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Fourth-Place Medal

Kyrie Irving’s brilliant Select Team play raises plenty of questions about Team USA’s future

Fourth-Place Medal

How most opponents tend to view Kyrie Irving (Getty Images)

In a pitted match between Team USA and the young'ish Select Team that has been created by USA Basketball to give youngster NBA players a chance to spar with the more established Team USA final squad, the Select Team won a scrimmage late last week by a 14-11 score. Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving scored 11 of those 14 points. Let that sink in a bit: In a game against a squad that could probably muster a 78-4 record were it to play in the NBA, Kyrie Irving sliced up the defense for 11 of his team's 14 points, on the way to a win. Scrimmage or not, a win is still a win. And 11 out of 14 is no joke.

And as Jan Hubbard details over at Sheridan Hoops, Irving's play has gone more than viral amongst us work-ignoring hoop-heads, lusting after those sick-ass .gifs. Team USA's biggest boss, former Bulls and Suns executive Jerry Colangelo, admits that he could switch Irving's uniform and locker room status with no reflex whatsoever:

"Kyrie Irving is a player that literally you could move from one court to the other court," Team USA managing director Jerry Colangelo said, referring to shooting drills that have the Olympic team and the select team on adjacent courts.

"He's that far advanced in terms of his talent, it appears. He's made a good showing here. He had a terrific rookie season in the NBA and certainly he will be one of the leading candidates going forward."

So why haven't we moved forward? Why haven't we moved Kyrie from one end of the court, to the other?

For all of Team USA's relative youth, this is still a squad made up of players that have paid their dues, in Colangelo's eyes — as he went for members of the 2008 gold medal-winning team far before scouring the ranks for more recent All-Stars. As we discussed on Tuesday, knockout Pistons center Greg Monroe couldn't even make the Select Team despite his significant gifts (if not .gifs) reportedly because Colangelo wanted to send a nod of appreciation Greg Steimsma and Lance Thomas' way for playing in the Pan-Am Games last summer. Team USA, as it did even while handing the ball to college kids for decades prior to 1992, still does not want to rock the boat.

[ Photos: U.S. men's basketball team gets after it in training camp ]

That won't matter much, this summer. Even with the 20-year-old Irving in the stands, pom pom in hand and legal to buy an Olympic-vetted Heineken over in London, Team USA will be well served in the backcourt with Deron Williams and Russell Westbrook helping to run the show. Even if either of those two point guards got lost in a roundabout on their way to the tournament, ball handlers like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant could take over from up top. Team USA doesn't need Kyrie Irving, despite his brilliance.

Team USAs in the future, though, will need someone like Kyrie Irving. Perhaps to replace the 2011-12 Rookie of the Year in 2020 with the 2020 version of Kyrie Irving. Because the line of thinking that has someone like Irving off to the side because he hasn't paid his dues yet is dangerous — there's a good chance Irving is off of this year's squad based solely on merit, which is fine, but if it is because of his age and inexperience at the international level, then this is a line of thinking that needs to be extinguished quite quickly.

Revisionists will tell you that going with the youngsters is what handed Team USA a bronze medal on an aluminum (they say it differently, in England) platter back in 2004, after the team added players like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony as they were coming off of their rookie year, along with rookie Emeka Okafor. The problem with that team wasn't youth, it was because of its makeup — Larry Brown didn't coach well, the squad was full of athletes with iffy jumpers that couldn't stop firing away, and Team USA still considered itself an easy favorite even after losing the World Championships in Indianapolis just two years earlier.

[ Video: The Dream Team put on a show for the world in '92 ]

There has to be a balance, especially when potentially faced with passing over more-deserving players in upcoming tournaments to hand the ball to players that appear to be more deserving. Team USA is loaded now, because we're in a good NBA era and the injury and availability woes haven't hit too hard. The next time, or next time after that might be different; and the last thing you want to think while listening to another country's gold-winning anthem being played, is that a 20-year-old on the Select Team could have been the difference between gold and silver.

Something to muse about, while watching fantastic clips like this:


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