I know this doesn't have anything directly to do with Texas athletics, but it's the offseason and the Olympics are coming up. And it does concern at least one former Longhorn. I want to talk some generic basketball, and maybe more knowledgeable people like Reggieball can chime in.
Recently, Kobe Bryant, who declined to comment as to whether the Redeem Team of 2008 would beat the Dream Team after the last Olympics, came out and said that he believes that the 2012 team would be able to tough out a close game against the Dream Team. Some snickered, including Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley, who claimed that the Dream Team would win by double digits and that only three players on the current team would even make the Dream Team's roster: Lebron, Kobe, and Durant.
I'm going to be a killjoy for those who want to hate on Kobe: Kobe's comments are actually not controversial at all. All he said, and he confirmed this later, was that the 2012 team could win one game, not necessarily win a seven game series. This really isn't hard to imagine at all. Despite what the talking heads want you to believe, there isn't anything to see here. The 2001 Lakers had one of the most dominant post season runs in history... and they lost Game 1 of the NBA Finals before taking the next four, mostly because Allen Iverson went off. If you have Durant and Lebron on your team, you can win one game.
I will start out by saying that there are a few things that no team will ever duplicate simply because of the era that they played in. For starters, no team will make the same impact on the game of basketball. The Dream Team changed the game on the international level and helped inspire people around the world to pick it up (guys like Tony Parker and Dirk have said this). Because of them, the rest of the world has improved dramatically in a relatively short period of time. Thus, it is unlikely any team will enjoy the ease of blowing through the tournament as the Dream Team did. Not only were they loads better than everyone else, other teams were so star-struck by them that they asked to shake hands, take pictures, and receive autographs before, after, and even during games. That's a far cry from now, when foreign teams now have the powerful motivation to prove themselves against Team USA. The Dream Team players had the luxury of playing golf, cards, or otherwise going out and having fun rather than practice that hard because they knew that no team could possibly challenge them. In addition, the adoration and praise from the general public and the novelty of being the first team that featured NBA stars simply can't be expected anymore. Media has changed and people are in many ways more cynical and critical.
None of this means that later teams can't match the Dream Team's talent and basketball ability or otherwise take advantage of matchup issues. I know it is tempting for many to think that everything was better in the good ol' days, just as it is tempting to fall into the recency effect and think that everything that is new is better, but neither are helpful attitudes. What is more interesting is a honest discussion of how these teams would match up.
I want to make two comparisons. One is with the current version of the 2012 roster (now minus Blake Griffin). The other would be the 2012 roster before injuries affected the lineup. Basketball fans were understandably very excited about our 2012 team, correctly believing it would be the best team since the Dream Team, until injuries took away key players (I know the Dream Team had some omissions, most notably Isiah Thomas, but that was not because of injury but because they didn't want him). Anyway, here is the current roster:
PG: Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook
SG: Kobe Bryant, James Harden
C: Tyson Chandler
SF: Lebron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Andre Iguodala
PF: Kevin Love, Anthony Davis
And here is "my" 2012 roster had injuries not set in:
PG: Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook
SG: Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade
C: Dwight Howard, Tyson Chandler
SF: Lebron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony
PF: Kevin Love, Lamarcus Aldridge
They would be against:
PG: Magic Johnson, John Stockton
SG: Michael Jordan, Clyde Drexler
C: Patrick Ewing, David Robinson
SF: Scottie Pippen, Larry Bird, Chris Mullin
PF: Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Christian Laettner
(I used positions pretty generically just for listing purposes. Particularly for the 2012 team, several players can play multiple positions. Also, I'm sure that your "dream" 2012 roster may be different than mine, since I left out some good candidates like Bosh and Rose.)
Real 2012 team vs. the Dream Team
The first advantage that jumps out to me for the Dream Team is size down low. Patrick Ewing was a beast and while Robinson may not have quite been at his prime, he was close and he was a better defender than Chandler. Anthony Davis is gifted but only a rookie and would not be able to handle someone like Ewing. I don't see Love helping that much either. Malone and Barkley would also give them efficient scoring down low, although I think Lebron and Melo could effectively guard these guys.
