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Jerry Colangelo guarantees Paul George a Team USA spot in 2016, but what does that really mean?

Indiana Pacers forward Paul George listens to a question during a news conference after Game 3 in the NBA basketball Eastern Conference finals playoff series against the Miami Heat, Saturday, May 24, 2014, in Miami. The Heat defeated the Pacers 99-87
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Indiana Pacers forward Paul George listens to a question during a news conference after Game 3 in the NBA basketball Eastern Conference finals playoff series against the Miami Heat, Saturday, May 24, 2014, in Miami. The Heat defeated the Pacers 99-87. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

The gruesome leg injury suffered by Paul George in an exhibition last Friday was a clear setback for Team USA heading into the FIBA World Cup of Basketball in Spain later this month, but it has also become a rallying point for the squad. The team has dedicated its quest for gold in the tournament to George, and his absence has allowed the brotherhood and camaraderie of the squad to shine. If nothing else, the injury has given Team USA something to play for besides the usual motivation.

To put it another way, George remains a part of the organization even when not on the World Cup roster. On Thursday, though, USA Basketball director Jerry Colangelo said that George would have a place on the team for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro even with his future health and quality of play in doubt. From Scott Howard-Cooper for NBA.com:

While dismissing the possibility of the ultimate tribute of keeping George on the active roster for Spain and letting him likely win a medal without playing, saying each of the 12 spots are too valuable, especially with the United States thin on the front court, Jerry Colangelo said there are plans to make sure the injured star is a visible presence in Spain. Wanting to add to George’s motivation during the comeback from a broken right leg, Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski have also already made it clear to the Pacers small forward that he is expected to be in the lineup in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
“We’ve told him we have a spot for him in ’16,” Colangelo told NBA.com at festivities Thursday in advance of the Friday enshrinement of the Hall of Fame class.
Without seeing how he comes back?
“Right,” said Colangelo, also the Hall chairman. “That’s what we told him.
“We thought it’s the right thing to do,” Colangelo said. “That’s it…. We didn’t give thought to all the detail. Just that when a guy goes down and all these things, the circumstances, his career passes before him, he’s out for a year, a year-plus, he’s not able to participate now with us — we wanted to throw that out and say, ‘We’re counting on you. You’ve got a spot in ’16.’ “

In the same article, Howard-Cooper notes that Team USA is looking into ways to honor George during the tournament, although FIBA rules prohibit teams from altering uniforms with patches or any kind of writing on sneakers. Frankly, that might be for the best — George does not appear to be facing the end of his career and intends to make a full recovery, plus most people don't get Ferraris to cheer them up in a time of need. Perhaps it's best to go the way of Nike and focus on the comeback rather than the admittedly awful outcome in Vegas.

But George still has to undergo that rehab process, which makes Colangelo's promise of a spot on the 2016 Olympic team a little peculiar. If George makes a full recovery, then he's a shoe-in to make the squad. Few players can boast his combination of scoring ability and excellent defense, which makes him a versatile and extremely useful player on a team that needs players to contribute in areas other than scoring, which will never really be an issue on such a loaded roster. On the other hand, Colangelo is right that a single roster spot on a 12-man squad is very valuable, which makes it feel like a risk to guarantee one to a player who hasn't yet proven he can return at a star level. Doesn't that make Colangelo something of a hypocrite? (Unless he's just saying that George will be part of the 2016 player pool, which isn't a big deal at all.)

Given the context of the move, though, Colangelo isn't risking much at all. In a best-case scenario, George returns after missing the 2014-15 season to make another All-NBA team, which would make him a welcome presence on Team USA. If things go badly, though, then it's very difficult to imagine George and the Indiana Pacers agreeing that he should take on international duties just one season removed from a serious rehabilitation process. After such a horrific injury, the Pacers will almost certainly want to play it safe with their franchise player, and it figures that George will want to ensure he avoids pushing himself after a long NBA season. If he does play in Rio, it'll probably happen only if he feels strong enough to do so. If that comes to pass, then it will be because he already deserves to make the team on his own merits, not because Colangelo felt compelled to make a spot for him under special circumstances.

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Eric Freeman is a writer for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at efreeman_ysports@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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