LAS VEGAS — Three weeks wasn't enough time to prepare for the last Olympics. So now the United States is trying three years.
The Americans open training camp Monday, but they're much closer to the end of their Olympic preparations than the beginning. With the same coaching staff and many of the same players back for their third straight summer, much of the work has already been done.
There isn't the same rush to cram everything in as there was four years ago, when the Americans were together for 20 days before their first game in Athens — a 92-73 blowout loss against Puerto Rico that was their worst defeat ever in the Olympics. They lost twice more and left with a bronze medal, citing a lack of preparation as one of their biggest problems.
Carmelo Anthony was on that team and says this one can't use that excuse.
”We've been together for years now so we know what to expect,“ Anthony said. ”It isn't like we just came together in two weeks. We've been together last summer, all summer, six of the guys been together the summer before that, and a couple of us been together in '04. So we've been together for a long time.“
Anthony, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh were together for 42 days in 2006, counting the world championships. Much of the team was here last summer for 24 days for the FIBA Americas tournament.
”We've had almost the same team three years, so they have a pretty good understanding of what we want to do,“ assistant coach Mike D'Antoni said. ”More or less the same thing as last summer.“
The team already assembled once this year, spending a weekend together in late June. There wasn't much X's and O's done, though, with one practice in Las Vegas before heading across the country for a day of fan and media events in New York.
It's all about basketball now.
”Once we come back in July for Vegas, July 20th, it's business,“ Wade said during the New York event.
There's plenty to be done. The starting five is set with Anthony, James, Howard, Kobe Bryant and Jason Kidd, but Coach Mike Krzyzewski needs to settle on a rotation beyond that. The Americans had a strong bench in last year's Olympic qualifying tournament, but Chauncey Billups and Amare Stoudemire, two top reserves, aren't back this summer.
Paul and Deron Williams will begin their battle to see who gets the early lead on the backup point guard spot behind Kidd. Either Bosh or Carlos Boozer will emerge as the undersized No. 2 center after Howard.
”It's a work in progress still,“ Bryant said. ”We have to tighten up some things, fine-tune some things, and that's when we start building our rhythm and, come Aug. 10, we should be ready.“
They will practice from Monday until Thursday, scrimmaging against a select team of young players that includes Rookie of the Year Kevin Durant, No. 1 draft pick Derrick Rose and 11th overall draft pick Jerryd Bayless, who was added to the team Sunday.
The Americans close the week with an exhibition game against Canada on Friday before finishing their Olympic training in China, where they will play four more exhibition games.
Hornets center Tyson Chandler had been invited to practice with the Americans, but he pulled out Saturday because of an inflamed big toe.
The Americans are eager to get back to work. Some of their Olympic opponents already have some games under their belts, so it's time to get ready.
”Our guys, I'm sure, are biting at the bit to get it going and so are the coaches,“ D'Antoni said.