‘We don’t have a Kobe’

Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star Anthony Edwards has quickly established himself as one of the go-to players on Team USA as they prepare for their FIBA World Cup opener on Saturday against New Zealand, averaging a team-best 19.2 points in their five tune-up exhibition games. But, for a time, the 22-year-old wasn’t even penciled into the starting lineup.

Team USA head coach Steve Kerr’s original vision was to have Edwards coming off the bench, with Brooklyn Nets sharpshooter Cam Johnson getting the starting nod. Edwards said that Kerr contacted him heading into camp, suggesting that he could be just as impactful as a reserve and citing the sacrifice of Dwyane Wade, who agreed to come off the bench to back up Kobe Bryant on the 2008 Olympic team.

Edwards admitted that he wasn’t exactly receptive to Kerr’s comparison.

“I mean, of course I wasn’t cool with it,” Edwards said on Thursday. “If that’s what it takes, I mean, I am willing to do it, but nah, I’m never cool with that. … He said Dwyane Wade came off the bench when Kobe played. I was like, all right, we don’t have a Kobe, but all right. But it was cool.”

This clearly wasn’t intended to be a slight at Edwards’ teammates, who aren’t aren’t exactly the household names we saw on the 2008 Redeem Team. While that roster featured legends like Bryant, Wade, LeBron James, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard, the 2023 Team USA squad is comprised of up-and-coming talents like Edwards, Jalen Brunson, Tyrese Haliburton, Jaren Jackson Jr., Austin Reaves and Brandon Ingram.

Edwards cemented his position as Team USA’s alpha with a 34-point performance, including 12 in the fourth quarter, in a 99-91 exhibition win over Germany on Sunday.

Afterward, Kerr said that his young forward had “become the guy,” a sentiment echoed by forward Mikal Bridges and assistant coach Erik Spoelstra.

“Anthony Edwards, that’s gonna be a household name,” Spoelstra said Wednesday. “(Maybe) it already is.”

Team USA’s first FIBA World Cup game against New Zealand will take place on Saturday at 8:40 a.m. ET, followed by group play matchups against Greece and Jordan on Monday and Wednesday, respectively. You can see the full schedule and results here.

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