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NBA PM: Best-Ever Team USA Rosters

The 2016 Men’s Olympic Team is shaping up to be historically good, but where would they rank all-time?

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Best-Ever Team USA Rosters

One of the only interesting NBA storylines at this point of the summer has been the Team USA Mini Camp in Las Vegas, which ended Thursday night with an exhibition game. Unfortunately, the biggest stars sat out rather than risk the sort of injury that ruined Paul George’s season a year ago, but at least it was semi-entertaining basketball.

What made this particular camp so interesting this year is the fact that so many major NBA stars made appearances because they have plans to participate in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio next year. Just based on the players hanging out in Vegas this past week, we could be looking at a 2016 roster that includes LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis, Stephen Curry, DeMarcus Cousins and plenty of other All-Stars.

If that’s the team that is ultimately assembled, it could end up being one of the greatest Team USA rosters ever constructed. But while we wait to see what actually happens with that, let’s have a look at the top NBA Olympic teams since FIBA changed the rules to allow pros to participate back in 1989:

#5 – The 2000 U.S. Men’s Olympic Basketball Team – A couple of things about this team knock it down the list of the best NBA Olympic teams ever, and it starts with the fact that, for the first time, major stars were actually declining the opportunity to participate. It’s not that this team was lacking star power; Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and Kevin Garnett were among the biggest stars of the era. However, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Allen Iverson weren’t on the roster, and as a result the rest of the world saw this group as somewhat vulnerable. Carter’s infamous dunk over Frederic Weis is what’s remembered most (and understandably so), but the U.S. team barely squeaked out a semifinal win over Lithuania, and the championship victory over France was relatively close as well. Compared to the first couple of pro Olympic groups, this one just wasn’t as dominant of an overall performance, mostly because some of the big-name players didn’t show up.

#4 – The 2008 “Redeem Team” – When the ’04 team failed to win the championship, a lot of the apathy shown by superstars the previous couple of Olympics dissipated and the big guns decided it was time to bring the gold medal back where it belonged. Jerry Colangelo took over the roster in 2006 and immediately started putting together a team that could redeem themselves and the country. Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony were much better and much more mature than they were in 2004, and the addition of veterans like Kobe Bryant and Jason Kidd helped steady some of the other young guys on the team. Also, for the first time the team featured non-superstars like Tayshaun Prince and Michael Redd to help balance out some of the egos on the roster, and that recipe worked wonders in the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing. They defeated Spain in the championship to claim the first U.S. gold since 2000, and that included the FIBA tournaments in 2002 and 2006.

#3 – The 2012 U.S. Men’s Olympic Basketball Team – Injuries killed what this team was supposed to be, taking big-time talents like Derrick Rose, Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh away from a team they were very much looking forward to playing with, but in the end it really didn’t matter. The 2012 roster still had loads of superstars featuring everybody from Kevin Durant to LeBron James to Kobe Bryant, and despite a lack of star power in the front court, they went undefeated and beat Spain in the championship game for the second straight Olympics. They looked good, had great chemistry and were as confident and dominant as any team since the ‘90s.

#2 – The 1996 “Dream Team III” – If you’re wondering what happened to “Dream Team II,” they were the group that won the gold at the FIBA World Championship. The second iteration of a pro Olympic basketball team was technically “Dream Team III,” which featured five guys from the first group (Scottie Pippen, Karl Malone, David Robinson, John Stockton and Charles Barkley), as well as some new future Hall-of-Famers like Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, Gary Payton and Reggie Miller. They won their games by an average of 32 points a night and actually set four Olympic basketball records in the process, all of which still stand today. Forget all the crazy talk about the ’12 team having a shot at beating the Dream Team; if any other group had a shot, it would have been the ’96 group.

#1 – The 1992 “Dream Team” – Everything that needs to be said about the ’92 Dream Team has already been said a thousand times, but what this essentially boils down to is of the 12 guys on this roster, 11 of them are Hall of Famers. Watch the NBA TV documentary on these guys and you’ll understand just how dominant they were and what kind of global effect they had on the game of basketball. You put Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson on the same team, even if the latter two guys were well past their prime, and you get the single greatest basketball team ever assembled.

Honorable Mention:

2004 U.S. Men’s Basketball Team – The only team of professionals that didn’t win the gold medal has to be the one we leave off the list. If the 2000 games showed potential for U.S. defeat, the 2004 games in Athens brought it all to fruition. The team was a weird mix of talent, featuring everyone from Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury to Tim Duncan and Carlos Boozer. LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade were on the team, too, but they were all coming off their first year in the league and weren’t yet the players we think of them as today. From the get-go, even in exhibitions, the team struggled, and in the first official game of the Olympic tournament, Team USA lost to Puerto Rico by 19 points. Three games later, they lost to Lithuania, and had another loss in the semifinal match against Argentina. They eked out a bronze, but when it comes to U.S. Olympic Basketball, that’s about the furthest possible thing from acceptable.

It will be interesting to see how the 2016 team ultimately ranks among these groups since, based on the roster that seems to be coming together, there’s a good chance that it could do quite well. Not Dream Team well, but elite all the same.

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.

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