Who starts and who stars for the Olympic men's basketball team?


Editor’s note: This story has been updated with the news that Derrick White will replace Kawhi Leonard, who pulled out Wednesday because of injury. LAS VEGAS – The starting lineup U.S. men’s basketball coach Steve Kerr uses in a pre-Paris Olympics exhibition game against Canada on Wednesday won’t be the same lineup he uses in an exhibition game July 15 against Australia.

Same goes for exhibition games against Serbia on July 17, South Sudan on July 20 and Germany on July 22.

And that also might be the case in Olympic games as the U.S. adjusts lineups based on opponents, beginning with its opener against Serbia on July 28. Kerr has options that no other men’s basketball Olympic coach has with 12 All-Star caliber players on his roster.

Kerr and his staff – assistant coaches Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat, Ty Lue of the Los Angeles Clippers and Mark Few of the Gonzaga Bulldogs – also will use those Olympic tune-up games to explore No. 1 options on a team full of No. 1 options.

When the U.S. needs to score will it be Steph Curry? LeBron James? Kevin Durant? Jayson Tatum? Joel Embiid? Anthony Edwards? The first chance to see what this team looks like is against Canada on Wednesday (10:30 p.m. ET, FS1).

“I’m still the No. 1 option,” said Edwards, who starred for a U.S. team that failed to medal at last summer’s FIBA World Cup. “Y’all might look at it differently, I don’t look at it differently. Hey, I just go out there and be myself, shoot my shots, play defense. They got to fit in to play around me.”

Of course, that’s part of Edwards’ confidence that makes him one of the NBA’s top young stars.

He also said, “Some nights some guys aren’t going to get it going. Some nights some guys will. It’s going to be different players different nights, and we’ve got to be OK with that as a group, all 12 of us. We’ve got to be OK with not having a good night and our teammate having 20 and playing over us. That's the main thing.”

No team has a roster with as many NBA stars as the U.S. Seven of the 12 have won NBA titles, 11 have been All-Stars, six have won Olympic gold medals, four are NBA MVPs and three were named Finals MVP.

Jrue Holiday shoots against Australia's Dante Exum during the 2020 Summer Games. Holiday is among 11 All-Stars vying for starting spots in Paris.
Jrue Holiday shoots against Australia's Dante Exum during the 2020 Summer Games. Holiday is among 11 All-Stars vying for starting spots in Paris.

Who are the starters for the U.S. team?

Kerr could pick names out of a hat, and the lineup would work. He takes a more strategic approach and said part of this training camp and the exhibition games is finding the right rotations. His decisions will be analyzed.

What does the starting lineup look like? Steph Curry, Jayson Tatum, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and Joel Embiid is a great place to start. Curry, Edwards, Durant, James and Anthony Davis are an appealing group. Jrue Holiday, Devin Booker, Derrick White, James and Embiid are possible starters. You could go big across all positions with Holiday, Edwards, White, Bam Adebayo and Embiid. Or Davis in place of Adebayo.

“We are purposely going to just throw all kinds of different combinations out there,” Kerr said of the exhibition games. "We don't have concerns about who's going to start. It's really about just getting everybody together.

“Everybody understands this is a very unique situation. They're all not only starters, but future Hall of Famers. So they all deserve to start there. Only five can. We'll figure it out.”

The possibilities aren’t endless. But they are abundant and intriguing as this group has the ability to play any style and match up with any opponent.

This team will receive comparisons to the 2008 Redeem Team and 2012 London Olympics squad. Based on NBA accomplishments and awards, this 2024 team stacks up.

Ultimately, this team may not have a clear No. 1 option when a bucket is necessary.

"We all got one goal, and it's to win the gold and we coming together with that mindset," Embiid said. "We are not here to compete against each other. We just here to make each other better so we are on the same page so we can go out and do our best to win the gold, but you have these options. ...

"I'm just there for the ride, realizing my dream. And then also you just got to let the game come to me. I'm fine. I play a lot with a lot of great amazing basketball players, so if I got to take zero shots and play defense, I'm happy with it. I'm great. It is all about doing whatever you can and adding something to make sure that you win that gold."

As Edwards pointed out, it could be a different player based on circumstances of opponent and what is needed. Maybe they need a Curry 3 or for James to create for himself or a teammate or Durant just to get a bucket or Embiid to overpower a defender in the low post.

“I love that Anthony Edwards said he's the No. 1 option the other day. I want him to think that way, and I want five, six other guys to feel that way too,” Kerr said.

“They don't want to disappoint one another. They want to make sure they're bringing their best energy, best game to the floor every night for their teammates.”

Edwards knows he won’t be the No. 1 option, and he might not even be on the court in close late-game situations. He has a player in mind who fits the role.

“When the game is on the line, who’s going to be the Alpha? I think Kevin Durant,” Edwards said. “He better be. That’s who I came to see.”

The U.S. has the talent where it doesn’t need the same guy to be the guy each game. “That's the beauty of being on this team,” Kerr said. “These guys, they're all capable of taking over a game and I think as they go, they realize that mentality, that aggressiveness is actually a good thing because they're all committed to each other.”

Follow NBA reporter Jeff Zillgitt on social media @JeffZillgitt

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Olympic men's basketball team facing terrific problem - who starts?