Being a part of USA basketball is something that most NBA players hold dear to their hearts. Many lackluster NBA fans squabble about how Team USA isn’t a big deal, and how it’s essentially just watching the best basketball players in the world screw around with opposing teams that only bolster a handful of NBA talent.
If only they knew how wrong they were.
Since the 2008 “redeem team”, USA basketball has transformed into a sacred brotherhood. Even this year, with some of USA’s best; Lebron, Curry, Harden, Westbrook, Kawhi etc., not being a part of it, it allowed for some other elite players to step up, and be a part of what is becoming an important milestone for many of USA’s finest.
An important underlying fact here is that a lot of these players are really trying to take their game up another level; that’s why they played. With the top tier guys resting or recovering from the playoffs, it allowed for some of the league's tier 2 stars to play amongst each other, along with some of the world’s best coaches.
Apart from Barnes, Draymond, Klay, and Kyrie, none of the other players bolster a championship ring to their resume. With that being said, these four guys have only won it in the past 2 years, and none of them have been the best player on their respective teams.
An NBA championship is the ultimate goal of any NBA player - obviously. However, winning the Olympic Gold is something that any NBA player would proudly use to headline their basketball career portfolio; even if they may technically be some of the easiest games that they play in their professional careers.
The Olympics have allowed for certain players to take pride in representing their country - and for good reason! It has reached the point, where if you are discussing Carmelo’s career, you almost have to talk about the godly figure; Melo’s alter ego: Olympic Melo. As we all know, that shorter 3-point line has benefited Melo in so many ways, as he has lead this team to Gold, much like he will try to do with HIS Knicks this coming season. With his numerous Olympic endeavors, we have truly seen Melo evolve into a leader.
In the frontcourt, Deandre did wonders for this basketball team, all while boosting his confidence. He looked like a man amongst children, blocking improbable shots and bullying his matchups. Obviously, Deandre will do this - to an extent - on any given night in the NBA. However, the way that DJ abused opposing teams centers was borderline laughable. It almost looked like old footage of Wilt Chamberlain back in his day. Watching it made me feel like they should create a rule to stop some of the stuff he is doing. He was that good.
Having performances like that, alongside your legitimate peers and mentors, can do so much for one’s confidence. Look for DJ to use this performance as a stepping stone as he continues to wreak havoc against opposing frontcourts all season long, as this Clippers core tries to add a positive chapter into the rollercoaster that is their franchise.
With Melo, DJ and the NBA champions excluded, the team also showcased Durant, Boogie, Jimmy Butler, Paul George, Kyle Lowry and Demar Derozan. With the exception of Durant, you could easily lump the remaining guys into a tier 2, or tier 3 group. They’re great, fantastic players, who still have a ton of room to grow. One of the many characteristics that they can all still improve is their leadership. Boogie, Butler and PG are all leading teams that don’t have a solid, implemented system around them. The Kings have been a mess for years, the Bulls had one of the more interesting overhauls this summer after an extremely disappointing season, and PG is going to have to adjust to a new core once again, as the Pacers made a ton of changes.
But what about the brothers; Kyle and Demar? Notice how when listing those players, you can’t put them apart? You can’t say; “Durant, Boogie, Lowry, Butler and Derozan”. It just sounds weird. You have to say them one after the other, in either order. So how has this Team USA experience benefited Lowry and Derozan?
For starters, it has been an acceptance into the brotherhood. Lowry, being 30, was the second oldest player on the roster, and making his first ever appearance in Team USA apparel. Derozan, at age 27, also began his Team USA career.
In terms of playing, Lowry was a cool and committed point guard, who played a Chris Paul-esque role off the bench, and improved the offenses’ numbers tenfold while he was on the court. Demar Derozan on the other hand, dunked on just about everything in sight, prompting an absurd amount of buzz surrounding his high-flying antics. I was going to post a link to a Derozan-TeamUSA-Highlight reel, but I know for a fact that you’ve already seen it.
For the brothers, playing for Team USA was not only an honor, but it was a fantastic segue from the roller-coaster, vomit and tear inducing playoff ride that we all had to endure. After crashing, tumbling and somehow stumbling through two series, and half of a third, the brothers took a week off, then hopped on a plane to Team USA training camp.
There, they joined up with the other league’s stars, compiling themselves into some weird, offshoot island of misfit toys with an elitist twist. Each guy on the team had their own respective vices; “This guy has never had the talent to surround him… That guy has never been able to put it all together…..Lowry and Demar can’t beat Lebron”. There, I said it.
That’s what this is all about. While the king is maliciously soaking in his riches on some boat - and making weird snap chat videos while he’s at it, Kyle and Demar are trying to find that next step, that next gear. Don’t get me wrong, we all know Lebron is hard at work like he always is, but he’s clearly reached a point in his career where Team USA is a “been there, done that” kind of experience. For Kyle and Demar, this is about digging deeper, and tapping into their gifts to try and find that next gear.
At the ages of 30 and 27, some may ask, do these guys even have a “next gear”?
Believe me, they do.
Many NBA fans or League Pass enthusiasts usually pass up on the Raptors, unless they’re playing Cleveland, Golden State or Oklahoma City. So when fans tuned in to watch the Raptors playoff series, they got to see a pair of stars in an unfair light. Maybe, not necessarily unfair, but not the kind of players we consistently saw during the season.
For Lowry and Derozan, this experience only deepens the bond between them. The improvement and development of their respective games surely exceeds what is done on the basketball court. You only have one life, one career, and they’re spending their prime years together, leading this team from the north to some much-anticipated glory.
I don’t want to say, “Their years are running out!”, but the clock is surely ticking. Over the summer they’ve obviously discussed how they’re going to lead their team. They have the reigns. Most NBA fans will say that a team needs to have an established alpha dog. The guy who everyone looks up to, and relies on upon. For the Raptors, they’re one of the sole playoff teams with two alphas. Two alphas who have become brothers, and who will be looking to put their minds, bodies and their brotherhood to the test this upcoming season.