By Steve Silverman
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The U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team is dominated by superstars.
Kobe Bryant is the leader of the unit. Not because he is the best player, but because he takes that role and LeBron James is happy to let him have it.
James and Kevin Durant are the superstars who are at the top of their respective games. They can do anything they want on the court and they won’t find any defenses that can stop them.
Carmelo Anthony can fill it up and Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love will do anything that head coach Mike Krzyzewski asks.
However, the most important player on the team may be the Knicks’ Tyson Chandler.
It’s been duly noted that the U.S. team lacks strength at the center position. The next time around, 2012 No. 1 draft pick Anthony Davis will likely be the focus of the team. He has remarkable talent and defensive abilities. However, at this point he is just another rookie with potential.
The U.S. is going to need Chandler to step up if it is going to be worthy of the gold medal and a comparison with the 1992 Dream Team.
The team of Michael, Magic and Bird is the real competition. Not to demean solid teams from Argentina and Spain, but the U.S. should win the gold medal. That’s been obvious since the team came together shortly after the Miami Heat defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA Finals.
But if the U.S. is going to turn potential into reality, Chandler is going to have play well. There is simply no alternative because there are no other legitimate centers other than Davis on the roster.
When the United States faces the better teams in the tournament, Chandler is going to have to stay on the floor. He does not have the luxury of committing fouls and letting a backup play. He is Plan A and he is also Plan B.
This could be a problem because Chandler is not a finesse player by any stretch. Jerry Colangelo did not put Chandler on the team because he expected him to fill up the net like he was a latter-day Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Chandler is on the team to play defense and rebound.
It is not going to be easy, especially when the U.S. faces the stronger teams. You can get away with hand checking in the paint in the NBA. In the international game, Chandler will not be able to put his hands on players like Serge Ibaka, Pau Gasol and Marc Gasol from Spain.
In case you hadn’t realized, Spain has three excellent NBA players in the middle. They will try to get Chandler in early foul trouble so that trio can operate with impunity in the middle.
The U.S. understands this could happen. They understand that Davis is not really ready to provide an alternative if Chandler is forced out of the game.
They will try to counter any foul problems by going with a smaller and more athletic lineup and running the Spaniards out of the building.
It could work, but what if Spain doesn’t allow it? Let’s say Chandler gets into early foul trouble and Spain makes each possession count by throwing the ball into the paint and letting the Gasol brothers and Ibaka make things happen.
The unthinkable could be the result.
That’s why Chandler has to remain sharp and focused. He may have to turn down the aggressiveness so he can remain in the lineup. Olympic basketball officials will not be giving Chandler or the U.S. team any breaks. If he starts asserting himself in the paint with a well-placed hand or hip, you can be sure the officials will be looking for it.
So Chandler has to keep his cool and hold his position.
Because if he’s not in there, the U.S. team may not be playing for history. They may be playing for their basketball lives.
Who do you think is the key to the team’s success? Be heard in the comments below!