Anthony Davis, LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, Zion Williamson… those are just some of the American superstars you won’t be seeing when the Fiba Basketball World Cup starts off in China on 31 August. Thanks to the many NBA stars who have bowed out of this year’s tournament, Team USA won’t quite look like look the ultra-confident world-beaters of the past, even if they are still clear favorites to lift the trophy.
Right now, the US is whittling down the 20-man training camp roster which includes exactly one player who was on last season’s All-NBA team, Boston Celtics point guard Kemba Walker. He joins the Milwaukee Bucks’ Khris Middleton and the Toronto Raptors’ Kyle Lowry as one of only three 2019 All-Stars on the roster.
So, what’s happening? Why are so many high-profile players jumping off board? Well, firstly, players remember what happened to Paul George in the lead-up to the last World Cup. In 2014, the forward, then with the Indiana Pacers, suffered a gruesome compound leg fracture during a scrimmage that cost him an entire season. George eventually regained his MVP-caliber form, but the incident did show the risk that players take when they agree to play additional games. It’s bad enough when injuries happen during the regular season and postseason, but it’s far more painful when they occur in a tournament which might as well be a glorified exhibition as far as NBA teams are concerned.
Ah yes, the teams. Let’s not pretend that this is all on the players. Team USA is at the mercy of 30 NBA franchises who want their players fit and rosters intact. It’s particularly messy right now considering the craziness of this year’s free agency period. Roughly 25% of the players in the league changed teams over the last few months. Some of the players who have dropped out of the World Cup want to adjust to their new teams while others are concentrating on learning to play with new teammates.
Davis, most notably, is now with the Los Angeles Lakers after spending the entirety of his career with the New Orleans Pelicans. Harden has the unenviable task of learning how to play with Russell Westbrook in Houston (although they were once teammates in Oklahoma). Williamson is not only nursing an injury but needs to learn how to adjust to playing in the pros. It’s possible that one of the main reasons that Walker has remained on Team USA despite signing with a new team is because he will have the opportunity to develop chemistry with his new teammates Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, who are also on the World Cup roster.