This Dream Team will come up golden

Chris Paul probably wasn’t the best person to ask about size, because the 6-footer spends most of his time on the court trying to avoid the big guys instead of trying to act like one. Besides, he’s got other things on his mind this week, including impressing Mike Krzyzewski enough to secure the backup spot to Jason Kidd as the U.S. point guard in Beijing.

But size seems to have become an issue for the Olympic basketball team, if only because every other issue has long since been settled. This is a team so deep and talented and full of superstars that winning the gold medal seems ensured, even if Kobe Bryant and LeBron James never pass the ball to anyone.

Still, we need something to worry about, some reason to think this team won’t win all eight of its games in China and regain its rightful place atop the basketball world.

Memories of the Olympics in Greece and the world championships in Japan are still too fresh to ward off thoughts of failure.

So size it is, something that brought a laugh from Paul as he cooled down following a practice at Valley High School.

He laughed because he’s seen the intensity. He knows the desire.

"I don’t care if they put me at center, it will be fine," Paul said. "We’ve got 12 of the best players in the world on this team, and they all know a lot about how to win."

The fact that only one of those 12 players is a true center isn’t lost on Krzyzewski, Jerry Colangelo or anyone else involved in putting together what really does look like a Dream Team for USA Basketball. They’re also quite aware that center Dwight Howard is coming back from an injury he suffered in the NBA playoffs.

But with a tentative starting lineup surrounding Howard that includes Kidd, Bryant, James and Carmelo Anthony, they’ve been more concerned with making sure this U.S. team avoids the mistakes of Athens and plays as a team, instead of simply a collection of superstars.

So far, they like what they see.

"We will not lose because we don’t get along or aren’t working hard," Krzyzewski said.

They seemed to be doing both this week at Valley High, where 100 or so autograph seekers waited for more than three hours in 110-degree heat to get Bryant’s autograph as he left the gym.

"You promised, Kobe. You promised!" they yelled at Bryant as he walked to a waiting bus without stopping.

There wasn’t any such disappointment inside.

The scrimmage against a select team that included top draftees O.J. Mayo and Kevin Love was off limits to reporters, but the scene afterward was plenty telling.

James was lying on a trainer’s table with ice on his knees and nursing a sprained ankle. Dwyane Wade was also being iced, while Bryant had ice packs on both knees and his foot in a bucket of ice water.

The biggest problem for this team might not be size, but making sure the ice vendor in Beijing comes through.

Krzyzewski, meanwhile, was on the court talking about how great players sometimes don’t get along, something he said is not the case with this team. This group, he said, not only shares a burning desire to win the gold medal but trusts each other both on and off the court.

Assuming that still holds true after a trip that includes two warm-up games in Macao and two more in Shanghai, the lack of size will soon become a nonissue. More important will be how Krzyzewski rotates his point guards, where James plays on the court and whether Bryant can find the right balance between being aggressive and sharing the ball.

Everyone on the team is now used to international rules, and most played together last season in the regional qualifier, so they’re also comfortable with each other. With no offense to Tim Duncan, the talent level is also better than the team that settled for bronze in Athens with a starting lineup of Duncan, Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury, Lamar Odom and Richard Jefferson.

If they need any more inspiration from someone who’s been there, Carlos Boozer will tell them about how it felt to lose four years ago.

"It still sticks to me to this day," Boozer said. "We felt we let our country down."

That’s not going to happen with this group. There will be no letdowns against Greece, no losses to Argentina.

They’ll restore order to the basketball world and have the gold medals to show for it.

Tim Dahlberg is a Las Vegas-based national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at

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