TOKYO, Japan — What is going on with Team USA men's basketball? After two surprising exhibition losses before Toyko, the team lost its opening game in Tokyo on Sunday against France, snapping a 25-game Olympic winning streak for Team USA dating back to 2004.
While there are plenty of things going wrong for Team USA, on Tuesday's Locked On NBA podcast, host Wes Goldberg said some of the blame definitely falls on Team USA coach Gregg Popovich, coach of the San Antonio Spurs.
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In the 2019 FIBA World Cup, Popovich's first official national games as coach, the men finished in seventh place with a 6-2 record. Now in Popovich's first Olympics, the Team USA dropped their first game 83-76 while Evan Fournier, of the Boston Celtics, led all scorers with 28 points for France.
"Gregg Popovich his record, you know, as an NBA coach is undisputable, one of the greatest coaches we've ever seen in the NBA, but at the international level, in the World Cup and the Olympics now, it's very bad," Goldberg said on Tuesday's Locked On NBA podcast. "And that's not an opinion, that is fact. He does not win at the international level and has not done so yet. Now I'm not saying that he cannot win at the international level, that Team USA is doomed under Gregg Popovich. I'm not saying that. I'm just saying that so far, in his short tenure as the leader of this team for USA Basketball, he hasn't been very good."
While the international basketball game has certainly evolved in many aspects for many countries over the past decade, even Fournier conceded after France's win that Team USA is obviously the better basketball team in terms of personnel, who's on the floor, but they're not the better team.
“They are completely different when they play for their countries,” Team USA point guard Damian Lillard said of international NBA players after the loss to France.
"I will say that if there is any criticism of Popovich, that's probably much more well deserved, it's the fact that Dame Lillard after that performance for Fournier pointed out that he didn't realize that players play so much better at this level when they're playing for their countries," Ramil said. "And that's the kind of lack of preparation that does fall on Popovich, that you have to understand that they're playing for much more than just a win."
"(Team USA players) all said they want to be a part of this, that they want to represent our country that it's a dream for them to do so. But I think there's this disconnect between saying it and actually feeling it to the degree that these other countries are out there," Rami said. "I think the United States team does not represent this, that they're just not aware of how dangerous it is right now for them. So they have to be able to make that connection much more quickly than anybody expected."
Goldberg said watching Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic score 48 points for Slovenia in their opening win against Argentina made him scratch his head even more about how Team USA is playing.
Jrue Holiday led all scorers for Team USA on Sunday with 18 points. Kevin Durant had just 10 points on 12 shots.
"There's no reason that Damian Lillard, Kevin Durant, any of these guys can't go out and hang 40 on any one of these teams that just It doesn't make sense to me," Goldberg said. "Maybe it's a 'hey, like, we're all in this together.' Maybe they're overcompensating? Let's be a team. Right? So you only have Kevin Durant taking 12 shots in 21 minutes while you've got Luka Doncic scoring 48 points in 30 minutes or whatever it is. Play like there's still a hierarchy here, right? You have a star studded roster."
Catch the full conversation on Team USA men's basketball's struggles so far in the Olympics on today's Locked On NBA podcast.
Team USA now likely must defeat both Iran and the Czech Republic in Olympic group-play to advance out of the group stage.
USA plays Iran on Wednesday in Tokyo at 12:40 a.m. eastern time/9:40 p.m. pacific time.
The next two U.S. men's basketball games won't be broadcast live on cable in the United States. but they will air exclusively on Peacock, NBC's streaming service.