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Nick Friedell

Can the USA Basketball team overcome the curse of Stephon?

Fourth-Place Medal

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Everyone remembers that the USA Basketball team finished third at the Athens Olympics in 2004. What most people don't remember is that the point guard leading that squad was none other than ... Stephon Marbury.

When you look back at that team, you could argue that they were lucky to win the bronze. When Stephon is in charge, every team he plays for seems a lot more dysfunctional.

With the embarrassment in Athens still fresh in people's minds, USA Basketball turned to Jerry Colangelo, to try and turn things around. As we gear up for the Americans' first game against China tomorrow, let's take a closer look at who he chose for this year's team.

Kobe Bryant-- The best player on the planet. Period. He will have something to prove, considering he couldn't lead the Lakers to a championship over the Celtics. Also, keep in mind that this is Kobe's first (and maybe only) Olympics, you know he wants a gold medal.

LeBron James-- King James was on the Athens team in '04 that couldn't get the job done. He still hasn't won an NBA Title, so winning a gold medal might be the closest he gets to a championship for a while. Playing in China should give him a little extra motivation as well; a whole new fan base that will buy his Nikes.

Dwyane Wade--The Heat star has to prove he is not a one-hit wonder. After winning an NBA Title in 2006, Wade has struggled with injuries, and has not looked the same. Winning a gold medal will change that, and comsidering that reports out of Beijing say he looks like the Wade of old, things are looking good for D-Wade.

Jason Kidd-- The only member of the team to have already won a gold medal (Sydney '00). Kidd will be have to take a leadership role on this team, and do what he has always done: create for everybody else. He would have been the point guard on the '04 squad, if not for a knee injury.

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Chris Paul-- Made the jump from great player, to superstar, over the last year. He won't have as much pressure on him during the Games, because he can study Kidd, but the former Wake Forest star will definitely get a lot of minutes off the bench. This will be a good learning experience for Paul, who is going to be USA Basketball's point guard of the future.

Carmelo Anthony--During the last couple of international tournaments, 'Melo has come alive, leading the team in scoring, at almost 20 points a game. Having his college coach Jim Boeheim, on the bench as an assistant, will only help his game even more.

Tayshaun Prince-- Prince is exactly the type of player this team was missing in '04, a gritty defender, who has a nice shot. His defensive mind-set should rub off on some of his teammates.

Carlos Boozer-- This team is going to need Boozer to score down low. He is the only main offensive presence in the post that the Americans have. Dwight Howard is a beast on the glass, but his offensive skills leave a lot to be desired. Boozer will need to pick up the slack.

Chris Bosh-- Like Boozer, Bosh will need to bring his offensive skills to Beijing. Unlike Boozer, Bosh may not be able to body up with the centers from other countries, because of his wiry frame. His ability to hit 15-foot jumpers will become extremely important throughout the tournament.

Michael Redd-- Speaking of jumpers ... Redd is the perfect fit for this team. His game is more suited for the European style of play, because he is a spot-up shooter. Kidd and Bryant should be able to penetrate at will and kick it out to Redd for wide open shots. A dark-horse pick for MVP.

Deron Williams-- The Illinois product is a great player, but out of all the selections, this one made me scratch my head the most. The U.S. team already had Kidd and Paul at the point, plus James and Bryant could play there in a pinch. In my mind, they should have added another big body (like Shaq), to back up Dwight Howard. Having said that, expect Williams to use his size to body up smaller, European guards.

Dwight Howard-- The lone center on the team might have more pressure on him than anybody, because he doesn't really have a back-up. Howard will be logging more minutes than any player, and if he gets into foul trouble then what happens?

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What most people forget about the Athens Games is that Tim Duncan lived in foul trouble. Seemingly every time he raised his arms in the paint, the refs blew the whistle. The International game is just not as physical inside. If the refs call the games in China the same way they did in Greece, the Americans are going to have problems keeping Superman on the floor.

Mike Krzyzewski-- Unlike his predecessor Larry Brown, Coach K actually seems to trust younger players. Another advantage the Duke coach has is that the players on this year's team have already played with one another, they weren't thrown together at the last minute. Coach K always seems to get the most out of his players, he will need to do just that to bring a gold medal back to the States.

Photos Via Getty Images

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