LAS VEGAS — 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 men’s 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.”
Team USA was upset twice in exhibition play in Las Vegas, setting up a potential nightmare scenario for the perennial team to beat.
A dull buzz can be heard about betting options on the Olympics, which begin this week 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 SuperBook at Westgate Las Vegas, the USA women’s team is the -225 favorite to win gold, and the Brazil men’s team is the 3/1 favorite. In men’s golf, U.S. Open champion Jon Rahm from Spain is the 9/2 favorite, and British Open champ Collin Morikawa from the U.S. is the 13/2 second choice. The prop on gold medals won by the U.S. is 45.5.
BetMGM, DraftKings and most other books will offer extensive betting boards that also include baseball, softball, swimming, track and field, volleyball, water polo and more, but few of those events excite the public masses.
“As the Olympics go on, there’s 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 will sit out.
USA Basketball lost Bradley Beal, who was ruled out for 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 some of the league’s young guns — Trae Young, Ja Morant and Zion Williamson — are also absent.
Team USA is a -350 favorite to win gold at BetMGM, followed by Australia (15/2), Spain (9/1), France (15/1) and Slovenia (20/1). The price on the U.S. team is cheap compared to many past Olympics, when the Americans were posted at odds of 1/10 or higher.
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.
Durant is the undisputed leader of a new-look U.S. team that co-stars the Blazers’ Lillard and Jayson Tatum of the Celtics. The Spurs’ Gregg Popovich has replaced Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski as coach. But the 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. team bounced back to beat 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 Olympic pool play against France.
Excuses aside, Team USA still has more talent than any other team, deserves to be an overwhelming favorite and should ultimately strike gold again.
Matt Youmans is senior editor of VSiN.com. VSiN programming can be heard on iHeartRadio platforms.