Team USA is an under-achieving NBA superstar's dream

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The United States men's basketball team faces Serbia in the gold medal game at the Rio Olympics tonight hoping to claim their third Olympic title in the last eight years.

The Americans will attempt to create history without, arguably, many of their top players. All of LeBron James, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Russell Westbrook decided against playing in Rio and all of them - bar Harden - had very deep postseason runs.

How important is a gold medal in the context of the lucrative world of the NBA? Is it just a convenient, achievable yet illustrious goal that appeals to the less successful NBA superstars?

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One could certainly argue as much. Take DeMarcus Cousins for example; the big man finished fourth in scoring for the whole league last season but his Sacremento Kings wallowed in no man's land between the playoffs and the foot of the Western Conference.

Representing Team USA offers Boogie the kind of supporting cast he could only dream of on a regular basis with Sacremento, and that kind of release is bringing out the best in the center.

“It’s very fulfilling and it has always been a dream,” Cousins said after a 94-91 win over Serbia in the pools. “I want to make sure I’m playing my part, but I’m also enjoying the ride.

“This is the top in terms of international competition,” he said. “We’re getting every country’s best team and we want to beat the best.”

His coach, Mike Krzyzewski, also had some surprising words of praise for the 26-year-old.

“I think what a lot of people don’t know about DeMarcus is he’s a great teammate,” Coach K said. “He’s a very important part of our team and a guy we really count on inside.”

In the NBA, Cousins has been earmarked as a temperamental and stroppy player at times who lets his emotions get the best of him. It's possible those frustrations are a result of playing with players who are mostly beneath him, but Team USA gives him the chance to rub shoulders with the elite.

Carmelo Anthony is probably the most famous example. The 32-year-old New York Knicks franchise player is a nine-time All-Star and was the league's scoring champion in 2013.

There's no doubt he is one of the most talented forwards in the game today, but his talent hasn't translated to titles during his tenures with the Denver Nuggets and the Knicks.

However, he is the leading scorer in Olympic history for Team USA and he is looking to win his third goal medal from four trips to the Olympics. His ability has found solace on the international stage

“A lot of people told me, ‘Don’t do it, don’t do it.’ For what?’’ Anthony told ESPN’s Marc Stein. “But I actually enjoy it. I’ve been a part of USA Basketball since I was a junior or senior [in college]. I actually enjoy it, and it’s an opportunity to get another gold medal. I didn’t want to miss that opportunity.

"And you don’t have to have the same role as on your own team. That’s why guys like playing on the USA team because they don’t have to do as much. They just have a role and rely on everyone else — the best players in the world.

“I can look back on it when my career is over — if I don’t have an NBA championship ring — and say I had a great career.”

Of course, his career isn't too shabby at all. But still, there is nothing like winning an NBA title. Kevin Durant, Jimmy Butler, Paul George and DeAndre Jordan have all jetted to Rio this year for that same reason and only Kyrie Irving, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and - wait for it - Harrison Barnes have won an NBA title in the U.S. camp.

Nobody has won two titles. This is a relatively success-staved crop of players and that's a trend that is likely to continue.

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