, and Chandler Parsons are up and coming youngins, but they’re still not quite ready for the Olympics.

Just missed out: Jimmy Butler, Draymond Green, Mike Conley, Dwight Howard, John Wall, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge

NBA: OCT 28 Rockets at Lakers

These guys were by far the toughest to cut. LaMarcus Aldridge will be 31 years old by the 2016 Olympics, which is a tad bit old for USA basketball.

Dwight Howard is considered a lock by some if he wants to play, but that’s a big if. There’s also no guarantee he’ll be healthy by then, either.

Mike Conley is a terrific player, but my goodness the Americans boast ridiculous point guards. You essentially have to be one of the greatest point guards ever to make the Olympic team. John Wall might be a casualty for the same reason. He couldn’t even make the cut for last summer’s FIBA World Cup when Derrick Rose made 25 percent of his shots. It’s also the same reason why Damian Lillard chose to not even attend the camp.

Jimmy Butler and Draymond Green both endured breakout seasons, but neither is quite ready for the Olympic jump. Both would be valuable for their defensive versatility, but they’ll likely have to wait until 2020 to debut.

Kevin Love is the wild card here because the old K-Love would be a lock, whereas last year’s stand around and shoot occasionally Love has no chance of making the team.

Just made the cut: Klay Thompson, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Kyrie Irving

NBA: JAN 25 Celtics at Warriors

The Splash Brothers can’t be split up, right? If Stephen Curry’s making the team, Thompson’s a safe bet as well. His ability to defend wing players while knocking down every three-pointer in sight will be invaluable.

The Clippers’ frontcourt duo of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan will make their Olympic debuts in 2016 if they want to. They both are way too big of athletic freaks and physical specimens to not make the cut.

Kyrie Irving, the MVP of the FIBA World Cup, gets the nod over Conley and Wall for his shooting abilities and experience in international play. He was breathtaking at times last summer, especially in the gold medal game against Serbia when he scored 26 points and made all six of his three-point attempts. That performance likely earned him a spot in the Olympics.

Let’s wait to see if they’re healthy first: Carmelo Anthony, Paul George, Kevin Durant

JAN 25 Thunder at Cavaliers

January 25 2015: Oklahoma City Thunder Forward Kevin Durant (35) attempts a three point shot while being guarded by Cleveland Cavaliers Forward LeBron James (23) during the game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland Ohio. Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire

Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony, the leading scorers of the 2012 Olympic team, are absolute locks if healthy given their outstanding performances three years ago. Both players are coming off major surgeries, so returning at 100 percent health isn’t a guarantee. But if they’re even 80 percent of their former selves, it’s safe to say they’ll make the cut.

Paul George suffered a catastrophic leg break in the intrasquard scrimmage leading up to the FIBA World Cup that limited him to just six games last season. He’d be pretty crazy to even try to make the team, let alone play in the Olympics after that career-changing event. But if he’s the old PG, who’s a nightmarish defender that can get his shot over anyone, he’ll have a spot waiting for him on Coach K’s squad.

The locks: LeBron James, Anthony Davis, James Harden, Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, DeMarcus Cousins, Kawhi Leonard

OLYMPICS: AUG 12 London 2012 - Basketball - USA v Spain

Not much to say here. These guys are going to make the team unless they choose not to, get injured, or get in trouble between now and the 2016 Olympics.

DeMarcus Cousins is the only player on this list that has even a slight chance to not make the team, but his size and acumen as a true center will be enough to earn a spot.

Kawhi Leonard has come a long way from being drafted outside the lottery in 2011 to being a lock in the Olympics five years later. His ability to defend four positions and play off ball will be crucial to this team.

The otherworldly point guard trio of Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, and Russell Westbrook are no-brainer choices. Curry won the MVP and a championship last season while Paul was his regular pass-happy, defensive-crazed self. Westbrook, who was putting up 30-10-10 seemingly every game last season, will make the cut because of his motor alone.

James Harden, LeBron James, and Anthony Davis were all Olympians in 2012. That’s not changing in 2016.

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