The reward, for some of the 2010 gold medalists? A nice, firm handshake and the loss of a roster spot. With A-listers like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Dwight Howard expected to play in at the London Games, many members of this year's team won't have spots on the Olympic roster.
How many players from this year's world championship squad will USA Basketball bring to London in 2012?
CoachesMike Krzyzewski is already on record -- he'll be back for the London Games, then retire his role as the national team's head coach. It seems fair to expect Jim Boeheim and Nate McMillan to stick around until then, and for Mike D'Antoni to re-claim his spot on the bench. (D'Antoni missed the world championships due to a back injury and was replaced by Toronto Raptors coach Jay Triano.)
Prediction: Krzyzewski's 2008 staff returns intact, though Team USA could look to add a younger college coach to the team -- someone like Kansas' Bill Self, perhaps? -- who could become Krzyzewski's successor.
GuardsLet's assume Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Deron Williams will return to the Olympic roster in 2012 as expected. Kobe Bryant is a solid bet to return as well -- he'll be 34 in 2012, but he loves the big stage. The other two guards on the 2008 team were Jason Kidd and Michael Redd; safe to say they won't be back.
Which 2010 guards will replace them? Chauncey Billups was the elder statesman of the 2010 squad. In 2012 he'll be pushing 36... which is a little too "elder". Derrick Rose was a starter this season, but wound up on the bench at key moments when opposing defenses started sagging off him, daring Rose to shoot from the outside. Stephen Curry and Eric Gordon had no such problem; their outside shooting helped bust zones and spark rallies, and Russell Westbrook was on the floor during several of Team USA's most impressive runs.
Prediction: Curry joins Wade, Paul, Williams and Bryant on the 2012 team.
Forwards:The 2008 team had LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony, Carlos Boozer and Tayshaun Prince. Boozer's post-up game isn't a great fit for the international style, and Prince's stock has dropped dramatically in recent years, but James, Bosh and 'Melo seem like good bets to return.
Durant is the obvious choice to fill one of those forward spots. The other could go to Andre Iguodala, who did a particularly masterful job defending Linas Kleiza in the semifinal game amd earned high marks from Team USA for his ability to guard multiple positions. He gets Prince's "stopper" spot.
Prediction: What an embarassment of riches... LeBron, 'Melo, and Bosh joined by Durant and Iguodala. That set of forwards could almost be team USA's starting five.
Center:The 2010 team didn't really have one, instead relying on the likes of Lamar Odom, Kevin Love and oft-injured Tyson Chandler to man the middle. That became a problem against teams with big front lines like Team Russia, though Team USA's dominance on the perimeter was more than enough to overcome the issue.
Still, Mike Krzyzewski didn't go without a legit big man by choice... Brook Lopez, Amar'e Stoudemire and David Lee were just three of the centers who would have played in Turkey if injury and/or contract issues had allowed. We don't expect Team USA to cross the pond in 2012 without at least one true center.
Prediction: Dwight Howard returns to the national team, backed by Love.
Complete 2012 Olympic RosterThat would give Team USA a 12-man roster of:
Guards: Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, Stephen Curry
Forwards: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Andre Iguodala
Centers: Dwight Howard, Kevin Love
Can't see anyone beating that team, can you?