2019 Team USA World Cup squad has much to learn from 2006’s failures

2019 Team USA World Cup squad has much to learn from 2006’s failures

One of the smartest moves legendary basketball coach Gregg Popovich can make over the next couple days is to darken an auditorium in China and show some 13-year-old video.

Let the current United States men’s basketball team -- in the final hours before the 2019 FIBA World Cup begins -- feast its eyes on the last Team USA to fail.

That team, in the 2006 FIBA World Cup, was unable to successfully defend pick-and-roll offense and ended up trudging off the floor, tipping caps to Greece and then scratching their own heads after a 101-95 loss in the semifinal round.

They returned home with bronze medals and fractured pride.

Coached by Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, that group featured plenty of heavyweight talent, including the entire Banana Boat crew: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul. So deep was Coach K’s squad that Chris Bosh, between his third and fourth NBA seasons, came off the bench in all nine games.

Taken to school by a Greek team without a single NBA player, Coach K’s group was superior in every way to the group Coach Pop has now.

The 2019 version of Team USA is without even one superstar. When it takes the floor Sunday in Shanghai against the Czech Republic, it will be led by three-time All-Star guard Kemba Walker and one-time All-Star forward Khris Middleton. Their 10 teammates have zero All-Star games among them. The lone championship ring among the 12 players on the roster belongs to Harrison Barnes, won with the Warriors in 2015. Barnes also is the only member of the team with Olympic games experience, and that was a total of 31 minutes in the Rio Games.

This is a group of good players with limited international experience and merely a dream of demolishing all comers. Coach Pop and his staff, which includes Warriors coach Steve Kerr, presides over the most vulnerable group of American men in major international competition since NBA players began participating in 1992.

These guys need to see the video from ’06.

That’s when the Greeks used the pick-and-roll to practical perfection, leading to a succession of open looks. They shot 62.5 percent from the field, and 44.4 percent beyond the arc. The better team triumphed over vastly better players.

“Their offense beat our offense, and I take responsibility for that,” Krzyzewski told reporters.

“To lose any game is a shock to us,” Anthony said.

Well, a similar Team USA experience is conceivable at some point during the tournament that runs through Sept. 15. Kemba & Co. need to apply all the passion and commitment they can summon, in every game, to avoid such ignominy.

They have to know that, right?

Team USA won three consecutive exhibitions before taking a 98-94 loss on Monday to an Australian team with five NBA players, none of whom has been an All-Star. Never mind that the Americans bounced back two days later, in their final tune-up, for an 84-68 win over a Canadian team without a single NBA player. The personal lessons for Coach Pop’s bunch were in the loss to Australia.

“The Aussies gave us a great lesson as far as where we have to be and how we have to play in this kind of competition,” Popovich told reporters in Melbourne.

That loss snapped Team USA’s 78-game win streak in major international games and exhibitions. It also was the first loss by a USA team composed of NBA players since ’06.

Losing that game may be the best thing that could have happened to Coach Pop and Team USA, the final buzzer a siren informing them that they were on the brink of a competitive emergency.

Some quality teams await in China. Greece has reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, the best player in the tournament. Serbia, with Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic, has the second-best player in the tournament. Spain is too formidable to be dismissed as is, not to mention France with its four NBA players.

When the ’06 team sheepishly accepted the bronze medal, it insisted such a stunning loss in international competition would not happen again. It hasn’t. Team USA routinely crushes opponents, often grinning their way through routs. They are the international gold standard, winning with Globetrotter-like consistency.

[RELATED: Why Gregg Popovich, Team USA trust Kings' Harrison Barnes so much]

This is why, as Melo said 13 years ago, losing to Greece was such a shock.

Show this group the video from ‘06, Pop, and give it to ‘em straight. Right after everybody gets one more look at the video from their loss to Australia. 

Warriors' Steve Kerr says trade rumors don't affect D'Angelo Russell

Warriors' Steve Kerr says trade rumors don't affect D'Angelo Russell

D'Angelo Russell is rapidly approaching a date some NBA observers have circled since the Warriors acquired him this summer.

Golden State can trade Russell as soon as Sunday, Dec. 15, and the 23-year-old has been the source of trade speculation during his time in the Bay Area. The Athletic's Jon Krawczynski reported Wednesday, citing sources that the Minnesota Timberwolves "remain interested in Russell" and that the guard "seems to be realistic in understanding that he may not be long for the Warriors once Steph Curry and Klay Thompson return to full health."

Russell is averaging a career-high 22.4 points per game this season to go with 6.1 assists and 3.1 rebounds, serving as the top offensive option in the absence of his All-Star teammates. He knew he wouldn't play much with Thompson this season as he recovers from a torn ACL, but Curry's broken hand threw a wrench into the Warriors' -- and thus Russell's -- prospects this season. Warriors coach Steve Kerr praised how Russell has handled the rumors surrounding him. 

"Money doesn't buy peace of mind," Kerr said Friday morning (H/T San Francisco Chronicle's Connor Letourneau). "It doesn't buy a sense of belonging, a sense of, 'Alright, this is my team.' If there's speculation that you're going to be traded all the time, I don't care how much money you make, I don't care who you are. That's tough. That's no fun to deal with, and this season has been nowhere close to what D'Angelo thought it would be when he first signed with us.

"There's no Steph. We're struggling to win games. He's had his own injuries, and we're throwing all kinds of different lineups out there based on the other injuries we've faced." 

Russell has played in just 15 of the Warriors' 27 games this season, playing on a team that looks far more like the Los Angeles Lakers of his first two seasons than the playoff-contending Brooklyn Nets a year ago -- let alone the reigning Western Conference champion Warriors. 

[RELATED: How Warriors' Chriss earning chance to start at center]

Kerr, who entered this season with the highest winning percentage in NBA history (.785), is as aware of Golden State's dramatically different reality as anyone. He said it has only brought out the best in Russell. 

"So given all that, he's played really well, and he's been a great teammate and he's doing everything he needs to do to solidify his position here," Kerr continued. "But this is the NBA here, and we never know what's coming, what's happening. So, it's a difficult position to be in in general, but for him in particular it's strange set of circumstances and he's handling it really well." 

Whether or not the Warriors trade Russell, it's clear Kerr holds him in high regard.

Watch Warriors' Ky Bowman dominate for Santa Cruz in G League debut

Watch Warriors' Ky Bowman dominate for Santa Cruz in G League debut

Warriors two-way guard Ky Bowman made his G League debut Friday night in Santa Cruz.

He dominated the Agua Caliente Clippers of Ontario. 

The Boston College product could have scored 40 points if he really wanted to, but he picked his spots and made sure his teammates were getting good looks.

After shootaround in Utah on Friday, Warriors coach Steve Kerr was asked what Bowman can work on while he's with the Sea Dubs.

"He's got a really aggressive mindset -- which I like -- but there are still circumstances and situations where he needs to think more pass," Kerr said. "And more strategic, rather than just score, score, score."

Bowman clearly listened to the eight-time NBA champion.

[RELATEDWhy Dubs might be very active before, after trade deadline]

Also, "Sky Bowman" was on full display.

The 22-year-old will be back in action Sunday afternoon as Santa Cruz faces the Northern Arizona Suns. Watch the game at 2:00 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area.

Follow @DrewShiller on Twitter and Instagram