Tokyo Olympics mission for USA? Avoid basketball fiasco


It’s far from the Dream Team and more like a skeleton crew of NBA stars. Still, with Kevin Durant and Damian Lillard leading the way, USA Basketball is sending the most intriguing team in the world to the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
For the first time in a long time, Team USA appears to be a fragile odds-on favorite in the chase for the basketball gold medal.
“The USA team is going to have problems, and this is not going to be a cakewalk in these Olympics,” DraftKings sportsbook director John Avello said. “I could see this team getting upset.”
Avello is not alone. Team USA was upset twice in exhibition play in Las Vegas, triggering panic (and overreactions) that a potential nightmare scenario is looming for the perennial team to beat. If nothing else, that’s a good reason to watch the tournament.
Only a dull buzz can be heard about betting options on the Olympics, which begin Friday and end Aug. 8, but that could change when the games get going and the media hype machine cranks up. The main event in the sportsbooks will be basketball and the possibility of a Team USA fiasco in Tokyo.
“Basketball is probably the top attraction,” Avello said. “I think basketball, soccer and tennis will be the big three.”
In soccer futures at the Westgate SuperBook, the U.S. women’s team is the -225 favorite to win gold. In men’s golf, U.S. Open champion Jon Rahm from Spain is the %plussign% 450 favorite, and British Open champ Collin Morikawa from the U.S. is the %plussign% 650 second choice. The prop on gold medals won by the U.S. is 45.5.
BetMGM, DraftKings and most Las Vegas books will offer an extensive betting board that also includes baseball, softball, swimming, track and field, volleyball, water polo and more, but few of those events excite the public.
“As the Olympics go on, there are going to be some stories and some events that garner interest,” said Vinny Magliulo, VSiN oddsmaker and veteran Las Vegas bookmaker. “I think there will be some business. It’s not to trivialize it, but it’s minimal interest. The schedule of events — what’s live and what’s tape-delayed — is going to be confusing to people.
“I’m not knocking it. I would rather have it than not because it adds to the betting menu until we get to NFL preseason football.”
Avello said some factors are working against the Tokyo Olympics, with the absence of fans at the events being one negative.
“COVID could definitely play a part in these Olympics because there could be canceled matches and key players not playing,” Avello said.
Coco Gauff, a popular U.S. tennis player, recently tested positive for COVID-19 and announced she would sit out.
USA Basketball lost Bradley Beal, who was ruled out of the Olympics because of COVID-19 health and safety protocols. The Wizards’ Beal was the NBA’s No. 2 scorer this season. Team USA is also without the Warriors’ Stephen Curry, who was the NBA’s leading scorer, the Lakers’ LeBron James and the Nets’ James Harden.
Not only are many veterans missing in action, but three of the league’s young guns — Trae Young, Ja Morant and Zion Williamson — are conspicuous by their absence.
“There’s so much potential this team could have had,” said Jeff Sherman, NBA oddsmaker at the Westgate. “The U.S. team needs Durant and Lillard to handle the offensive production. I’m surprised Durant is even going to play and put himself in that situation with COVID going around. These guys are playing for NBA titles, and that’s how they are judged, not by winning a gold medal.”
Team USA is a -500 favorite to win gold at the Westgate and most other books, followed by Australia (10-1), Spain (10-1), France (16-1) and Slovenia (20-1). Luka Doncic leads the Slovenian team. The price on the U.S. team is cheap compared with many previous Olympics when the Americans were posted at odds of 1-10 or higher.
“The U.S. is rightfully favored, but not in an odds region that shows they are an unbeatable team,” said Sherman, who bet Australia at 20-1 odds. “The price feels low for an NBA-quality team. The U.S. could lose a game or two. Australia looks equal to Spain, if not a little better. I would power-rate Australia No. 2. I don’t trust the other teams in the tournament.”
The Michael Jordan-led Dream Team of 1992 won by an average of 43.8 points, and its smallest margin of victory was by 32 points at the Barcelona Olympics. That team was about a 1-20 favorite, and in reality the odds should have been 1-100.
Durant is the undisputed leader of a new-look U.S. team that co-stars the Trail Blazers’ Lillard and Jayson Tatum of the Celtics. Durant, two years removed from a ruptured Achilles tendon and off a playoff run with the Nets, deserves credit for showing up for the Olympics when so many other stars passed. The Spurs’ Gregg Popovich has replaced Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski as coach, but Popovich is an upgrade. The team’s first impression was not impressive.
Team USA was a 28-point favorite in its stunning 90-87 exhibition loss to Nigeria on July 10. Two days later, the Americans were 16-point favorites in a 91-83 loss to Australia. The U.S. bounced back and calmed fears by beating Argentina and Spain to finish 2-2 in exhibitions.
“I think some of the other countries have caught up and have some star NBA players too,” Avello said.
There are reasons for Team USA’s poor start. Popovich has had only a handful of practices with a team put together on the fly, and several elite players are missing. After the NBA Finals conclude, the Bucks’ Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday and Suns star Devin Booker are expected to join the team in Tokyo. Popovich might have only nine players available Sunday when the U.S. opens pool play against France.
Excuses aside, Team USA still has more talent than any other team, deserves to be a significant favorite and should ultimately strike gold again. But this is nothing like 1992, and it’s not going to be easy.