NEW YORK – A desire for a bigger look made Andre Drummond necessary. The belief in Derrick Rose’s health made Damian Lillard expendable.
Those were conclusions made by U.S. team officials when they selected the 12 players who would travel to Spain for the FIBA World Cup of Basketball.
After years of ignoring size concerns by fielding teams with the best wing players in the world, the Americans decided this time around that bigger was better.
That meant keeping all the big men left on their roster, with Drummond joining New Orleans All-Star Anthony Davis, Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins, Brooklyn’s Mason Plumlee and Denver’s Kenneth Faried.
“Just based on how we’re constructed, we thought the insurance of having another big – I don’t want people telling us later, ‘you should’ve, you could’ve,’” USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo told the Associated Press in a phone interview.
“We didn’t have to do that. We don’t need to face that, because we’ve got some legitimate bigs that we think collectively can be very effective.”
The rest of the roster is: Golden State’s Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, Houston’s James Harden, Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving, Sacramento’s Rudy Gay and Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan.
Lillard, Portland’s All-Star point guard, was cut along with swingmen Chandler Parsons of Dallas, Kyle Korver of Atlanta and Gordon Hayward of Utah. Colangelo said Lillard was a victim of too many players at his position and handled the news gracefully.
“He took it, I mean he was a real pro,” Colangelo said. “He saw it, he understood … he just handed it extremely well.”
The Americans had to be certain Rose could handle the workload after the Chicago Bulls star missed most of the last two seasons after a pair of knee surgeries. He sat out a couple of practices and an exhibition game because of soreness, but was back for Friday’s 112-86 victory over Puerto Rico.
“We feel comfortable with Rose based on what he’s communicating with us, what the doctor, therapists around him are telling us, and more importantly what he has shown us,” Colangelo said. “So yeah, that was a decision we were willing to make.”
The Americans left later Saturday for Spain, where they were to play a final exhibition game against Slovenia before the tournament starts next Saturday. The final rosters aren’t due until the day before and U.S. team officials previously said they might take more than 12 on the trip.
But coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the game they would trim the roster before leaving, with Colangelo saying they thought it was unfair to make players travel who wouldn’t end up on the final squad.
They announced the roster a few hours after the game, with Drummond’s inclusion perhaps the biggest surprise.
The Detroit Pistons center played in only one of the three exhibition games, sitting out Friday night. But Colangelo said the Americans were intrigued with what he called a “physical specimen.”
“Here’s a 6-11, 7-footer, 280-pound athlete, young, still learning the game. We want to just be sure,” Colangelo said. “And it’s pretty tough to leave that kind of an athlete behind, especially when we believe he will be a big part of the future without question for USA Basketball at 21 years of age.”
And especially when the Americans could see a Spain frontline of Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka in the gold-medal game Sept. 14. Colangelo said the Americans didn’t have any particular team in mind when carrying more bigs than usual, just a desire to unveil a different look, perhaps even play two of them together.
“If we choose to show our bigs, we can. You can’t do that if you don’t have them with you,” Colangelo said.
“This is a situation where we’ve decided that here’s an opportunity to give our opposition a whole new look, if we choose to do it. In the past, we didn’t have the bigs to be able to do that, and that’s the key.
“We’re very, very strong on the perimeter, we’ve been saying that. Yes, that’s the style of choice, predicated on the talent. But coach is excited about the possibilities.”