Sunday, August 24, 2008

Dream Team vs. Redeem Team

By Rick Morris

Congratulations to the USA Men's Olympic Basketball Team for winning the gold medal today in China and thanks to them for bringing the mantle of supremacy home where it belongs. There is no competition in either the Winter or Summer Games that has a similar burden because of being recognized as a major sport in America (not counting baseball -- in which we send far less than our best because of the MLB season -- or hockey, which has THE single best Olympic tournament BAR NONE but is ignored by far too many in this country) and it makes many of my countrymen walk a bit taller today to know that we can successfully navigate the ever-more-difficult path to gold still.

In speaking to my fellow FDH Lounge Dignitary Nate Noy, the subject of comparisons to the original Dream Team arose. He found it ludicrous to mention the two teams in the same breath. Courtesy of Wikipedia, here is the roster of our first professional Olympic hoops team:

1992 Dream Team roster

And here's the roster that reclaimed the gold mere hours ago as I type this:

Pos. ↓ # ↓ Nat. ↓ Name ↓ Ht. ↓ Wt. ↓ From ↓
F/C 4 Flag of the United States Boozer, Carlos 6 ' 9 " (2.06 m) 266 lb (121 kg) Utah Jazz
PG 5 Flag of the United States Kidd, Jason 6 ' 4 " (1.93 m) 210 lb (95 kg) Dallas Mavericks
SF 6 Flag of the United States James, LeBron 6 ' 8 " (2.03 m) 245 lb (111 kg) Cleveland Cavaliers
PG 7 Flag of the United States Williams, Deron 6 ' 3 " (1.91 m) 205 lb (93 kg) Utah Jazz
SG 8 Flag of the United States Redd, Michael 6 ' 6 " (1.98 m) 215 lb (98 kg) Milwaukee Bucks
SG 9 Flag of the United States Wade, Dwyane 6 ' 4 " (1.93 m) 216 lb (98 kg) Miami Heat
SG 10 Flag of the United States Bryant, Kobe 6 ' 6 " (1.98 m) 220 lb (100 kg) Los Angeles Lakers
C 11 Flag of the United States Howard, Dwight 6 ' 11 " (2.11 m) 265 lb (120 kg) Orlando Magic
F/C 12 Flag of the United States Bosh, Chris 6 ' 10 " (2.08 m) 230 lb (104 kg) Toronto Raptors
PG 13 Flag of the United States Paul, Chris 6 ' 0 " (1.83 m) 175 lb (79 kg) New Orleans Hornets
SF 14 Flag of the United States Prince, Tayshaun 6 ' 9 " (2.06 m) 215 lb (98 kg) Detroit Pistons
SF 15 Flag of the United States Anthony, Carmelo 6 ' 8 " (2.03 m) 230 lb (104 kg) Denver Nuggets

Now, we tend to remember the '92 hoopsters as uber-legends that came together to decimate the rest of the world -- but look at the trajectory of the careers of those involved. Most of them were squarely in their primes. How many of them were still definitely on the way up? David Robinson, perhaps, but almost all of them were either in their primes or perhaps (in the case of Magic and Bird) just a tiny bit past it (although still superlative).

And now look at this year's team. How many can even be definitively pronounced to have reached their prime yet? Kobe Bryant, certainly -- Jason Kidd as well, although he is past his best days -- and probably Michael Redd; I don't see any tremendous ascent ahead for him (although as a lifelong Cavs fan I still hope to see him in the Wine and Gold at some point next year!). Almost everyone else on this team still has room to grow significantly in their games, and that's scary when you look at the fact that Lebron James and Chris Paul were clearly among the three best players in the NBA last year along with Bryant.

So right now, to put these "names" against the "names" of '92 is ridiculous; I agree with Nate about that. But I'm someone who always likes to look through the eyes of history, whether in or out of sports, and I don't believe that 10 years from now the "names" of the Redeem Team will still look woefully inferior. Once Lebron has reached what could be an incomparable prime ... once Chris Paul, already the best point guard since Magic, takes his unparalleled distribution-with-offense game to yet another level ... once Dwight Howard gets used to the pivot and continues to grow and mature ... once Chris Bosh continues to evolve into one of the most impossible matchup difficulties in league history ... once Dwyane Wade helps lead Michael Beasley and Shawn Marion to a title as he did Shaq ... once Deron Williams continues to form the best 1-2 punch of point guards in the league along with Paul since Magic/Stockton (or Magic/Mark Price if you are as huge of a #25 fan as I am!) ... once Carmelo continues to demonstrate what he showed in these games, that he has potential to be more than a mere dominant scorer but a champion as well ... once Tayshaun Prince -- well, I got nothing there, I'm still not sure why his overrated "defensive stud" carcass tarred this roster ... but you get the point -- once this crop of stars, most of whom are still ascending, finish making their marks on history, this argument will look completely different.

The one note about the composition of the rosters is that 1992 had nobody expressly selected to be a role player. Christian Laettner is the one name that jumps out like "How the heck did HE make it on the team???" but he was coming off of a great college career and was (very incorrectly) forecast to be a great pro. This year's team had a few players who were not selected because of any off-base supposition that they were among the USA's 12 best players, but because of a notion that they could fill a specific role. Hence the head-scratcher pick of Prince, the rebounding/energy pick of Carlos Boozer and the outside shooting specialist pick of Redd. If 1992 has a big edge over this year's crop, it would be in matching up the bottom three of the rosters: Laettner and whichever other two future Hall of Famers against Prince, Boozer and Redd.

So who would win in a game between the Dream Team and the Redeem Team? If the game could be magically generated between the two squads exactly as they were formulated, I'd still give it to the 1992 team -- but given the evolution in the skill sets of elite players like James, Wade, Bosh, Paul and Howard, if we were to take that team against the players of the Redeem Team ten years from now, I think it would be quite even.

1 comment:

Jacob Rosen said...

I seriously doubt Michael Redd ever ends up in Cleveland, just because of the recent Mo Williams trade. With Ramon Sessions as their point guard of the future, Milwaukee is as prepared to compete this season as they have in many years. Andrew Bogut, Charlie Villanueva, Richard Jefferson, and company are about as highly touted of a core that exists in the Eastern Conference. I still do not think they will make the playoffs this season, but without Redd, this time falls right back down to the cellar.

I also believe that the 2008 Olympic team is clearly better than the 1992 team. Based on theories from The Wages of Wins, I think that the game of basketball has improved by drastic measures over the past couple of decades. Could you imagine Carlos Boozer punishing Karl Malone down in the paint? How about Kobe Bryant hitting a three right in front of Clyde the glide? Or Chris Paul easily cruising past John Stockton on the fast break? I think that with the modernization of sports, especially basketball (a more popular theory might be found in How Soccer Explains the World by Franklin Foer) the game has expanded in terms of talent by an absolutely incredible measure.