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The Inbounds: Team USA and an outlet pass to the future of superstar team-ups

Aug 1, 2012, 2:46 PM EDT

File photo of U.S. basketball Chairman Colangelo and the 2012 U.S. Olympic men's basketball team posing in Las Vegas Reuters

Just kidding. I’m not actually going to give you the top five possible superstar teamups from these Olympics. No slideshows or top ten lists, though I have written those before and they serve a purpose. But I did want to write about that dynamic, where it comes from, and what it means.

In Team USA’s second-half vehicular manslaughter of Tunisia on Tuesday, at one point Kevin Love spit one of those outlet passes that he is so incredible at. The two-hand cannonball to the sideline at half-court to Russell Westbrook who caught it in stride, sped past three defenders, took the foul, and scored. It was an amazing display of what Team USA’s younger stars bring to the table, and just a really spectacular basketball play.

And my first thought was to wonder if it was a sign of things to come.

LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh have all openly talked about Beijing in 2008 being a moment where they all realized the possibility of playing together. Deron Williams has mentioned the same about Dwight Howard at the same time. Those are two examples, but it’s clear that when these guys get together and experience what it’s like to play with a team full of guys with equal or superior talent, how much fun it is. And how big their starpower can get.

So when Love and Westbrook make a play like that, the kind that they used to make at UCLA, where they were roommates, you have to wonder if the same conversation is being held.

Before we go down this road, i want to make sure you know that a. I’m not insane and b. this isn’t rampant speculation that this is ever going to happen. Russell Westbrook just got done finishing in the NBA Finals where his team was within a few bad quarters of winning the NBA title. He’s locked into a five-year deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder who just gave him a huge extension. Kevin Love may have his problems with the Timberwolves, but he does have a three-year guaranteed deal and he’s a part of one of the up and coming teams in the league with a sensational point guard. My point here is not “COULD KEVIN LOVE AND RUSSELL WESTBROOK BE CONSPIRING TO PLAY TOGETHER IN 2016?” because that makes beyond zero sense.

But you have to look at down the line, at the career arc of a lot of players who we thought would always be one place and then landed in another. It happens all the time in this league. Steve Nash is a Laker, for crying out loud. Dwight Howard is about to be… something else. And there are plenty of reasons to think that the smart, sensible option for both Love and Wetbrook will be to stay put, and neither leave in free agency nor push for a trade. But we’ve seen logic lose too often in this league not to wonder. Westbrook is already part of a superstar trio that loves playing together, and they’re all in the Olympics together this year. The only way it happens is if things were to go seriously awry and Westbrook were to think about this experience and what it could mean for him elsewhere. Or if he were to bring Love to the Thunder which in no way seems possible with the CBA.

And that’s the danger inherent in the Olympics, for NBA teams, now. But it’s not just the Olympics. It’s All-Star Weekend and weddings and parties, and anytime that these players get together, there’s talk of a realignment of their careers to run parallel and under the same flag. This is the new NBA world we live in, molded by branding, exposure, markets, and “families” managed by large representation groups. “The Decision” is supposedly the start of this, but it dates back to Boston’s collection of the Big 3. This is not a wholly recent trend and the potential has been there for years. LeBron, Wade, and Bosh were just the first bold enough to go out and put it to its absolute limit. And seeing the success they’re undergoing? The NBA title, an improving image, a rehabilitated public persona, and a huge international influence? That’s only going to make it more attractive.

Some of these are just pipe dreams. Chris Paul toasted to Melo, Amar’e, and he in New York, and Paul’s running the floor for Lob City. Amar’e Stoudemire mentioned Tony Parker at a Broadway show the night before he signed with the Knicks, and Parker’s not going anywhere for San Antonio. And again, there’s very little reason to believe Westbrook and Love will be playing anywhere else in five to six years. But you have to wonder if the idea is there, considering Westbrook, Derrick Rose, and Love work out in the summers, and Westbrook and Love have been playing together for most of their lives. Hey, Love’s even said on record that they’ve talked about it. It doesn’t take much to say that Westbrook and Love are closer than LeBron James and Wade are, or were. Friendship doesn’t mean they’re going to. It means that there’s always that possibility.

Maybe the bigger point here is that this is what I first thought of when Love jetted that outlet pass to Westbrook. How well they fit. Could they play for the Lakers, when they inevitably restock? The idea of the Lakers just landing those two outright isn’t pleasant for the idea of competitive balance, but it fits with everything we know about the history of the league. That’s where my brain went, though. Not to how amazing this Team USA is with the kind of talent it’s able to put on the floor together at all times, but about how every interaction could spell enormous consequences (Note: meme’d) for the NBA. We’re living in some sort of weird world where players play for teams, but simultaneously always exist as free agents given the power of players to force their way out to the teams they want at this point.

It’s exciting, and scary, and dangerous, and even if Love and Westbrook never play a second together, this is still the world we’re living in, where if one player’s great and another player’s great and they can stand each other at all, you have to wonder not just what it would be like… but when and how? The impossible is possible now, and very few stars shine on their own.

  1. JB (the original) - Aug 1, 2012 at 4:24 PM

    If he wasn’t flippin’ nuts, it would have been interesting to see where things would have gone if if Starbury would have stayed in Minnesota with Garnett…

  2. jattsoorma - Aug 1, 2012 at 8:45 PM

    this article is truely pointless, the most redundent crap i have ever read.

    WE GET IT WESTBROOK AND LOVE WILL NOT BE TEAMMATES!

    • 24thesho - Aug 2, 2012 at 7:43 AM

      Where do they get these people to write this nonsense? This is one of many examples of “The Fan” (remember that movie with De Niro?) actually getting paid to rant and swoon over pro athletes.

  3. j0esixpack - Aug 1, 2012 at 9:50 PM

    Actually I thought it was a pretty good read.

    Matt’s made clear he’s just talking hypothetical pairings of guys seeking to emulate the Heat which emulated the Celtics BIg Three.

    The permutations of the who, when and where – are varied, yet it is bound to happen if only for the branding and profit benefit for all three.

    I’m liking this column… Good topics thus far.

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