NBA commissioner Adam Silver emailed several outlets over the weekend, starting with USA Today, to discuss the Paul George injury in Team USA's scrimmage Friday night, which has prompted a broader discussion of the role of NBA players in international competition.
In a lengthy e-mail that detailed the benefits of international basketball, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told USA TODAY Sports, "I don't anticipate a major shift in the NBA's participation in international competitions."
"Of course, there's no doubt that this will be a hot topic at our next NBA Competition meeting in September and our Board of Governors' meeting in October and we will continue to evaluate the pros and cons of participating in international tournaments."
"Basketball has unquestionably taken incredible strides since 1992 when NBA players began playing in the Olympics, not to mention, the jump many of our players have made in terms of ability, leadership and passion for the game by playing for their home countries," Silver wrote. "Injuries can happen any place at any time. The experiences our players have enjoyed by participating in their national teams, however, are ones that are unique and special in almost every other way."
As Ken Berger noted this weekend, the concern about players' involvement in international play is likely to come not as much from the players, or the league itself, but from the owners:
And since we're asking that question, why should an NBA owner who has invested millions in guaranteed salary in a player accept the risk of losing him to a serious injury -- in an event that has nothing to do with his team?
George is entering the first season of a five-year, $92 million extension he signed in September 2013. Not that it makes the injury any less gruesome or the rehab any easier, but the money is all guaranteed. Under the NBA's agreement with FIBA, a team may withdraw one of its players from a FIBA event only if there is a pre-existing injury concern -- as was the case with the Spurs and Manu Ginobili.
"The owners are the ones taking all the risk," one Western Conference executive said Saturday. "The players have no risk, so that's why they play. If you told players you'd have to eat their contract [if they got injured], you wouldn't have one guy playing."
The Pacers are protected from the standpoint of disability insurance, which another team executive said kicks in after 41 games at 80 percent of George's salary. But George's full $15.94 million salary counts on the Pacers' books next season against the salary cap and luxury tax -- as will any money spent on an injury exception that Indiana will be granted by the NBA.
After making a series of moves to maximize whatever time they have left with George, David West and Roy Hibbert playing together, the Pacers are within about $3 million of the tax line. Simply put, if they use the injury exception to replace George, a $5.3 million mid-level player would wind up costing them nearly $7 million -- and they'd still most likely have a losing record. According to one team executive who has studied the issue of what happens when a team loses its best player to a season-long injury, 80 to 90 percent of them end up below .500.
Mark Cuban brought up the issue over the weekend to ESPN's Marc Stein:
"My thoughts go out to Paul," Cuban told ESPN.com on Saturday. "I really feel for him."
"The (International Olympic Committee) is playing the NBA. The IOC is an organization that has been rife with corruption, to the point where a member was accused of trying to fix an Olympic event in Salt Lake. The IOC (pulls in) billions of dollars. They make a killing and make Tony Soprano look like a saint.
"The pros in multiple sports are smart enough to not play when they are eligible free agents. But teams take on huge financial risk so that the IOC committee members can line their pockets.
"The greatest trick ever played was the IOC convincing the world that the Olympics were about patriotism and national pride instead of money. The players and owners should get together and create our own World Cup of Basketball."
But the NBA has a close relationship with Team USA and knows that 1. It benefits from a PR and international branding standpoint at no cost from players' involvement with Team USA; and 2. Telling players they can't represent their country playing the game they are professionaly more able to do than any other group of people on earth is problematic. This opens up a whole hornets nest of issues involving players' rights, economics and politics.
In short, don't expect Silver to push much on this subject. George's injury was horrific, but the only group that wants change is the owners, and even they aren't universally aligned against international competition.