LAS VEGAS — Anybody ready for Blake Griffin at center?
It could happen in a few weeks when the U.S. men's basketball team begins the Olympics against France.
Tyson Chandler probably will start at center, seeing how he's the only 7-footer on the team, a constant flash point for debate at the weeklong U.S. training camp.
Dwight Howard is out because of back surgery and Andrew Bynum is out because he wanted to rest his delicate knees. There went the two starting All-Star centers.
It has left Team USA with a shortage of big men, but will it even matter?
The international game isn't about brute force, thanks primarily to the long-running history of the "trapezoid" key, which kept post players from camping in the lane from 1956 until 2010, when FIBA did away with it in favor of a more traditional width near the basket.
Fifty-four years of the trapezoid typically created a mind-set of finesse and outside touch for international big men. It's not really a place for 7-footers.
Shaquille O'Neal, the most dominant center of the last 20 years, played in only one Olympics (1996) and was overlooked for the original Dream Team four years earlier when the one spot reserved for a college player went to the less-lumbering Christian Laettner.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA's all-time leading scorer, never played in an Olympics because, in his own words, "I felt that my diploma was a more important priority and stayed with my summer job." Of course, Abdul-Jabbar played in an era when only amateurs were considered for Olympic basketball and missed his only chance in 1968.
Power forward Lamar Odom was the center when the U.S. beat Turkey to win the FIBA World Championship two years ago. He made seven of nine shots and took 11 rebounds in an 81-64 victory.
When Chandler needs rest this year in London, Griffin and Kevin Love will spell him. They play power forward for their NBA teams and are listed at 6 feet 10.
USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo has been asked constantly about the lack of big men on the roster.
"People keep throwing Spain in our face, 'What about the Gasols?' And I say, 'Well, what about the Gasols? Our guys play against them every day" during the NBA season, Colangelo said. "And matchups always go two ways. They have to be able to guard our quickness, our speed, our versatility, and so I'm not really concerned about that."
Spain will be the biggest challenge with Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka — two All-Star brothers to go along with a third player who easily led the NBA in blocked shots last season (3.7 a game).
"All the big Europeans are very skilled, stepping out and taking a lot of jump shots," said Chandler, who was voted the NBA's defensive player of the year. "I'm our one true center, but we've got some hybrids."
Despite the lack of height at center, the U.S. will be a long team at other positions. Kevin Durant (6-9) is tall for a small forward, and LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony are both bulky 6-8 small forwards.
As for the rest of the international competition, there aren't many imposing threats size-wise to the U.S.
France would have been tough by the basket, but Joakim Noah opted out of the Olympics because of an ankle injury, leaving 6-8 Boris Diaw as the main big man.
Argentina has 6-9 power forward Luis Scola and not much else down low. A familiar name might have given the U.S. problems against China if Yao Ming hadn't retired because of foot problems a year ago.
Besides Spain, only Brazil has a fairly solid front line. Nene, Anderson Varejao and Tiago Splitter are all active hustle types who could give the U.S. trouble in spurts.
Short or not at center, the U.S. isn't concerned.
"There are a lot of 6-9 and 6-10 guys who are much better than 7-footers," Colangelo said. "We don't have a lot of true post-up centers on any level. So what do we do? Cry about the fact we don't have any? No. You say, 'What can we do to counteract that?' I think we've come up with a lot of 6-10 guys who can really play, who are really versatile, who are really quick."