NBA

Tokyo Olympics: Team USA director Jerry Colangelo addresses decision to pick Kevin Love, pass on Trae Young

The United States men’s basketball team is still favored to win gold at the Tokyo Olympics, but the lead-up to that anticipated moment hasn’t been without some bumps in the road. Team USA dropped two exhibition games a week before the Olympic Games, then fell to France in the opener of the tournament. It raised questions about roster construction as well as head coach Gregg Popovich, all of which may not matter if the Americans have gold hanging around their necks a week from now. 

But that doesn’t mean those questions aren’t still lingering. Most notably the decision to choose Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love, who wouldn’t even be considered an All-Star in the NBA right now. Team USA director Jerry Colangelo recently explained how Love, who later withdrew from competing in the Olympics, was picked as one of the 12 players chosen to represent the U.S. in Japan.

“I didn’t think Kevin Love was going to play. I wasn’t even sure he had much left to play,” Colangelo said via ESPN. “He reached out to us and said he was in shape and said he felt he owed us. And on the basis of that, we’re looking at someone with international experience who at one time was a heck of a rebounder and could still shoot the ball. You know, being like a 12th man on a roster.”

Colangelo then continued.

“Well, it didn’t work out. He wasn’t in shape. And he was way behind as it turned out. So you move on. Call it a mistake. Call it giving someone an opportunity. Someone who had equity with us.”

First off, you have to feel for Love in this situation. The 31-year-old former NBA champion is coming off a season in which he was limited to just 25 games due to a calf injury, which he would later cite as the reason he withdrew from the Olympics. It’s clear his time with the Cavaliers, who are trying to turn the page on that 2016 championship team, is over and Love is not in this team’s future. The Olympics were supposed to serve as an opportunity for Love to show teams around the league that he could still be a contributor on a contending team. 

However, who knew Love had that much equity to call up Colangelo and join the team at the drop of a hat. Love was a member of the 2012 team that won gold in London and declined an invitation to join the team in Rio in 2016 after winning a championship with the Cavaliers. He hasn’t played for Team USA since then, so it’s interesting to hear Colangelo say Love basically called his shot to be on the U.S. team. 

That wasn’t the only thing Colangelo elaborated on. He also addressed the controversial decision to not choose Atlanta Hawks star guard Trae Young as a replacement for Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal after he had to bow out of the competition. Team USA ultimately decided to bring up San Antonio Spurs young forward Keldon Johnson from the Select Team, and add big man JaVale McGee. 

Adding McGee makes sense from a matchup standpoint as the Americans are lacking in size against some of the other teams in the tournament. It was a glaring weakness against France when two seven-footers — one of which was Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert — were clogging the paint. But that still doesn’t answer for choosing Johnson over Young. The Hawks star has spoken openly about wanting to wear the red, white and blue on an international stage, but clearly, that didn’t resonate enough with Colangelo.

“I’m happy that he wants to play for USA Basketball,” Colangelo said. “He’s done really well in the NBA. But predicated on what we felt we needed, he didn’t fit the bill this time around. He’s a young player, he has a future with USA Basketball, but it was the opinion of our staff that it wasn’t now. It’s for others to make the declaration you made a mistake.”

If the U.S. doesn’t win gold, passing over Young will undoubtedly be brought up again but Colangelo doesn’t think that conversation will even need to be had. 

“If we don’t win, people will have their opportunity to take shots,” Colangelo said. “I’m the one that has to look in the mirror and know that I did my best. I’ll tell you in advance the answer is yes. I believe we’re going to win.”


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