The U.S. men's national team had its 58-game win streak with NBA players in international competition snapped when it was eliminated by France on Wednesday in the quarterfinals of the FIBA World Cup.
The Americans failed to win gold at a major international tournament for the first time in 13 summers. The best they can do now in China is finish fifth. The last time the U.S. did not medal was 2002 when it placed sixth.
There are ample reasons behind this major setback. Here's a look at the five biggest:
Lack of commitment from top-tier talent. To say this was a B-list team would be an understatement. The list of players who either withdrew or declined invitations included James Harden, Anthony Davis, Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard, and Zion Williamson, among others. CJ McCollum talked about All-Star players opting out in early August, saying: "Why would I want to go potentially be the face of what could be a losing roster?"
The reasons for passing on Team USA endeavors are plentiful, especially when it's not the Olympics. Many older players such as LeBron James need the offseason to rest, and committing to more basketball could be offputting for the same reason for younger players whose main goals are an NBA title and contract dollars. Risk of injury is also a component; Paul George broke his leg in 2014 during a Team USA scrimmage.
But the overall mindset hinders the culture that was revamped in 2008 when Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski spearheaded a team with the best NBA talent. It starts at the top. When the elite players commit, as Kobe Bryant and James did in 2007, the supporting talent follows.
Aside from Donovan Mitchell's 29-point outburst vs. France, the previous single-game scoring high for any U.S. player at this World Cup was Jaylen Brown's 20-point game against Japan. That stat captures where a Harden or Lillard could've offset a bad team performance.
New coaching turnover. So who's to blame? Not coach Gregg Popovich or assistant Steve Kerr. This situation doesn't mirror what happened with Larry Brown in the 2004 Athens Olympics when the team won bronze. But former U.S. head coach Krzyzewski's departure created a natural transition period that will take some adjustment, even though Popovich was under Coach K as an assistant during Olympic gold medal runs. They are two different coaches and the lure that Krzyzewski brought as the premier synergistic college coach had a different appeal to NBA players who compete against Popovich in the NBA.
Small ball, no answer for bigs. Kemba Walker and Mitchell are great guards with explosive abilities, but the lack of talent on this team started in the frontcourt, where the U.S. was outrebounded 41-28 vs. France. French center Rudy Gobert (21 points, 16 rebounds) got to the free throw line 10 times in the game's first 20 minutes and it was evident that USA center Myles Turner was outmatched against the two-time Defensive Player of the Year. Plus, Brook Lopez went scoreless vs. France and hasn't found a groove in China (2-of-16 on 3-pointers). Davis, and forwards Paul Millsap and Montrezl Harrell were among the frontcourt players who opted not to play on this squad. They were missed.
Injuries. Team USA was without Jayson Tatum (sprained left ankle) in Wednesday's loss, his fourth consecutive game missed. Kyle Kuzma also suffered an ankle injury that kept him out of FIBA competition. Team USA had to resort to a role player like Mason Plumlee instead of a star like it could in previous years.
Other countries ascending. Popovich hinted in interviews that Team USA would have a difficult time, and he wasn't wrong. The strong play of other teams (Australia also beat USA in exhibition play) this year is reminiscent of the ascension of other countries in the early 2000s, which led to Argentina's 2004 gold medal. Argentina, Spain, Italy, Puerto Rico and Lithuania are other formidable teams.
Against France, Team USA led by seven in the fourth quarter before crumbling. That could be traced to a lack of experience and team chemistry — something France and other international teams have much more of.