The first advantage I see for the 2012 team is pure speed and athleticism on the wings. Kobe exaggerated the fact that many players were old on the Dream Team: That's actually only true of Magic and Bird (strange he would even say that since he's 33). Nonetheless, defense against the likes of Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Durant, and Lebron would be dicey for the Dream Team, particularly the point guards. Magic Johnson was never an elite defender even in his heyday, and he's not going to be better well into his 30's after a year off of basketball. Good luck staying in front of Chris Paul or D-Will or the super athletic Russell Westbrook. As far as Stockton, he was a clever defender which is why he has the most steals in NBA history, but he wasn't a great defender due to footspeed. He'd match up better against someone like Paul but I think he'd struggle with a monster like Westbrook. Bird was also never a great defender and at that point had aged considerably. Even at his prime, Lebron would annihilate him on defense, and it would be worse at that age. And Chris Mullin is helping nobody in this department.
The saving grace for the Dream Team on the perimeter would be Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, two of the best perimeter defenders in history. The problem is that Jordan would have a difficult time matching up with certain players simply due to size difference; asking him, or Drexler, to guard Durant or Melo is a tough assignment. The most important defender is the versatile Scottie Pippen, but he can only guard one guy. If the 2012 team decided to have Melo, Durant, and Lebron all on the floor along with one of the point guards, that would be a tough cover for the Dream Team. The '92 team would have to adjust to freakish guys like Lebron and 6'10 guys like Durant who can step outside of 30 feet and still drain a three.
That said, it wouldn't exactly be easy to guard all of the guys on the Dream Team. This was Michael Jordan in his prime, the best player ever at the height of his powers. A 28 year old Kobe could put up a decent fight, but not a 33 year old Kobe who has clearly lost a couple of steps. Durant has the length to bother him but not the strength or quickness. Iguodala is a good defender but he'd get torched by Jordan as well. Throwing Lebron at him might work the best, but that's asking Lebron to expend a ton of energy just to try to slightly slow down Jordan. That also pulls Lebron away form other assignments where his size may be desperately needed, like against Malone. There were just so many offensive juggernauts on the Dream Team who were in their prime years: Jordan, Malone, Drexler, Barkley, and Ewing. Then they had really intelligent and skilled point guards like Stockton and Magic delivering the basketball, not to mention guys like Pippen who could handle the rock as well. I can easily see how the Dream Team would struggle to cover Durant, Lebron, and the point guards, but I can also see how they could flat outscore them.
Because of that, and because of the significant advantage in their big guys, I'd take the Dream Team to win 4-1 in a best of seven series. I think it'd be more interesting than some old guys like to think, but I think Ewing and Robinson would dominate while Jordan would carry the rest of the load.
"My" 2012 team vs the Dream Team
The biggest difference here is the addition of Dwight Howard. Howard is very similar to David Robinson at that time and they would more or less cancel each other out. The size advantage still goes to the '92 team, but it would lessen with the addition of Howard.
A 100% D-Wade also gives the 2012 team a better chance at defending while putting even more athletic stress on the Dream Team's perimeter defense, and Aldridge would give them even more versatility to pull defenders out of their comfort zone. That's one more 6'8+ guy who can score in a variety of ways, including hitting open jumpers (Aldridge, Lebron, Melo, Love, Durant).
I think these changes would close the gap considerably, but not totally. I'd imagine a six game, competitive series that the Dream Team would pull out. I certainly don't think the Dream Team would just wipe the floor with this team.
The Dream Team is beloved and will always have a special place in the minds of basketball fans, but it wasn't a perfect team. I don't think we've seen a team yet that is better than them, but I won't say, like others have, that there will "never" be a team as good. Unless the NBA changes the rules such that we no longer send our best players, I think it's very possible that that can happen.
What do you think, or what would you change about the 2012 roster if injury wasn't a concern?