By Matt Nestor
One moment, everyone was trying to figure out the 12 players who were going to represent Team USA in their likely next dominant run through international competition. The next moment, everyone was looking on in horror as Indiana Pacers forward Paul George saw his season come to an end.
Just like that, the debate around international basketball changed. What everyone discussed in hushed tones before was now a reality. An NBA star saw his season end in a game he wasn’t being paid for.
Immediately, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban showed his long-known disgust for the normal summer activity. He took out his frustrations verbally on FIBA, who is the only group that profits from having these players in these competitions.
Imagine the fear and flashbacks the Chicago Bulls organization and fans had at the injury. There is the star point guard, Derrick Rose, who has missed the last two seasons with knee injuries, playing next to George leading up to the injury. He is also a favorite to make the roster of 12.
So is Kevin Durant. And James Harden. And Anthony Davis. All superstars and players whose teams would fall apart without their presence — just like what will happen to Indiana in the upcoming season.
Since the injury, the debate around the country has been about who would play in these competitions in the future. Some see drastic changes, while some do not think there will be any change at all.
Many are calling for a return to the old days, when college players would represent the country. It stayed that way until after the 1988 Olympics. That year saw the Americans take the bronze medal, and it was becoming evident, as international players had yet to reach the NBA, that college players were playing against grown men.
Starting in 1992, the USA has been sending the top players in the NBA. And other than the 2004 Olympics, it has been a romp for the American team. Things are closer, as more international players are playing professionally in America and used to that level of competition. But the USA has made their point — they can win gold when they want to in basketball.
Some people do not think there will be a change. They point out that this injury could have happened in practice, during the season, or in a random gym in the summer. The point is that it could happen anywhere; it did not happen because he was playing for Team USA.
All of those are valid points. That type of injury could have happened anywhere. But it is tough, if you are the Indiana Pacers’ front office, to watch that happen when the player you are paying is hurt not playing for you.
I do think you will see changes in the future. And those changes will be somewhere in between the two extremes.
Many players are more than likely to start following the lead of Kevin Love. The Minnesota Timberwolves forward decided to pass on the invitation from Team USA this year to avoid injury. He is waiting on a potential trade and contract extension. He did not want to do anything to ruin those chances.
What you will likely see more of is younger players. First-, second- and third-year players. Probably players similar to Kyle Korver who don’t play above the rim. A team that can likely still win a gold medal, but not one that will dominate along the way.
As the FIBA World Cup gets ready to start, the big thing will be cheering for health. The league and their teams will be hoping to get their players back healthy. Then, they can all compete for a championship against each other for the teams that are paying them.
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From the Aug. 6-12, 2014, issue