USA Men’s Basketball was dealt a huge blow last Friday as Indiana Pacers star Paul George suffered a horrifying and gruesome injury to his right leg during a live intrasquad scrimmage in Las Vegas. George, who was considered a lock for the final 12-man roster that would represent the latest incarnation of Team USA at the FIBA Basketball World Cup, underwent successful surgery on his tibia-fibula compound fracture and is considered to be out for the 2014-15 NBA season.
While he’s expected to make a full recovery, the unfortunate circumstances behind George’s injury should be seen as a major problem: training with some of the best players in the country is an honor and a great way to improve in the offseason, but such things do occur and could possibly have long term ramifications stretching far beyond the privilege of playing for Team USA.
Seeing how the George injury affects not only Team USA but the Pacers as well, it would be to the benefit of the Golden State Warriors organization that Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson withdraw their names from the pool of players being considered for Team USA’s final roster.
As many are aware, Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose hasn’t had the best of luck with injuries the past couple years. Everyone remembers the devastating ACL-tear he suffered roughly two seasons ago following his first MVP season in 2011, as well as the season-ending meniscus-tear he suffered early last year.
Even with those injuries embedded deep into the minds of every Bulls supporter, Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times reports that the Bulls have no reservations about Rose’s injury risk playing for Team USA. Bulls general manager Gar Forman was asked whether there was any objection to Rose’s participation in international play.
“No, not at all,” Forman said. “I think it’s a real positive that he gets an opportunity to do this and do it against the level of competition that he’s doing it against.’’
Damian Lillard, an Oakland-native playing for the Portland Trailblazers, acknowledged the fact that injuries do happen and you have to make do with what you have. When questioned about whether he’ll withdraw his name following the George injury, Lillard’s reply was negatory.
“Nah, it’s a part of the game unfortunately,” he said. “It’s a risk any time you step out on the basketball court. I haven’t thought about stepping away [from Team USA]. I’ll stay in.”
Both Rose and Lillard certainly appear to have no intention of dropping out of the race for one of the final 12 spots, and apparently neither do the rest of the players competing. According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst and Marc Stein, the remaining pool of 19 players eligible for the final roster were “committed to keeping their names in the hat” following the George injury.
Reading between the lines, that means Curry and Thompson were relatively adamant about continuing on with Team USA, and the George injury only increased the chances of the both of them making the team together.
The latest news from Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports helps confirm this, as both Curry and Thompson survived the first wave of cuts that were carried out Monday afternoon. Washington Wizards guards John Wall and Bradley Beal were cut along with Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap, effectively reducing the roster to 16.
But why should any NBA player continue to put their bodies on the line for their country without any compensation, reward or incentive? In addition, why should NBA owners allow their players to participate in high-risk competition that isn’t stipulated in their contracts, possibly resulting in a huge waste of money? Those are the questions that were explored by Chicago Tribune writer, Steve Rosenbloom.
“You have to be an idiot owner to let your players participate in international hoops. You have to be a stupid and selfish player to do it.
I’d hate the chairman of my team if he didn’t at least voice opposition to the franchise players going on with this nonsense. I’d hate the player for risking injury this way.
I realize such injuries could happen anywhere and at any time. But I could deal with them easier if they happened while training and conditioning for an NBA team, not international basketball that nobody gives a spit about.
I don’t care if your country is calling. Hang up. Your NBA team pays you millions. That’s who you work for. Tell Uncle Sam and Coach K to find some college kids who aren’t the difference between an NBA championship and a waste of time.”
Rosenbloom certainly makes some fine points within his argument, and he’s not alone in his endeavor. Wojnarowski took to Twitter to report on how such notions are being widely supported, and it seems the George injury may be the catalyst for a change in the NBA’s involvement with international basketball.
Owners and GMs united tonight: Paul George injury could be tipping point for use of stars in international play. “Game-changer,” GM told me.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) August 2, 2014
Team USA had some notable players withdraw their names early in its conception this year: forwards Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers, Kawhi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs and the Blazers’ LaMarcus Aldridge all withdrew from the competition early on. The biggest name to withdraw from the Team USA pool, however, was Minnesota Timberwolves superstar Kevin Love. According to ESPN sportscaster Mark Jones, Love was against the idea of playing for his country not just due to his uncertain trade status, but also to avoid any chance of suffering the same fate as Indiana’s George.
Kevin Love didn’t play because of the possibility of what happened to Paul George.This will be a turning point.No more NBA stars in FIBA.$$ — MarkJonesESPN (@MarkJonesESPN) August 2, 2014
Curry and Thompson would be wise to follow in Love’s example, but there’s obviously this undeniable sense of pride in playing for Team USA that they both share. Curry was part of the team that won a gold medal at the 2010 FIBA World Championship, but he was passed over for the 2012 Olympics due to his string of ankle injuries.
As for Thompson, he was a part of the select team that practiced against the Olympic team in 2012 and returned home much improved; it was only right that he be considered to join his backcourt mate on the official team this year.
Despite the patriotic undertones associated with representing your country in international competition, the George injury was every smart NBA executive’s worst nightmare. In Curry’s case, Warriors owner Joe Lacob could very well make a call and prevent Curry from participating in FIBA this year. ESPN’s Stein reported the standing agreement between FIBA and the NBA regarding the owners’ right to withdraw their players from international competition.
NBA deal w/FIBA states that its teams can’t bar players from international comp unless there’s “reasonable medical concern” going in. So … — Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) August 2, 2014
So that would suggest NBA teams won’t be able to put up any more resistance to international play unless/until its deal with FIBA changes — Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) August 2, 2014
Curry has long withstanding concerns with his ankle, which alone should warrant some opposition from Golden State execs. He’s also the unquestionable leader of the team, the one invaluable piece that completes the Warriors’ puzzle on the road to contending for a championship. The Warriors’ front office has made some great decisions over the past few years, but it would be by far the biggest statement to take a stand against NBA players risking themselves overseas for a tournament that fairly few people care about. It’s hard to see anyone opposing Golden State should they make the decision to pull Curry out of the contention for the final roster, even if Curry was projected to play a huge role on this year’s USA squad.
Thompson’s case is different. Having only missed one game over his three-year career due to the death of his grandfather last season, Thompson has remained one of the most durable shooting guards in the NBA (knock on wood). He has had no prior health issues, meaning that there’s no “reasonable medical concern” that the Warriors organization could cite as means to prevent him from joining Team USA. Also, Thompson wasn’t considered a lock for the final roster until after the George injury. It would have to take a great deal of convincing for Thompson to personally choose to remove his name from the list of available players for Team USA.
The Warriors have a solid playoff roster built around the Splash Brothers backcourt, and there’s no reason an unimportant international competition should be the compromising factor in Golden State’s future. Being two of the final 16 finalists is nothing to discredit and is certainly an achievement to be proud of, but playing overseas isn’t what Curry and Thompson are being paid to do.
If they are to secure their chances of making a deep run in the 2015 playoffs, Warriors executives must implore their star guards to reconsider playing for Team USA. As the ancient proverb goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Team USA will reconvene Aug. 13 and resume its training camp before the tournament begins Aug. 30 in Spain.