Colangelo: Skip worlds at your own peril
USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo has a message for LeBron James(notes), Dwyane Wade(notes) and the rest of the NBA stars leaning toward skipping the 2010 World Championships without an approved alibi: You’ve lost your guarantee for a roster spot at the 2012 Summer Olympics.
“There are no free passes to London,” Colangelo told Yahoo! Sports on Wednesday night. “There are no special rules for anyone. If someone decides to pass without a legit issue, they do it with an understanding of the risk.”
James publicly insisted Wednesday that “I’m probably not playing,” and his reasoning for sitting out the late-summer training camp and tournament – a busy schedule – doesn’t fall within the excused absences Colangelo has laid out. James hasn’t directly told Colangelo of his plans, but he joins Wade in publicly expressing doubt about playing in the World Championships in Turkey.
Two sources familiar with Wade’s plans say the Miami Heat star has already decided against playing for Team USA this summer. Colangelo has wanted to hold national team players to a revolving three-year commitment on the way to the Olympic Games. How can he still get his biggest stars to Turkey this summer?
Perhaps the shoes will help. Nike has a huge financial stake in USA Basketball, and James and Wade are two of the company’s most important pitchmen. The global stage is important for pushing product, and Colangelo isn’t fearful of exploiting this fact.
“The players are intelligent and they understand that some of this whole thing brands them in the international marketplace,” he said. “And maybe they’ll make some decisions based on the fact that certainly Nike has a big impact on them in terms of what their contract may or may not say about this.”
With several other stars also destined for free agency, Colangelo had no expectation they would play and risk injury in the July minicamp in Las Vegas. Colangelo calls himself “flexible,” and says he’ll accept contract status, injury and pressing family matters as reasons for an excused absence.
Nevertheless, he wants all of Team USA to minimally show up for the July minicamp while free agency gets underway, and expects that once deals are signed all the players will attend the August training camp in New York. Team USA has a pool of 27 players to bolster the roster; it would most fear losing Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard(notes) for the World Championships. Outside of him, the U.S. could be forced to go with Boston’s Kendrick Perkins(notes) to play center.
Team USA’s oldest and youngest stars – the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant(notes) and Oklahoma City Thunder’s Kevin Durant(notes) – are committed to playing this summer. As one source said, “Kobe will probably take inventory on his body at the end of the season,” but he is planning to play. Durant nearly made the 2008 Olympic team as a 19-year-old rookie and promises to be an immense part of Team USA’s future. Durant will be a star among stars the moment he steps on the floor.
“He’s one of the best five, maybe six, players in the NBA already,” Colangelo said. “He’s a pretty good replacement for anyone.”
Durant is young and hungry, and Team USA can use him. The World Championships doesn’t inspire tremendous enthusiasm for the returning players who won a gold medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Yet Team USA lost to Greece in the World Championships’ medal round in 2006, a deflating defeat that stays with some of that team’s players.