Despite the losses, the men’s team’s chances for success remain high, something Nigeria and Australia appeared to realize: Neither celebrated their victories particularly effusively.
The United States has still won 15 of the 19 Olympic gold medals awarded in men’s basketball, including six of seven in the Dream Team era, and sports books still have the Americans as the heavy favorite for the gold in Tokyo. The group stage at the Olympics, beginning on July 25, should be less of a challenge: The United States is scheduled to play France (with Rudy Gobert of the Jazz), the Czech Republic and Iran. Second place, and maybe even third, should be enough to advance to the quarterfinals.
But then, the Americans will face as many as three straight knockout games, and losing any one of them will cost them the gold. Their opponents could be Australia or Nigeria again, but they could also face deeper teams like Argentina and Spain.
How the team performs in Tokyo is likely to influence how Hill approaches the position once his tenure begins.
Shortly after the United States’ disappointing bronze finish at the 2004 Athens Games, Colangelo dumped the selection committee and revamped the team’s construction. He sought commitments from players for two or three consecutive summers to build continuity heading into the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
Players like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade pledged to restore the United States on a global stage. That mentality was maintained through the next couple of Olympic cycles as the United States won gold medals in 2012 and 2016.
The momentum is mostly lost heading into Tokyo.
The team finished seventh overall and lost to France in the quarterfinals of the 2019 FIBA World Cup. Durant and Draymond Green are the only holdovers from the 2016 Olympics.