LOS ANGELES — The Lakers might have more Olympians than All-Stars.
LeBron James and Anthony Davis were among 44 finalists to play on the U.S. men’s basketball team for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. So were veterans Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee as well as third-year forward Kyle Kuzma.
“Hopefully all five of us would be able to get on the team and just compete for a gold medal,” Davis said following the Lakers’ 125-100 win over the Phoenix Suns on Monday at Staples Center. “It’s five guys who play hard, I think all five of us love representing our country. If all five of us get the chance to be on the Olympic team it will be something cool to see.”
Will all five guys actually play? It remains uncertain for different reasons.
Davis, who will turn 27 in March, admitted uncertainty before joking “he’s getting old” in his seventh NBA season. James, 35, will decide later this summer whether he will pursue his third gold medal after also winning one in 2008 (Beijing) and in 2012 (London). James was also part of the U.S. men’s Olympic team that won bronze in 2004 (Athens).
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“It’s always predicated on my body, and how my body is feeling at the end of the season,” said James, who his in his 17th NBA season. “I hope to make a long playoff run. And then see where my mind is and then where my family’s head is. So, it’s a lot of factors.”
As for Howard, McGee and Kuzma? USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo and Team USA coach Gregg Popovich will evaluate them among an extensive group. It is not clear when Team USA will finalize its 12-man roster, but the 2020 Tokyo Games start on July 24 and end on Aug. 9.
“At first, I thought it was a dream,” said Howard, who won a gold medal on the 2008 U.S. Olympic team. “There was no way I was going to say no for that opportunity. To have a chance to win a gold medal, to travel the world, to play basketball — there was no way I was going to turn that down.”
There are some notable snubs. Atlanta’s Trae Young, Memphis’ Ja Morant, New Orleans’ Zion Williamson, and Atlanta’s John Collins did not make the cut despite representing the NBA’s young talent. USA Basketball often invites those players to the FIBA World Cup first before competing in the Olympics. It also appears Team USA values veterans after finishing seventh in the 2019 FIBA World Cup. That happened partly because of a handful of NBA stars withdrew their names because of injuries, fatigue or free agency considerations.
“They’re for sure going to have their time. It’s a lot of great young players in this league,” Davis said. “They’re more than capable of being on the team. But (choosing) the Olympics every four years is always a tough thing.”
After winning his gold medal, Howard said he spent the next four years with the Orlando Magic and Lakers bringing his gold medal with him on team trips.
“Just don’t take any moments for granted,” said Howard, who has impressed the Lakers with his hustle. “Being able to play in the Olympics is very special. It’s something that a lot of guys don’t get opportunities to do, especially in their careers.”
Kuzma has struggled in his third season. But the Lakers declined to deal him before the trade deadline amid intrigue with his defense, improved shooting and upside. USA Basketball also invited Kuzma to play in the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China, but that stint ended during training camp following Kuzma’s injury.
“I’m not in right now, but I’m blessed to just be a finalist,” Kuzma said. “Growing up, I always wanted to be on the Olympic team. It was always a goal of mine. I never really knew if it was going to happen. But it’s an opportunity to be on the team.”
McGee has had an uneven career before improving his reputation after winning two NBA championships in Golden State (2016-2018). McGee has impressed the Lakers for the past two years with consistency as a lob threat and rim protector.
“Very meaningful. I would love to be on the team,” McGee said. “It’s a stamp on your legacy and on your personal passport.”
Even if Davis already has that experience stamped on his passport, he sounded aware of the value of another stint. After winning a national championship at the University of Kentucky, Davis played in the 2012 Olympics in London before joining the New Orleans Pelicans as their No. 1 pick.
“It just helped me become a professional early in my career, showing me how to work, how to work hard and I kind of carried that through my career,” Davis said. “I’ve just been kind of one of the guys they’ve leaned on other years, but I think (the 2012 Olympics) kind of started it off and helped kickstart my career.”
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