Team USA won't be sending its A team to the 2019 FIBA World Cup Qualifiers in China, and at this rate, they might not be sending their B team, either. USA basketball is an international juggernaut, and with Gregg Popovich coaching, they'll be in good hands no matter who suits up. But why are so many top players passing up a chance to represent their country?
James Harden, Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard, Tobias Harris, Bradley Beal, C.J. McCollum, DeMar DeRozan and Eric Gordon have each withdrawn from Team USA's training camp roster. Zion Williamson, who went No. 1 overall to the New Orleans Pelicans, also withdrew from the select team. At this point, maybe Pop should make good on Jared Dudley's offer to suit up for his country.
Hey, Dudley's still got something left in the tank, right?
Jokes aside, the roster as-is should still stand a strong chance at running the table in August. The team has invited All-Stars, past and present, in Kemba Walker, Khris Middleton, Kyle Lowry, Kevin Love, Paul Millsap, Brook Lopez and Andre Drummond to training camp. Team USA will also have an influx of young talent, having invited Donovan Mitchell, Myles Turner, Jayson Tatum, Harrison Barnes, Kyle Kuzma, Aaron Gordon, D'Angelo Russell, Jaylen Brown, Julius Randle and Marcus Smart to camp, as well. Rockets wing P.J. Tucker has also been invited to camp.
The United States is still in position to three-peat as Gold Medalists when the Olympics roll around, but in order to do so, they need to position themselves well in the qualifiers this summer. Thirty-two teams will compete against one another, and the seven-best teams will automatically qualify for Tokyo. The remaining teams will be decided through four subsequent qualifying tournaments. The United States doesn't need this thing going down to the wire.
That's why it's a bit eye-opening for superstar players to be withdraw at the rate they have. The reality, though, is they might be doing so for one of two reasons.
First and foremost, the FIBA World Cup begins on August 31 and carries two weeks until September 15. NBA training camp dates haven't been announced, but historically, they begin open in late September. That leaves players two weeks of rest at most before they ramp up the training in preparation for the 82-game NBA season.
In this era of load management, players need their rest. They're not sacrificing it for Team USA, at least not this year.
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Second, competing in international play also carries a considerable amount of risk. After all, it wasn't too long ago that Paul George suffered a gruesome compound leg fracture during a 2014 Team USA scrimmage. George missed all but the final six games of the 2014-15 season. He returned to superstar form and eventually signed a four-year, $139 million deal with the Thunder before being traded to the Clippers this summer.
Not everyone is as lucky as George. Injuries have derailed many careers, and it can take years for a player to recover to full form. DeMarcus Cousins, for example, ruptured his Achilles in New Orleans, then turned down a two-year, $40 million extension to sign a one-year deal at the mid-level in Golden State. He then tore his quadriceps in the playoffs and was forced to sign a veteran's minimum deal with the Lakers.
Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson both suffered career-jeopardizing injuries on the Warriors in the playoffs, but their respective talents are so transcendent, anything less than a max contract would be disrespect of the highest level. Not every player has that kind of talent, nor can they afford to risk their health for a team that, to be fair, can win without them anyway.
The reward, in this situation, doesn't outweigh the risk, not by a long shot.
And the final reason players may be pulling out is that, well, this isn't the Olympics. That's in Tokyo in the Summer of 2020, and is where it's really decided whose country has the best basketball players in the world.
Team USA has some of the most talented players in the world, even if their most talented players have dropped out of Olympic competition. Serbia boasts Nikola Jokic and Bogdan Bogdanovic. Ricky Rubio and Willy Hernangomez are expected to represent Spain, while Serge Ibaka hasn't yet committed.
But this tournament isn't decided by which teams players are better on paper, and it won't be a cake walk. Team USA still has a deep pool of talent, but sometimes the sum is greater than its parts, and the USA has run into that reality in international play before. With Popovich as head coach, however, the United States should still be the favorites, even if the newcomers need time to adjust to the international style of play.
The superstars may have dropped out of the 2019 FIBA World Cup, but Team USA will still put a talented roster on the floor with one of the best head coaches to ever do it. And if they need that one veteran to put them over the edge? Jared Dudley's only a phone call away.
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