Injuries to Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose and Chris Bosh have left the US Olympic team of NBA stars hurting as they gather to prepare to defend gold at the London Olympics.
The idea was to blend the best of talent from the 2008 Olympic champion and 2010 world champion squads into a formidable favored side for London, but injury setbacks have taken away two star big men in Howard and Bosh.
"We've taken four bullets," USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said. "It will now be a testimony to the infrastructure we put in with the national team roster.
"I feel very confident about our roster going forward. Adversity gives people opportunity, and guess what -- it's going to open up a couple of roster positions."
Six players have been lost from the original set of finalists, leaving 16 others to fill 12 Olympic spots and a July 7 deadline, two days after the US training camp opens, for US coach Mike Krzyzewski to name a final roster.
"It is obvious why we have built a pool of players over the last seven years to take care of situations like these," Krzyzewski said. "This opens up opportunities for other players in the pool to show their talents."
Wade and Bosh helped lead the Miami Heat to the NBA title last month but Wade will require knee surgery. Doctors told Bosh not to play in the Olympics because he could aggravate an abdominal strain that sidelined him during the playoffs.
Orlando's Howard suffered a back injury during the season and Rose, last year's NBA Most Valuable Player, tore a left knee ligament in Chicago's first playoff game. Chauncey Billups of the Los Angeles Clippers and Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge are also out with injuries.
The Americans remain a formidable lineup led by LeBron James of the Heat, Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers and NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant plus Russell Westbrook and James Harden of NBA Finals runner-up Oklahoma City.
But New York's Tyson Chandler and Minnesota's Kevin Love are the top big men remaining after the injuries.
Other US candidates include New York's Carmelo Anthony, Brooklyn's Deron Williams, Lamar Odom of Dallas, new NBA Draft top pick Anthony Davis and Chris Paul and Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers.
The United States looks for a fifth title in six tries since NBA talent debuted with the 1992 US "Dream Team" at Barcelona.
But NBA commissioner David Stern says the league needs to look at having the Olympics be an under-23 event with some exceptions, a nod to owners who object to injury risks to their superstar players, not just on the US side.
"(Repeating) won't be easy because the tournament will be tough," Paul said. "A lot of teams can fight for a medal, but the USA are a legitimate contender for winning the gold."
Spain lost in the Beijing Olympic final but will feature Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka, the NBA's top shot blocker each of the past two seasons, and a host of NBA talent, including 2.13m Los Angeles Lakers forward Pau Gasol.
"My expectations are high," Gasol said. "My teammates and I will fight for the gold medal. I think that we can win the tournament. We have a lot of talent and everyone will be very motivated to give it their all on the court.
"Winning a gold medal at the Olympics would be a huge satisfaction. It would be incredible for Spain.
"We're afraid of no one."
France, which lost to the Americans in the 2000 Olympic final, has such NBA talent as guard Tony Parker and center Joakim Noah.
"Playing in London will be a dream come true," Noah said. "We will fight for a medal."
France also pushed Spain in last year's EuroBasket final in Lithuania.
"It would be a huge mistake for everyone to consider USA and Spain as the only contenders for the gold medal," Gasol said.
American women have won six of the past seven hoops gold medals, settling for bronze in 1992 but winning the past four titles in a row, the past three by beating Australia in the final. Another US-Aussie final is expected in London.