With Olympics over, there’s room at the top for Team USA

Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra talks with Mario Chalmers #6 and Dwyane Wade #3. Spoelstra has expressed interest in taking over Team USA now that Mike Krzyzewski has said he’ll retire.

Their Gold medals haven’t had time to cool off from the heat generated in the gym during the Olympic Gold medal game and the there have already been more questions asked than answered. At the top of the list: Who will take over the US program now that Mike Krzyzewski has said he’ll retire from the head spot after his squad’s compiled a 62-1 record (all games including exhibitions) since he took over the team in 2005, with a World Championship in 2010 and two Gold medal runs through the Olympics in 2008 and 2012.

Coach K, as he’s affectionately called, is a successful college coach who has figured out how to work with the top talent in the game. He’s earned their respect to the point that they, as he stated in an interview after the Gold medal game, told him that they would do whatever he asked, play when and how he wanted. While that sounds like exactly what players are supposed to do, considering the fact that each player is a superstar on their own and are used to playing lead roles, many of them had to accept limited playing time and supportive roles. He brought them together as a team with a common goal and they succeeded, multiple times. An easy task? Anyone who’s ever coached at any level knows just how difficult it is to find out how to coach a team while managing individuals and Krzyzewski is a master.

So, who steps into the massive void his departure will leave? Numerous names have been tossed around and have expressed interest in taking over. Doc Rivers – head coach of the Boston Celtics; Doug Collins – head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers; Rick Pitino – head coach at Louisville; Erik Spoelstra – head coach of the Miami Heat; John Calipari – head coach at Kentucky and head coach of the 2012 squad from the Dominican Republic that lost in finals of their Olympic qualifier to Nigeria; Gregg Popovich – head coat of the San Antonio Spurs. Names also in the mix are others that have been part of the US Basketball program such as Nate McMillian and Mike D’Antoni. Each one has his strengths and weaknesses, but Rivers, Collins and Spoelstra seem to be front runners with Spoelstra’s youth and experience with building a team out of top-level talent standing out.

The other key point in the Team USA Men’s equation is that fact that there are some veterans that may not be returning. Kobe Bryant has said its time for him to step aside for some younger talent. LeBron James will be 31 when they tip off in Rio and this would be his fourth Olympics, will he have the same fire to play in South America? Other key veterans that will be Carmelo Anthony, who will be 32 in 2016, Chris Bosh (will be 32), and Dwight Howard (will be 30). Anthony could be a fellow four-time Olympian with James, Bosh and Howard have unfinished business since they weren’t part of the London squad due to a injuries (Bosh’s abdominals and Howard’s back). The thirty-somethings might not want go through the International play this time around, or they might want to try to go out with two more medals (Worlds in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016). There have been talks about the Olympic squads being U23 with a couple of exemptions per team, which would completely change the game, but while the NBA is all for such a move, FIBA has stated that they aren’t interested in excluding the veterans.

The program has had consistency for seven years and a coach with a military background to keep the men focused on their goals; the next coach will have big shoes to fill, but an abundant supply of talent, veterans and new-comers, to build a squad from. Fortunately, that team will most likely include a number of guys that have some Olympic and World Championship hardware; not a bad place to start…

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