Damian Lillard wants spot at 2020 Olympics, but talent alone is not enough for USA Basketball
Sept. 20, 2019
Although he chose not to be a member of the USA Basketball senior national team that traveled to Australia for three exhibition games the Americans played in advance of the 2019 FIBA World Cup, Trail Blazers star guard Damian Lillard did find time for such a trip last week as a brand ambassador for adidas.
He spoke with a reporter from News.com in Australia after the U.S. was eliminated from medal contention with a quarterfinal loss to France. He admitted having not watched the game. Lillard declared, though, he intended to be part of the U.S. team that will compete in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
"I plan on being a part of that," he told James McKern. "Definitely."
And perhaps there will be a place for him on the squad. He is one of the best basketball players in the world.
But he should only be included if a whole lot of other great players won’t — or can’t — compete.
Fielding a team primarily of middle-class NBA players, the U.S. finished seventh in the 2019 World Cup, its worst performance ever. After falling in the quarterfinals, the Americans dropped a consolation game to Serbia that left them having to defeat Poland to avoid losing three consecutive games.
Lillard was offered the opportunity to play by managing director Jerry Colangelo and, to be honest, the program needed him badly. It was apparent USA Basketball veterans James Harden, Stephen Curry and Anthony Davis were unlikely to play in another World Cup. The tournament was going to need the next wave of young American stars to keep alive its string of five consecutive major tournament titles and 58 victories in competitive games.
The only players who fit that category and competed were Kemba Walker of the Celtics and Donovan Mitchell of the Jazz. Lillard withdrew along with Wizards guard Bradley Beal, Sixers forward Tobias Harris and guard De’Aaron Fox and forward Marvin Bagley of the Kings. Along with Walker, Lillard and Kawhi Leonard were the only U.S.-eligible players on the 2019 All-NBA teams who did not previously compete for USA Basketball at a senior international invent.
Blake Griffin had committed to the 2012 Olympics and was on the team but withdrew after injuring his knee. Curry, Harden, Paul George, Kyrie Irving, Russell Westbrook and LeBron James all competed for the United States in the past. James represented the U.S. at three Olympic Games. Irving and Harden have played in both the Olympics and World Cup.
Ideally, these players will form the core of the 2020 U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team. ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla , an expert in the international game, said he definitely would reward Mitchell and Walker for competing in the World Cup and ask them to join the veteran superstars who've won gold in the past. He agrees that players such as Lillard should be invited along only if necessary.
"I would not put those guys at the top of my list, if I were Jerry," Fraschilla said. "They’re going to want to put the best possible team together, but I think it would start with the guys who represented the U.S. in the past.
"Jerry Colangelo is a smart man. He will not look a gift horse in the mouth. He’s going to evaluate every player who wants to be a part of this team."
After the World Cup, Colangelo told reporters he was surprised by the number of withdrawals .
"I can only say, you can’t help but notice and remember who you thought you were going to war with and who didn’t show up," Colangelo said.
No great player owes his summer to USA Basketball. It is an honor, but one that demands an investment of time and energy.
Neither does anyone warrant a place on the Olympic roster merely because of talent and achievement. Commitment is a two-way relationship.
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