Citing physical and mental fatigue, NBA megastar Kevin Durant withdrew from the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) competition late last week, leaving the U.S. men’s team to vie for the 2014 FIBA World Cup without its biggest star.
Durant, 25, arrived fresh off a whirlwind NBA campaign which saw him win the regular season’s MVP award before a deep playoff run ended at the hands of the eventual NBA champs, the San Antonio Spurs. Durant’s news continued the hard times for the USA team after swing forward Paul George was lost following a severe leg injury during a scrimmage last week. Durant’s announcement is presumed not to be a direct result of George’s injury, but nevertheless, the remains of a superstar-less roster could be easy prey for what should be a competitive field, which includes several foreign NBAers playing for their countries this summer. Could Durant’s decision hurt Team USA this summer? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate the question.
Riley: Despite an improving field of competition, I can’t see how a roster with the likes of Anthony Davis, Derrick Rose, Steph Curry, James Harden and Kenneth Faried among others shouldn’t be enough for the U.S. to remain a tough out once competition starts later this month. Durant would have been the best player in the field, and his absence will definitely hurt, but there’s some serious talent left on the roster that should keep Team USA in the hunt while Durant sits out. Durant’s replacement, Rudy Gay, is no stranger to big moments, and is an adequate enough athlete to deliver what the team will need its small forward to do.
Green: No team can afford to lose a player of Durant’s quality and expect to survive without him. We’ve seen in previous summers that the U.S. can’t just trot out an inexperienced and star-deprived roster and expect to dominate international competition. I think George’s injury has more impact than what’s being said. George’s injury was gruesome, and for a player with as much at stake as Durant, I wouldn’t be surprised if some outside influences directed his withdrawal. This could be a problem for future USA teams as George’s injury will weigh heavily on the minds of agents, coaches and players alike. It might be safe to say that George’s health is a bigger blow than Durant’s departure since George’s injury was “coincidentally” followed by Durant stepping aside.
Riley: Let’s not forget that although one MVP is out of summer competition, there’s another MVP lighting FIBA camp on fire: Derrick Rose. He’s been outstanding this summer and, with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove, Rose alone could easily become the face of the team and carry a talented squad through the rounds of FIBA play. Rose has basically had two seasons off, while Durant has poured in a lot of work over the last couple of years. How much would we have gotten out of Durant anyway, considering the workload he’s put in since his Finals appearance in 2012? No sense in weeping for Team USA this summer, since other names like Harden, Curry, Kyrie Irving and DeMar DeRozan have all shown that they can carry scoring loads in a pinch.
Green: While Rose has been good, his injury history is still a big question mark and his international experience just doesn’t compare to the players on this roster despite an impressive list of high draft choices. The absence of more experienced and proven superstars was already evident before the summer even started. Now, with Durant out, this is just a regular team in terms of international competition. Let’s not forget that even with a star-studded roster, the 2004 Olympic team lost in international play, mainly because younger stars such as LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and a healthy Amar’e Stoudemire struggled to adapt. USA teams aren’t Goliaths anymore, and when you lose players of George and Durant’s caliber, those teams are only more susceptible to an upset. Durant’s announcement puts this team in serious danger this summer.