April 4, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) is guarded by Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (35) in the first period at the American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-US PRESSWIRE

Kevin Durant, LeBron James locks for Team USA

Kevin Durant is a near-lock for the 2012 USA Basketball Olympic team. This isn’t a surprise today but back in 2004 when Jerry Colangelo took over USA Basketball, it might have been.

The best players weren’t excited to represent their countries back then and it resulted in a third-place finish in 2004. The culture has since changed and getting the best NBA players to play has been as important as anything.

The 2012 team is expected to be maybe the best basketball team ever assembled – even rivaling the 1992 Dream Team. On June 1, Colangelo will finalize the roster and while there are some obvious selections, there will also be some tough omissions.

Colangelo says that the team will be a blend of the 2008 Gold Medal team and 2010 World Championship squad. In 2008, we saw a team of LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade. Those players did not play in 2010 on the squad led by Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook.

“Most people would say you need shooters because of the zone defenses,” Colangelo said to Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated. “And to some degree that is true. But we’re not varying from our concept. Basketball is the ultimate team game. We need players willing to sacrifice their own games. [In 2010] Coach K went with a seven or eight-man rotation. With this roster, in my opinion, he can go with all 12 if he chooses. He and I have had this conversation over and over: Players may be used different this time around.

“Size is still an issue. Without being specific, we have to figure out if we carry three centers or two. With the type of wing players out there, defenders are really important, too. But there is so much talent. Guys have worked really hard to improve. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, Kevin Love — they have moved to a whole other level.”

These are all problems that any country would love to have. Do I start Chris Paul or Derrick Rose?

Colangelo does bring up a good point of bringing on players who are willing to play less minutes and be productive while on the court for shorter periods of time.

Here is the starting lineup we could be looking at: Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Dwight Howard. With Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Kevin Love, Carmelo Anthony, Russell Westbrook, Andre Iguodala and Tyson Chandler off the bench.

That snubs Deron Williams, Eric Gordon, Chauncey Billups, Blake Griffin, Rudy Gay, LaMarcus Aldridge, Chris Bosh and Lamar Odom.

While Durant is a lock, Westbrook may not even make the team despite a possible First Team All-NBA selection this season. Rose and Paul are likely going to be the first two point guards selected. That leaves Colangelo to choose between Westbrook, Williams, Gordon and Billups. He will likely only take one of those four.

The selection will be made on June 1 and Team USA will hold training camps starting July 6.

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Tags: 2012 Olympics Andre Iguodala Blake Griffin Carmelo Anthony Chris Paul Deron Williams Derrick Rose Dwight Howard Dwyane Wade Jerry Colangelo Kevin Durant Kevin Love Kobe Bryant LeBron James Russell Westbrook Team USA Basketball Tyson Chandler

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