By BRIAN MAHONEY
The Associated Press
Tuesday, August 21, 2007; 5:36 AM
LAS VEGAS -- After last year's world championships, the United States knew it needed better shooters, stronger defenders, and more experienced players.
That last one cost Kevin Durant.
The Seattle rookie was one of two players cut Monday night as the Americans got down to the 12-player limit for the Olympic qualifying tournament that begins Wednesday.
SuperSonics teammate Nick Collison also was dropped when the Americans announced their decisions about two hours after practicing at the Thomas & Mack Center. The final roster needed to be submitted Tuesday, a day before the U.S. opens the FIBA Americas tournament against Venezuela.
The Americans have learned in recent years that international basketball is not a young man's game.
"The experience of the team helps us, there's no question," U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "The good teams we play against are not only older individually, they're old collectively. They've grown old together. So maybe we can make up some of that with the selections that we made."
As expected, Michael Redd and Mike Miller had nothing to worry about. The Americans have gone too long without a reliable perimeter threat, so they weren't going to send home two of the NBA's best.
Besides the shooters, USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo and Krzyzewski also sought some stoppers. That created spots for New Orleans' Tyson Chandler, one of the NBA's top rebounders and shot blockers, and versatile Detroit forward Tayshaun Prince.
"We knew exactly what we felt we needed in terms of adding certain components to our roster, and the good news is we were able to accomplish that," Colangelo said.
The U.S. roster includes: Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire, Dwight Howard, Jason Kidd, Chauncey Billups, Redd, Miller, Chandler, Prince and Deron Williams.
When the 18-year-old Durant was added to the national team roster in May, it was thought that he was a pick for the future. Then he showed he was a legitimate candidate to make the team this year when he scored 22 points last month in the intrasquad game to close minicamp.
But the Americans were looking for more experience after the average age of the players on last year's world championships team was 24.5. This squad averages 26.2, largely because of the additions of veteran point guards Kidd and Billups.
"With Kevin, one year in college and 18 years old and he's made giant progress and he's going to be one of the faces of the NBA and USA Basketball who will be considered next year because 10 months from now he's only going to get better," Krzyzewski said.
Collison has played on eight USA Basketball teams, including one in the 2003 Olympic qualifier. He missed minicamp after getting married, but played well after joining the team for practices last week.
"Nick wasn't involved from the very beginning, so to be this close to making it after being here for about a week shows what a tremendous job he did," Krzyzewski said. "This was an extremely difficult decision because for both kids you can make a case for either one."
Krzyzewski had to keep Redd and Miller, because they address the biggest U.S. weakness in recent years.
Even though the international 3-point line of 20 feet, 6.1 inches is more than 3 feet closer than the NBA distance of 23-9 at its furthest point, it hasn't proven to be any easier for Americas pros, a primary reason the Americans haven't won a major title since the 2000 Olympics.
With Bryant, Anthony and James, the U.S. team has plenty of scorers. But with many international teams preferring to sit back in a zone defense when they play the Americans, even the NBA's best slashers often have trouble finding driving lanes.
But if they could hit their open perimeter shots and force teams out of their zones, it would make the Americans almost unbeatable. Few teams have enough players to guard both Bryant and James 1-on-1.
Redd said the closer international 3-point line is like a free throw for him, but cautioned that it's too early to say that this U.S. team is a better shooting one than last year's.
"We haven't played the games yet. We've got to go out and hit some shots first in the games," he said. "I like the fact that Mike's here. I do what I do _ shoot the basketball.
"It adds an element to the team and opens it up for our penetrators, for LeBron and Jason, Chauncey, Kobe, 'Melo and those guys. More than making shots, I think it's going to hurt other teams by opening up the floor."
The Americans survived a 10-for-40 night from behind the arc in their quarterfinal victory over Germany at the worlds, but were doomed by a 9-for-28 showing against Greece and lost in the semifinals.
Though Redd and Miller should correct that, the Americans know not to rely too much on 3-point shots. Their strength is getting to the basket, and that's not going to change no matter how many jumpers they make.
"We can't fall in love with outside shots just because we have better outside shooters," James said. "I think I'm going to be one of those guys that know that, if we're shooting a lot of jumpers, now it's time for me to get to the basket and get a foul. Even if we're making them, we still have to be aggressive."