Managing director of USA Basketball Jerry Colangelo is sticking to the plan with Kobe Bryant's potential inclusion on the 2016 Olympic squad in Rio, telling Sam Amick of USA TODAY that his criteria for the final roster will be performance through the 2015-2016 NBA season. Bryant echoed that sentiment earlier in the year, stating he wants to earn his place on the team if he competes in Brazil.
Colangelo wouldn't commit one way or the other, with months to observe the season before making any final decisions on the roster. Bryant's going to need every bit of that time to make up for the down season he's had, putting up 18 shots per game while shooting 31 percent from the field. The retirement tour has gotten off to a rocky stat for Kobe, which certainly wasn't part of the plan. He recently said it would "mean the world" to him to finish his career playing for a gold medal with a group of players he's competed with in the Olympics and against in the NBA.
Here's what Colangelo had to say whether Bryant's retirement announcement has changed how he views his potential inclusion on the team, via Amick:
"Nothing has changed for me. Again, the same criteria exists, which is (a player's performance) this season. So we'll just look at this season. And I know where he has struggled, and it's not the same...but there are some people having really outstanding years."
On sacrificing a spot for Bryant based largely on the sentimental component and the fact that a) the 12th man won't play much and b) Team USA will be heavily favored to win gold regardless of who fills that spot ...
"Let's just put it this way: on one hand, you have what you just proposed. On the other hand, if someone is left off the team, like Kawhi Leonard or Paul George — and I'm just using names — for that purpose, then you have to weigh that fairness, to some degree. That's all. So it's not an easy call, and it's one that I don't have to make for quite some time. And I'm going to stick to that. I've got plenty of time.
An argument can be made (and has been, here, in fact) that Kobe absolutely deserves a spot on the roster based off merit alone, but it's also fair to question whether or not they should cut a player who's performing at a high level in the present in order to honor the past. Kobe said that's not what he wants, and Colangelo said that's not the direction he's taking when it comes to selection. That other players are not only playing great, but Bryant is in the midst of the worst season of his career, makes it seem unlikely he'll be included solely or what he can do on the court this season.
Time will tell, but they've both stuck to the same script on this from the moment it became a question. For more thoughts from Colangelo on Kobe with his impending retirement, check out the full conversation with Sam Amick over at USA TODAY.