The USA men’s basketball team lost 81-89 in Olympic semifinal play today against Argentina, the same team that was the first to defeat a pro-packed international team in the World Championships two years ago. They will play for the bronze medal tomorrow against Italy.

Be prepared now for another round of columns, weblog entries, and message board postings about how professional basketball players in the States are fundamentally unsound, spoiled, and arrogant, a line that I’ve been hearing for years now and that I’ve gotten pretty tired of (Jason Whitlock has some interesting thoughts on that attitude). The real reason for Team USA’s defeat is more simple than that: if you don’t send your best team to a tournament, a better team will beat you.

In the midst of all the bile being poured upon the US team — both the players who showed up and the players who declined to join — we haven’t heard anything about Peja Stojakovic or Vlade Divac, both of whom chose not to join the team from Serbia-Montenegro for this Olympics. Both of them get a pass from the media due to the fact that they’ve already had long and successful international careers, but that doesn’t change the point that Serbia-Montenegro was knocked out (by Argentina) in the quarterfinals. They, like us, didn’t send their best team; they, like us, didn’t do as well as they could have.

Of course, Serbia-Montenegro, while a traditional powerhouse in international basketball, is not the USA. Basketball was invented here; our league is the premier league in the world; ipso facto, we should have the best team in the world. When we don’t, we get very angry with our team, accusing them of arrogance and complacency, complaining that they play as if they were entitled to a gold medal. In reality, they’re doing the best they can with a haphazardly-assembled and insufficiently-practiced squad. The ones with an entitlement complex are the fans.

The worst thing about this is that all the complaining about the NBA assembling showboating all-star teams (and there are actually very few all-stars on this team) for marketing purposes only serves to keep the focus on the NBA players, which diminishes the achievement of the other teams. Blaming USA losses on poor American play is a little insulting to the squads that simply outplayed them. Argentina was firing on all cylinders today: Pepe Sanchez had seven assists; Fabricio Oberto played great in the paint; Luis Scola was all over the place; and Manu Ginobili’s magical left hand scored 29 points.

That team won today; not because the USA sent a bunch of horrible incompetent people to Athens, but because Argentina was that good. Rather than spitting on Allen Iverson and Lamar Odom (he’s quietly been one of the bright spots on this team, by the way; I’m hoping the Lakers trade him in the preseason so I don’t have to hate him), we should be celebrating the rise of all these great teams. After all, the 1992 Olympics were a special moment, but they were essentially an exhibition; isn’t a competitive tournament more fun?