Las Vegas • Kobe, LeBron & Co. haven't even played a game yet, and already they're being compared favorably to the "Redeem Team" that won the gold medal at the Beijing Olympics four years ago.
And that's not all.
While coaches and players have been explaining why the current group of stars who will make up the U.S. men's basketball team at the London Olympics could be even better than the last version, Bryant went so far as to say his group could beat Magic, Bird and Jordan the superstars who led the original "Dream Team" in 1992, widely viewed as the greatest team ever assembled.
"It'd be a tough one," he said, "but I think we'd pull it out."
Either way, the Americans will get their first sense of how good they might be now when they open their five-game pre-Olympic exhibition tour against the Dominican Republic on Thursday night at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski said he will be "looking at a bunch of different things" against the Dominicans, while forward Carmelo Anthony said the team wants to "fine-tune what we have to fine-tune, and there's not really much that we have to fine-tune.
"We feel that we're in a great position right now," he said.
But in a better one than their predecessors?
The Americans won their first exhibition game here four years ago by 55 points over Canada, on their way to a gold medal at the Beijing Games. There, they averaged 106 points and crushed opponents by nearly 30 points per game.
The Dream Team, incidentally Â with the Jazz's John Stockton and Karl Malone raced to gold at the Barcelona Games by an average of 44 points per game.
In Beijing, though, the Americans had Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh three of their most important players who were unable to return this year, due to injuries.
Wade led the team in scoring, while Howard and Bosh shared a pivotal role at center.
But forward LeBron James said the current team has "some guys that can pick that up," while he himself has grown into the best player in the world since Beijing. Bryant has emphasized that "we have a lot of depth, a lot of versatility, and we have some young guys that are pretty good that weren't on the team in '08."
Primarily, that means forward Kevin Durant, who has emerged as a superstar with the NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder since getting cut from the 2008 team.
The three-time scoring champion averaged nearly 23 points per game while leading the Americans to the world championship in 2010, and his teammate Russell Westbrook figures to play an important role off the bench, likely behind fellow point guards Deron Williams and Chris Paul.
"We have much more depth, much more talent than we had in '08, when I look at this roster versus that roster," USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said.
Without Howard and Bosh, 7-foot Tyson Chandler is the only true center on the current team.
But Krzyzewski has been working to assemble a roster and system that will rely on superior athleticism, knowing that size isn't his strength.
The coach said his players are so versatile that several of them could play any position James can do everything from bring the ball up the floor like a point guard to post up like a center and believes that they can be better than their predecessors in Beijing.
"It's a more versatile team â¦ but does that translate into being better?" he said. "I do think LeBron is a better player right now. He was real good then. He's a great player right now. Carmelo's a better player. Chris and Deron are better players. I think Kobe maintains his level of who he is. And although we don't have a center, that team didn't have Durant or Westbrook. So it's a different team, and we'll see if it becomes better. But it can be. It could be."
Of course, as Paul noted, it's all just an aesthetic argument.
"At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter," he said. "At the end of the day, it's about winning the gold medal. We can't freeze time and play against the '08 team."
USA vs. Dominican Republic
P At the Thomas & Mack Center inLas VegasThursday, 7 p.m. MDT
TV • ESPN
Comparing Team USA
2008 Pos. 2012
Kobe Bryant SG Kobe Bryant
LeBron James F LeBron James
Carmelo Anthony F Carmelo Anthony
Deron Williams PG Deron Williams
Chris Paul PG Chris Paul
Dwyane Wade G/F Kevin Durant
Jason Kidd PG Russell Westbrook
Dwight Howard C Tyson Chandler
Chris Bosh F/C Kevin Love
Michael Redd SG James Harden
Carlos Boozer PF Blake Griffin
Tayshaun Prince G/F Andre Iguodala