-- Sixteen players to choose from. Only 12 roster spots available. And merely 10 more days of practices and exhibition games to collect sufficient on-court data to break any ties.
That is what coach Mike Krzyzewski and managing director Jerry Colangelo face starting Aug. 13 in Chicago, up until they board the Team USA plane bound for Spain on Aug. 23, in choosing the dozen players who will represent the United States at the inaugural FIBA World Cup.
Tuesday's release of John Wall, Bradley Beal and Paul Millsap, in the wake of the devastating compound leg fracture that felled Paul George, is only Phase 1. To get you (and the USA Basketball bosses) ready for the tough choices ahead -- four more cuts on top of the various emotional challenges after what happened to the well-liked George -- we've broken it all down here by position:
Any lingering doubt about his athletic explosion or his status on this team was eradicated by the end of the first day of practice in Las Vegas. It's hard now to see Rose as anything other than the starter at the point against Finland in Team USA's first group game in Bilbao on Aug. 30, especially after the early show he put on in Friday's night ill-fated intrasquad scrimmage.
Look for him to spend plenty of time at shooting guard, even though he's listed here with the other 1s. His boundless range, versatility, previous experience in this competition . . . Curry is a franchise player with this group, just like he is in Oakland.
The sight of Irving starting opposite Rose in the intrasquad scrimmage was the latest indication that he has a spot sewn up. He can't yet make the defensive impact that Wall could have, and isn't quite as flammable offensively as a locked-in Damian Lillard, but USA Basketball regards Irving as a big part of this going forward. Hard to see Coach K leaving him home in those circumstances.
ON THE BUBBLE
It's not inconceivable that Krzyzewski keeps all four of these guys after letting Wall go, especially given Lillard's aforementioned flammability as a shooter. But four lead guards on a roster of 12 could well be one too many. If so, Lillard losing out to Irving -- one of Coach K's longtime faves -- is the safest forecast.
There were actual plaudits emanating from Sin City about Harden's efforts defensively last week after his (bad segue alert) borderline sinful showing on that end for the Rockets last season. The Beard, mind you, probably would be in the starting lineup against Finland if he doesn't guard a soul for the rest of the month. He's one of the world's greatest scorers, and in this group of Team USA newcomers, one of the trusted vets.
With his size and defensive ability, Thompson actually does give Coach K an excellent option at the 2 if he did see the need to drop Harden to the bench. Or Thompson could find himself starting at small forward in place of the injured George, given the suddenly sizable void at the 3 spot. Either way, Thompson's ability to make an impact at both ends makes it impossible for Krzyzewski to leave him behind.
ON THE BUBBLE
He won't complain if he doesn't play and he'll make shots to bust zones when Coach K does send him in. Given his ability to log minutes at small forward as well, Korver will probably find his way onto this roster.
Paul George was the only lock here. And his story is too sad to tell again.
ON THE BUBBLE
With his multifaceted game and the size to play both forward spots internationally, as well as his respected range, Parsons appears to have the best shot to make the squad among the bubble 3s. But the competition here is fierce, so his defense won't/can't be overlooked.
A strong showing in Friday's intrasquad scrimmage, combined with George's unfortunate absence, has put DeRaptor in legit contention for a roster spot when he was widely presumed to be one of the first cuts. Can he keep the fairy tale going?
All the raves Hayward generated during last year's Team USA minicamp are what made you think he'd get a max offer in 2014 restricted free agency. But the breakout star of Team USA's brief 2013 time together hasn't been able to generate quite the same buzz as part of this crowd. Small forward is a position in the spotlight during the next two weeks after what happened to the face of the Pacers ... and Hayward has to deliver if he wants to trump DeRozan.
Seriously? You're looking for a justification sentence?
Millsap's early exit would seem to suggest that Faried has already won a roster spot. The fact he started opposite Durant in the intrasquad scrimmage was yet another signal the Nuggets' ever-busy 4 man has taken advantage of the July withdrawals of Kevin Love and Blake Griffin. Faried doesn't have the bulk or defensive résumé to worry Spain or Brazil, but his high energy and constant activity will be seen as a nuisance to all who will have to deal with it.
The 12th man on the gold-medal winning London Olympics squad might be the most important player on this team, given the limited center options at Coach K's disposal. The U.S. needs him to be dominant defensively while also staying out of foul trouble -- which is always an issue for big men in the five-fouls-and-you're-out world of FIBA competition.
ON THE BUBBLE
Talent isn't the issue. Obviously. Team USA coaches and officials want to bring Boogie abroad with them -- if only to know they can throw him at the Gasol brothers in the Sept. 14 title game if necessary -- but they need to know first that Cousins can keep his composure and handle limited minutes when his services aren't required. That's what they will try to determine Aug. 13-22.
Coach K dropped more than a few hints in Vegas last week that the former Blue Devil could actually beat Cousins for a roster spot, thanks to his speed and agility (and presumed willingness to stay hushed if he's parked at the end of the bench). The fact he outplayed Cousins head-to-head in their one shift against each other in Vegas only adds to the notion that Boogie versus Plumlee is the most intriguing battle leading into the real thing.
When Team USA practices resume in Chicago, Drummond will indeed find himself needing to play catch-up to both Cousins and Plumlee. Coach K is likely to take only two extra centers behind Davis, and Drummond, for all of his rebounding gifts at age 20, is a distinct No. 3 in that race after a lackluster week in Vegas.