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Team USA Celtics give World Cup roster unprecedented identity

2019 USA Basketball Men's National Team - Portraits

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 17: Jayson Tatum #10, Kemba Walker #15, Jaylen Brown #9 and Marcus Smart #36 of the 2019 USA Basketball Men’s National Team pose for a portrait on August 17, 2019 at The Ritz-Carlton in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

NBAE via Getty Images

In eight years in Charlotte, Kemba Walker never had a star teammate.

So, this summer, he went to work putting himself around better players. Walker joined Team USA for the World Cup. He also left the Hornets for the Celtics via free agency.

The twist: Many of his better new teammates are identical in both situations.

Team USA has four Celtics – Walker, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart. This is the first time Team USA has so many players from the same NBA team.

In only two other major competitions (Olympics and World Cup) has Team USA had even three players from the same NBA team. That happened in each of the last two Olympics:

  • 2016 Warriors: Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson
  • 2012 Thunder: Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden

Both 2016 Golden State and 2012 Oklahoma City were coming off NBA Finals appearances. (Durant joined the Warriors in 2016 free agency, supplanting Harrison Barnes, another 2016 Team USA member.)

Boston, on the other hand, is coming off a disappointing second-round loss.

How did these Celtics get so many players on the national team? It has just been a tough year for USA Basketball to draw players. Walker being Team USA’s biggest star isn’t exactly encouraging. So any good players – including all four from Boston – are definitely welcome.

This is a chance for Walker, Tatum, Brown and Smart to develop chemistry. Every time they talk about their experience with USA Basketball, they sound like they’re taking a shot at Kyrie Irving – who contributed significantly to the Celtics’ toxicity last season. I’m sure not every positive comment about the present is a dig at Irving. But I bet some are.

We’ll see how much this benefits Boston next season. If Walker and his new teammates have good cohesion, the World Cup experience will surely be cited. But it could backfire with fatigue or injury issues. In either scenario, we’ll never know the counterfactual.

USA Basketball seemingly never chose to have a third of its roster comprised by a single NBA team. This was born of necessity. Still, it’s a cool opportunity for the Celtics to turn 2019 into a feel-good year.