Paul George’s broken right leg has already created questions about the future of NBA players in international competitions.
The U.S. national team can’t worry about that now. The Americans’ immediate concerns are his health, and what they have to do to win without him.
The Americans have 16 players left in their roster pool after cutting three Tuesday — and 25 days to determine which of them can fill the role that George would have handled.
“He’s a guy that would demand significant minutes ... even on a U.S. team, where he probably would’ve been a starter,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said during a conference call, noting that George could have played some power forward along with small forward.
“Paul is one of the great defensive players in the league,” Krzyzewski added. “So earlier in the week we had talked — he had even come up to me and said, ‘Coach, that’s the role I want. I want to be able to defend whoever is the best perimeter player. Whoever you want me to be on, I want to do that for you.’ And so you lose a player of that caliber, you take a hit.”
The Americans trimmed the roster by cutting Washington’s John Wall and Bradley Beal, and Atlanta’s Paul Millsap. They have to get down to 12 before the World Cup of Basketball begins Aug. 30 in Spain.
The players remaining are: Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, Chicago’s Derrick Rose, Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving, New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, Golden State’s Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, Houston’s James Harden, Atlanta’s Kyle Korver, Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins, Dallas’ Chandler Parsons, Utah’s Gordon Hayward, Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan, Portland’s Damian Lillard, Denver’s Kenneth Faried, Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Brooklyn’s Mason Plumlee.
George would have been on the team but was injured when his leg crashed into the bottom of the basket stanchion after he tried to block a shot during the Americans’ intrasquad exhibition game Friday in Las Vegas. He had surgery early Saturday and was expected to return to Indiana this week.
The injury, the most significant suffered by a U.S. player since pros were first used in 1992, could lead to a discussion of whether the policy should be changed. Former NBA Commissioner David Stern and current Commissioner Adam Silver had floated the idea of an under-23 Olympic tournament before the 2012 Games, a change neither players nor world governing body FIBA were interested in considering.
“We can only deal with the facts as they are. Players are allowed to play; owners are not to dissuade them from playing,” said USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo, who downplayed criticisms that the location of the stanchion caused the injury. “It’s all part of an agreement, and as long as the rules are as they are, we’ll continue on that basis until it changes.”
The Americans planned to make cuts Saturday but put that off after George’s injury. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, the loudest critic of the current system, has said the NBA shouldn’t be allowing its players to participate when all the profits go to the international organizations.
But Colangelo said the Americans aren’t concerned about players not wanting to compete. Two-time Olympic gold medalists LeBron James, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony could rejoin the team in 2016.
“There will not be a shortage of players who want to play,” Colangelo said.
The Americans’ deep roster pool has perhaps never been more important than this summer, when Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge and NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard had already pulled out before George’s injury. Krzyzewski said he wasn’t sure when the staff would reduce the roster again. The Americans will wrap up their domestic training in New York before heading overseas in defense of their world title.
“We have a job to do and hopefully we can accomplish our goal,” Colangelo said.