By TIM REYNOLDS,
LeBron James is considering a return to the Olympics.
James — a two-time gold medalist and three-time Olympian — was among 44 players announced by USA Basketball on Monday as finalists for the team that will play in the Tokyo Games this summer. James played in 2004, 2008 and 2012, helping the U.S. win gold in his most recent two appearances.
The pool includes 19 players who have won a total of 31 gold medals in either Olympic or World Cup competition for the Americans — including nine players who captured the Olympic title for USA Basketball in Rio de Janeiro four years ago.
“I’ve always maintained that equity is important,” USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo told The Associated Press. “And you earn equity by participating. So, we think they’ve earned the right to be named to the overall roster for USA Basketball. It’s pretty elite. It’s a tremendous pot and the good news is they’ve all said they want to play.”
James has played in 68 games for the U.S. national team and has said several times over the past year or so that he is thinking about another Olympics — after sitting out the Rio Games for a variety of reasons. Part of the interest in participating this summer is to have the chance to play for U.S. coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs.
“My name is in the hat. It’s always predicated on how my body feels at the end of the season,” James said. “I am hoping to make a long playoff run and then where my mind is and where my family’s head is. There are a lot of factors.”
There will be no tryouts. USA Basketball will pare the list down to a 12-person Olympic team by early June, those decisions to be made by a selection committee — and to be based in part on player availability and health. Training camp will start in early July, potentially as little as two weeks after the end of the NBA Finals. The Olympics start July 24.
“I want to play,” said Portland’s Damian Lillard, one of the finalists. “I think, looking at my career and all the stuff I want to accomplish before it’s over, winning a gold medal at the Olympics is on the list. I was happy to see my name on there, obviously, and hopefully I’ll be a part of the team.”
USA Basketball officials, including Colangelo and Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs, have met with players in a variety of ways over the past several weeks. Some talks have been directly with players, some with their agents, some with their NBA clubs, sometimes a combination thereof — and, Colangelo noted, there were some instances where players reached out directly to express interest.
If they’re on the list, that means USA Basketball is convinced they want to play.
“I feel very good about the response,” Colangelo said.
Also included in the pool: 15 of the 16 players from the U.S. who are scheduled to play in Sunday’s NBA All-Star Game, and all 12 members of the team that represented the U.S. at last summer’s Basketball World Cup in China — where the Americans managed only a seventh-place finish after roughly three dozen players who were on the list at some point dropped out along the way.
The nine players still in the mix from the 2016 Olympic team: Sacramento’s Harrison Barnes, Miami’s Jimmy Butler, San Antonio’s DeMar DeRozan, Brooklyn’s Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, the Los Angeles Clippers’ Paul George, Golden State’s Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, and Toronto’s Kyle Lowry.
Back from the 2012 Olympic champion roster: the Los Angeles Lakers’ James and Anthony Davis, Durant, Houston’s James Harden and Russell Westbrook, Cleveland’s Kevin Love and Oklahoma City’s Chris Paul. Back from the 2008 gold-medal squad: the Lakers’ Dwight Howard.
And those with World Cup or world championship gold medals for USA Basketball, but no Olympic gold to this point: Golden State’s Stephen Curry, Cleveland’s Andre Drummond and Denver’s Mason Plumlee.
James and Paul won Olympic gold at Beijing in 2008, and James was part of the team that won bronze at Athens in 2004. If James joins this team, he will become the second four-time men’s basketball Olympian for the U.S. — joining Carmelo Anthony.
“I’m looking forward to coaching the U.S. Olympic Team, and I’m excited about the potential and possibilities this team has,” Popovich said.
The Olympics could be a return to the court for players like Durant and Thompson, who have missed the entirety of this NBA season with injuries. Durant’s recovery from Achilles’ surgery is at the point where he’s doing some on-court work and Thompson has said he would like to play if his surgically repaired knee is up to the challenge.
The 25 other players who are finalists for this summer’s team but do not yet have Olympic or World Cup gold for the U.S.: Miami’s Bam Adebayo, San Antonio’s LaMarcus Aldridge, Washington’s Bradley Beal, Phoenix’s Devin Booker, Indiana’s Malcolm Brogdon, Boston’s Jaylen Brown, Utah’s Mike Conley, the Clippers’ Montrezl Harrell, Brooklyn’s Joe Harris, Philadelphia’s Tobias Harris, Boston’s Gordon Hayward, New Orleans’ Brandon Ingram, the Lakers’ Kyle Kuzma, the Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard, Lillard, Milwaukee’s Brook Lopez, the Lakers’ JaVale McGee, Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton, Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, Indiana’s Victor Oladipo, Boston’s Marcus Smart and Jayson Tatum, Indiana’s Myles Turner, Boston’s Kemba Walker and San Antonio’s Derrick White.
“The reason we have this big roster is a lot of things happen, a lot of variables,” Colangelo said. “And what’s to say what’s going to happen from an injury standpoint between now and June. We don’t know. So we have the rest of the season to monitor, to watch. But when we select our 12, they will be 12 who are absolutely in with all fours.”
Image credit: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli