C.J. McCollum says NBA players might have dropped from Team USA over fear of losing in FIBA World Cup
NBA players may not be as confident in Team USA as they used to be
CJ McCollum withdrew from Team USA before their training camp for the 2019 FIBA World Cup of Basketball began this week. He was hardly alone on that front. The Americans reportedly needed to invite more than 50 players before landing on the current group practicing in Las Vegas, none of whom have the clout of withdrawn players like Anthony Davis, James Harden and Damian Lillard.
There are several viable explanations for this phenomenon. Davis and Harden already have gold medals from 2012, for instance, and may not view international competition as a priority. Load management has never been more common than it is now, and players might prefer to use the summer to rest and train on their own than play in competitive games. That is especially true of superstars adjusting to new teams.
McCollum acknowledged the role that load management likely played in their decisions, but he also espoused a new theory on an appearance on "The Woj Pod."
McCollum offered a variety of potential explanations, but his assessment of how players feel about the team this summer was fairly blunt. "I think other guys looked at it like, 'Why would I want to go potentially be the face of what could be a losing roster?'" McCollum said. USA is the favorite in practically any tournament it enters, and the World Cup is no exception. Westgate currently lists them at -225 to win the tournament, and the Americans have won the past two World Cups after losing in 2002 and 2006. The uncertainty surrounding so many other top contenders can only help them.
Canada will be without Jamal Murray and RJ Barrett. Spain is missing Pau Gasol. The Dominican Republic won't have Al Horford, and while Karl-Anthony Towns didn't make a formal announcement, he is not listed on their roster either. Ben Simmons will not play for Australia either, so several of the best teams are missing top players.
That doesn't mean the field will be clear, though. Serbia is expected to represent Team USA's fiercest competition, and Westgate gives them +175 odds of winning the World Cup. They were blown off of the court by the Americans in the 2016 gold-medal game, but they are loaded with NBA talent. Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic leads the team, and he is flanked by the Sacramento Kings duo of Nemanja Bjelica and Bogdan Bogdanovic. Several other players with NBA experience line the roster, but more importantly, they have continuity, which is something Team USA lacks.
The greatest advantage foreign teams tend to have in these competitions is experience. American NBA stars come and go from the Team USA pipeline, but foreign players usually commit to their national teams for most of their careers. That allows their players to get comfortable playing with one another, to develop playbooks and identities that last years rather than weeks. Team USA is currently the antithesis of that consistency. Only two players from the 2016 Olympic team that took home the gold are slated to play in the World Cup: Kyle Lowry and Harrison Barnes. Lowry is recovering from thumb surgery.
Normally, the American team has so much raw talent that chemistry is less of an issue, but with so many players dropping out, McCollum might have a point. Team USA remains the favorite in China, but with so little All-Star-caliber talent on board this time around, the world's leading basketball superpower looks as vulnerable as ever. That creates a degree of risk that isn't usually present for Americans in these kinds of competition. Such risk could easily have deterred certain players from participating.
But with greater risk comes greater reward. Several young players have joined Team USA in place of their more famous colleagues and will now have a chance to not only earn more minutes than they otherwise would have, but spots on next summer's Olympic team. The Americans should be closer to full strength then, but with a few newer faces who benefitted from the lack of interest this offseason.
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