If Team USA Doesn't Win Worlds, Qualifying for 2012 Olympics Not a Lock
Let's hope they have a team for which to play.
While it's a long shot, it's not out of the possibility Team USA might not even qualify for the 2012 Games in London.
If the Americans don't win the World Championship, in which they face Croatia on Saturday's opening day, they won't get an automatic bid to the 2012 Olympics. That means they would have to go through a qualifying tournament in 2011.
No big deal, right? Team USA often has had to go through qualifying tournaments to make the Olympic field, most recently in 2007.
But there could be one big difference next summer if the Americans don't take care of business this summer in Istanbul. An NBA lockout is very possible starting July 1, 2011. If such a lockout lingers, players under contract most likely wouldn't be able to play in international events.
That was the case when the NBA had a lockout in the summer of 1998 and Team USA filled its World Championship roster mostly with minor leaguers and college guys. That gritty outfit, known as the "Dirty Dozen,'' did end up taking a bronze medal in Athens.
If Team USA doesn't win the Worlds this summer and there is a prolonged lockout, stocking the team in that manner could end up again being the case. Marquee NBA free agents might be eligible to play, but don't look for Anthony, if he opts out of his Denver contract next summer to become the top available free agent, going to Argentina for the Americas Olympic qualifying tournament in bold letters on his date book.
If a watered-down U.S. outfit has to qualify and doesn't finish in the top two next summer, it wouldn't immediately earn a berth to London. But all might not be lost.
Procedures for picking the 12 teams for the 2012 Games are expected to be similar to how it was conducted for 2008 in Beijing. The nations that finish third, fourth and fifth in the Americas qualifying tournament would earn berths to a 2012 tournament in which teams would play for three wild-card Olympic spots (four if FIBA officials end up not extending host Great Britain an automatic bid due to its relatively new national program not having made significant enough strides).
If Team USA can at least get to the 2012 wild-card tournament, one would think NBA players would ride in to save the day. That is, unless the NBA does like hockey in 2004-05 and has no season and there's still a lockout in the summer of 2012.
But the most likely way in which the Americans could miss the 2012 Olympics would be not winning in Turkey and a lockout hampering the team so badly it bombs and finishes sixth or worse in the Olympic qualifying tournament. While that might be an unlikely scenario, there is one way to quickly make all of this moot: Win the Worlds on Sept. 12 in Istanbul.
Team USA officials are aware that not winning the World Championship and there being a NBA lockout next summer could create some anxiousness. But their attitude is to worry about that only if necessary, and they are optimistic this outfit has what it takes to win the Worlds for the first time since 1994.
"We're as ready as we can be going to Turkey, and hopefully we'll get better while we're there,'' Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski said after his team beat Greece 87-59 in Wednesday's final exhibition game.
The Americans went 4-0 in exhibition play, beating France in New York and Lithuania and Spain in Madrid before walloping Greece. But Team USA beat defending Worlds champion Spain just 86-85, which shows the road to immediate Olympic qualifying is hardly assured.
The Americans are without all the players, including Anthony and Paul, from the 2008 Olympic gold-medal outfit. But they're helped that all the other top contenders are without top stars.
Spain doesn't have Pau Gasol and lost Jose Calderon for the event when he suffered a leg injury in last Sunday's narrow loss to Team USA. Argentina is without Manu Ginobili. Brazil, the one contender that had looked to have all its top players, lost Nene last weekend due to a leg injury.
"We just want to go out there and win,'' Team USA forward Andre Iguodala said after the victory over Greece. "I think we're really hungry and we're really excited to have the opportunity to play for the USA, and we want to bring back home the gold.''
If the Americans don't bring back the gold from Turkey, it certainly won't help their quest to mine gold in London. The team still would have to qualify for 2012 for that to happen.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @christomasson