Blake Griffin chalked up his decision to bow out of competition for a spot on the U.S. men's national basketball team that will compete in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain next month to a desire "to focus and dedicate 100 percent of my energy on improving and preparing for the upcoming season with the [Los Angeles] Clippers." As it turns out, though, there's another reason why the All-NBA Second Team forward pulled out.
According to ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne, Griffin has a small fracture in his back and "was advised by doctors to give [it] more time to heal before the start of the next NBA season." This marks the second straight time that an injury has knocked Griffin out of a major international tournament; he tore the meniscus in his left knee after stepping on the foot of Washington Wizards point guard John Wall during workouts prior to the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
More from Shelburne:
Griffin is expected to make a full recovery from the injury, which sources say was suffered during the playoffs. However, doctors advised him to sit out international competition this summer for precautionary reasons.
Griffin has continued to work out this summer in Los Angeles with teammate DeAndre Jordan and former Laker and Clipper Sasha Vujacic.
That's not all Griffin has done this summer, though, as noted by the eagle-eyed Tom Ziller of SB Nation:
[...] if Blake is telling the truth that he was hurt in the playoffs and didn't tell the team — why is he backflipping into the sea a month later? Furthermore, why did Griffin's camp deny there was any injury when announcing his withdrawal from Team USA three days ago?
Reasonable questions, no? (I wouldn't advise holding your breath until you get an answer from Griffin or his representatives.)
For his part, Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski told Yahoo Sports NBA columnist Marc J. Spears that he's learned to take late-in-the-game departures like those turned in by Griffin and on-the-trade-block power forward Kevin Love in stride:
Krzyzewski: "We've done this for nine years now. These things, I've got accustomed to them happening. That's why there is a pool of players. That's why with [USA Basketball executive director] Jerry's [Colangelo] leadership we developed a program where you just don't pick 12 players, you develop a program. We're disappointed, obviously. …You're getting into the last week. It's the last weekend. And both of those guys figured prominently into what we were planning then. But now we have to plan something new. In 2010, we had nobody from the  Olympic team go to the world championship. It gave an opportunity to some younger guys and some older guys. Lamar Odom was brilliant during that time. We just have to figure out how other people will step up." [...]
Yahoo: Is Love and Griffin's departure a major concern?
Krzyzewski: "We're not in any panic. We knew it was going to be tough competition whether Griffin or Love were with us. We have really good players. These guys are committed. It's just a matter of putting it together in a short period of time."
"Short," of course, being the operative word for a U.S. side that boasts an abundance of enticing options in the backcourt — point men Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, John Wall and wild card Derrick Rose, plus shooting guards James Harden, Bradley Beal and Klay Thompson — but is comparatively small up front after Griffin, Love, LaMarcus Aldridge and Dwight Howard all decided not to don the red, white and blue this summer.
Anthony Davis, an understudy on the U.S. squad that won gold in London, is a lock for a major role in the middle in Spain, and reigning league MVP Kevin Durant — whose breakout performance for the American team that won the 2010 FIBA World Championship in Turkey helped vault him into the ranks of the world's best players — figures to work just fine as an international power forward. Beyond them, though, it's very much an open question as to which bigs will make Coach K's roster and earn significant roles.
Sacramento Kings big man DeMarcus Cousins might be the most likely candidate to incite an international incident, but his combination of size, skill and rebounding — oh, and don't forget shooting — could also make him America's most complete secondary option against deeper squads like host nation Spain, which will feature the troublesome trio of Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka. Detroit Pistons monster Andre Drummond could be especially handy as a rebounder and rim-protector given FIBA's relaxed goaltending rules, but his offensive limitations (and a 40 percent career free-throw rate that marks him as a giant intentional foul target) could exclude him from major exposure in high-leverage situations.
Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried's offensive game took a step forward last year, and his boundless energy could make him an intriguing choice on both ends of the floor for Krzyzewski, who always looks to maximize the U.S.'s athletic advantage by playing uptempo offense and aggressive, pressing, turnover-causing defense, but he's also a clear step down in terms of shooting, playmaking and offensive creativity from either of the All-Star fours he'd be tasked with replacing. There are no perfect options, which is why we're likely to see the U.S. play small as often as they can afford, with rangy small forwards like Paul George and (if he makes the team) Chandler Parsons getting run at the four against less bruising and threatening opposing power forwards.
In truth, as we've seen in the last several major international competitions, the bellwethers for the U.S. will likely be 3-point shooting and perimeter defense; if they're hitting from deep and forcing turnovers, there won't be an opponent who can stay with them. If either of those things goes awry, though — as it did for long stretches against Lithuania and Spain in London, a size-deficient American squad could wind up wishing Flip Saunders had been a bit quicker to pull the trigger and Griffin's reps had spoken up a bit sooner.
“You can’t just sit around and cry in your beer about who you don’t have," USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo told ESPN.com's Marc Stein. "You look at what you do have and you say, ‘We’re going to get the job done.’ We feel very confident about our opportunity. We’re ready for it.”
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