2024 Paris Olympics

NBA MVP finalists show Paris Olympics challenge facing Kerr, Team USA

NBC Universal, Inc.

Steve Kerr understands the magnitude of job ahead, but Day 2 of the NBA playoffs delivered news, largely obscured by four Game 1s on the court, that bluntly informed the Warriors’ coach of his gargantuan task this summer.

The NBA on Sunday announced the three finalists for each of the seven official awards to be issued in the coming weeks, and the three players lined up for the MVP award are a peek at what lies ahead for Kerr and Team USA once they reach the 2024 Olympics in Paris.

None of three – Luka Donćić, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Nikola Jokić – will suit up for Team USA. Doncić will represent Slovenia, Gilgeous-Alexander will represent Canada and Jokić will represent Serbia.

The news ensures this will be the sixth consecutive year that the MVP of the league conceived in America will be someone born elsewhere.

This is the latest reminder us that the wide talent gulf that once defined America’s basketball exceptionalism is quickly narrowing toward invisibility. This is the third consecutive season that American-born players were shut out as finalists.

A look at the top five vote-getters in each of the last four seasons reveals only three American’s made the cut: Jayson Tatum finished fourth last year, Devin Booker finished fourth in 2022, and in 2021 Stephen Curry finished third and Chris Paul was fifth.

As recently as 2018, the top five vote-getters were Americans.

If that trend isn’t alarming enough for the red, white and blue, consider the fourth-place finish by Kerr’s Team USA squad in the FIBA World Cup last summer. That group, without a player able to present a resumé deserving of the Hall of Fame, returned home without a medal after losing its last two games to Germany and then Canada.

After an inglorious season with the Warriors, Kerr now turns toward what feels very much like an ultimatum. Win the gold or return to the United States soaked in shame.

The roster of what might be considered Redeem Team II is built for the quest. Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and LeBron James are the three best players of their generation. Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid and Kawhi Leonard are Hall of Famers in waiting. Bam Adebayo, Devin Booker, Jrue Holiday and Jayson Tatum won gold in Tokyo with Team USA in the 2020 Olympics. Anthony Edwards and Tyrese Haliburton represent the best of the next generation.

“We've obviously got the cream of the crop,” Kerr told NBC Sports Bay Area last week.

Team USA’s roster is the best America can offer, though Embiid comes with an asterisk. He was born in Cameroon moved to the United States as a teenager, was granted French citizenship in 2022 and two months later became a naturalized U.S. citizen.

After initially saying he would represent France, Embiid last October chose to join Team USA. This did not sit well with some of the folks in France.

“Team USA, with him, who can beat you? Come on, nobody,” Jean-Pierre Siutat, president of the French Basketball Federation, told The Athletic. “This is an easy way for him to get an Olympic medal.”

And Siutat’s salty response is mild compared to that uttered by former French Olympian Frederic Weis.

“I consider this boy a great player as much as he is a dirty guy,” Weis said on his French RMP radio show. “I hate him for the things that he did. I think he doesn't have any respect for France and also for all the people who are asking for a French passport and don't get it. And under the pretext that he is a great athlete, he got it. I find it scandalous. I find it embarrassing.”

France planned to have Embiid join Rudy Gobert and Victor Wembanyama in a “Triple Towers” frontcourt. Embiid, at 7-feet, would be the shortest.

The hurt is real. French president Emmanuel Macron reportedly reached out to Embiid last fall, hoping to persuade the 76ers big man to roll with France. Weis could be excused for the hyperbole; he has a radio show to sell. But there is a clear reason for such disappointment and vitriol.

France believes Embiid would position it for gold on the biggest international stage. Imagine the euphoria that would follow the French men’s team winning its first Olympics gold medal on its turf.

Such confidence would be legitimized by the fact that it was France that snapped the Americans’ 25-game Olympics win streak in 2021.

Team USA players will join Kerr and his assistants – Mark Few of Gonzaga, Tyronn Lue of the Los Angeles Clippers and Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat – on July 6 in Las Vegas for training camp.

“It's a six-week jaunt, you know, it happens quickly,” Kerr said last week. “So, you're generally not going to do a lot of complex stuff. I kind of know what we're going to run and how we're going to operate.”

For the sake of Kerr’s international reputation, as well as that of the players, having a plan in place is an excellent place to start.

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