By: Joe Laland, KCOU Sports
On August 1st a friendly competition amongst the USA men’s national basketball team was played for the players and fans entertainment. It was a great display of basketball for fanatics that are craving any action during the offseason. As most know, the result took a much darker turn than anyone could’ve expected. Towards the end of the game James Harden was attacking the hoop on a fast break. The only player back on the opposition was Paul George, whom as told by just about everyone on Twitter had one of the most gruesome injury’s in recent memory, even comparable to Kevin Ware. Now not only will George not be able to play this season for Eastern Conference finalist Indiana Pacers, but he will face an extreme rehabilitation process, something his body has never had to overcome. It’s a steep price for a friendly inter squad. So steep that, we must ask the question of how necessary it is to send our best players for FIBA competition.
First off, nobody should take any blame or heat for this injury. Basketball is a contact sport where a freakish injury could occur at any moment. Additionally, George and the majority of American superstars agreed and were excited to play for this team. A great sense of patriotism and passion for the game, however, the United States should no longer feel forced or entitled to send its premier and top paid players.
In terms of spreading the game internationally I am a firm believer that when the Dream Team aligned in 1992 it was the greatest thing possible to spread the game of basketball. All of those superstars did a great job at displaying the art of basketball and a fun, attractive manor. Without that team, it is very possible fans would never have been able to witness the great foreign NBA players like Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol, Peja Stojakovic, and many others. However, the United States has done their job of sending their masters of basketball against mainly sub par competition. While there have been great international teams like Spain and Argentina, those teams are very few in between. Superstars similar to Paul George are looking to collect hardware like rings and MVPs, not memories of putting on a massacre against Croatia.
Franchises like the Indiana Pacers should not be in the scenario where they lose their franchise player after a free agency period that they elected to let go of a playmaker of Lance Stephenson’s caliber. For example, this Indiana team had no combination of 5 players play without George or Stephenson play for more than 28 minutes together the whole previous season. Additionally while Paul George has only been announced out for the year, in basketball players recover at very different rates, some never coming back the same. With already having investing 91 million dollars over 5 years for George, the Pacers could be very reluctant about the contract. If they knew such a gruesome injury would happen in a meaningless game, the deal could look very different.
Lastly, the U.S. has the most quality players but they also have by far the most quantity of players. International competition should not die out because of this injury, but it should make us reconsider which players to send overseas. An alternate plan that I believe should be discussed is to only send collegiate players and players still on their rookie contracts. This way young talented players can be put on a platform to spread the game, while owners and GM’s don’t run the risk off losing their big investments on players. This also is a plan that very plausibly could allow the USA to win most tournaments they compete in. For example, this year the USA could have constructed a starting lineup of Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal, Klay Thompson, Anthony Davis and Andre Drummond. It also would have had a talented and deep bench of Eric Bledsoe, Michael Carter-Williams, Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins.
The USA men’s national team has done a fantastic job of promoting the game via international competition. It has spread to places that would of seemed impossible a couple of decades ago. However, it is time to reconsider who and why we send the players to these competitions.