When LeBron James decided to pass on the Olympics on Thursday, having captured his third NBA title in his sixth straight trip to the finals, Mike Krzyzewski’s response was one of acceptance: “He’s served.”
James played on both of Krzyzewski’s gold-medal teams, in 2008 and 2012, and the superstar’s willingness to buy into Krzyzewski’s philosophy played a critical role in the success of USA Basketball under the Duke coach.
“He’s been to three Olympics,” Krzyzewski said Friday. “In some respects, it’s been above the call of duty. He’s been one of the key people in the evolution of USA Basketball: His commitment, his leadership. But also, he’s been to, I think, six straight (NBA) finals, and that’s a lot. There’s a passing of a baton, the torch, so to speak. I was texting with him yesterday, and I just thanked him for his service. We’re fine with that. That’s just a matter of, it’s time to move on, just like Pop (Greg Popovich) will take over for me”
So Krzyzewski will pursue a third and final gold without not only James but Steph Curry, John Wall, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, James Harden, Blake Griffin and Anthony Davis, among other stars who already have bowed out. Bradley Beal was the latest to turn down an invitation Friday afternoon.
There’s still a superstar to build around in Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony’s versatility and experience – this will be his fourth Olympics – are invaluable on the international stage. But ahead of the official roster announcement Monday in New York, Krzyzewski and USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo are still scrambling to lock down a few final players, which includes re-recruiting former Duke player Kyrie Irving all over again.
But Krzyzewski said those who are committed are excited, mentioning specifically a recent conversation with first-time Olympian DeMar DeRozan. Others believed to be on board include Jimmy Butler, DeMarcus Cousins, Paul George, Draymond Green, DeAndre Jordan, Kyle Lowry and Klay Thompson. Along with Durant and Anthony, that leaves two openings to be filled on the 12-man roster plus a few potential alternates for training camp in Las Vegas next month and the barnstorming tour that follows.
So it may be a shallower pool of U.S. talent in Brazil, ironically enough ahead of a college season where Duke’s biggest problem may be finding playing time for nearly a dozen potential starters, but Krzyzewski said this the point of exposing a large group of players to international basketball in an attempt to build continuity no matter who’s on the roster.
“It’s always a different group. We’ve never had the same group,” Krzyzewski said. “Everyone wants to always – ‘Who’s not playing?’ or whatever. There’s always somebody not playing, there’s always somebody not playing. ... There are going to be contract situations. Another thing is injuries, either they have it or their coming back from it. Or it’s just personal, having a baby or getting married or ‘My mother’s sick.’ They’re all human things.”
While trying to piece together his international roster, Krzyzewski has also been trying to piece himself together this summer, undergoing four separate surgeries since the end of the Duke season: double knee replacement surgery and a hernia operation, both of which were planned, and – over the past 16 days, most recently Wednesday – two surgeries on his left ankle, both of which were unplanned.
While Krzyzewski was still in a walking boot Friday, and will be for Monday’s roster unveiling, he expects to be fully recovered in time for the Olympics – not to mention next Duke season, when he won’t be dealing with the persistent knee issues that plagued him in recent years.
“It’s been a good spring to get better,” Krzyzewski said. “My knee replacement has gone unbelievably well. My rehab could not be better. My hernia surgery, unbelievable. Never pain. The ankle has had some complications. I didn’t know I was going to have to do that but it needed to be done. … That was fairly intense. But it’s worked.”
First, though, there’s Rio, where Krzyzewski will attempt to cement his Olympic legacy with a third gold, but for the first time without the world’s best player.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock