On Saturday, Team USA was supposed to make the final roster cuts for the FIBA World Cup in Spain that begins at the end of the month. Instead, the cuts came Friday night after Team USA’s exhibition game against Puerto Rico.
Unfortunately for Portland fans, or fortunately, depending on which way you look at it, Portland’s own Damian Lillard was cut from Team USA and will not be participating in the 2014 FIBA World Cup.
I knew it was a long shot Lillard would make the team, and I’m pretty sure my reaction would have been something like this if he made the team:
Lillard, who saw minimal action in Team USA’s first exhibition game against Brazil, played 24 minutes against the Dominican Republic– the most of anyone on Team USA. Unfortunately, he didn’t play very well either. He scored 7 points on 3-of-8 shooting with 3 assists and 4 turnovers. His swan song stat line with the national team did not blow anyone away. Consequently, he did not play in the third exhibition game against Puerto Rico on Friday night, a likely sign that his fate was sealed.
I can picture an alternate universe where, indeed, Lillard does make Team USA and is part of the 12-man roster in Spain. It’s very simple when you think about it, too.
Imagine Kevin Love doesn’t withdraw from Team USA and the world cup. Love is the perfect international player. He’s big enough and strong enough to guard interior players. He’s fast and quick enough to guard the international bigs, who typically can shoot and run the floor. Offensively, Love can score in a variety of ways, in the paint, midrange, three-point range. You name it, and Love can do it. He stabilizes a weak frontline just with his presence..
Imagine Paul George doesn’t break his leg in the USA’s intra-squad scrimmage. Team USA still has their best defender, who can guard four of five positions in international basketball. George was going to be Coach K’s utility knife. He can score, defend, and be the facilitator. George was going to be the Andre Iguodala of this national team, with slightly better offense.
Imagine Kevin Durant doesn’t withdraw from the national team at the last minute, basically. Whether it was because of George’s injury or because of his major shoe contract, it doesn’t matter. Regardless of why he quit, Durant was supposed to be the guy. Replacing him is impossible.
Add those three players into this picture and Team USA looks much different than it does now. Instead of Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond, DeMarcus Cousins, Kenneth Faried, and Mason Plumlee as Team USA’s frontline, the frontcourt would be Davis, Love, Durant, George, and Faried, and possibly Drummond or Cousins for Spain.
That changes things drastically for Coach K. In that grouping, Davis, Love, Faried, and Cousins (I think he’s better than Drummond) could play power forward and center in some combination, which would leave Durant and George to play the wing and/or power forward, if need be. That’s a flexible lineup that Coach K can work with.
With two spots open, Coach K was always going to choose Kyrie Irving because, you know, Duke. With one roster spot left, Coach K could then choose one player to throw on the roster based on talent because, at that point, it doesn’t really matter who else makes the team. They aren’t getting much playing time anyway. Why not put Lillard on as the 12th and final spot? Team USA will need Lillard in the future, maybe even the 2018 Olympics.
The point I’m trying to make is Team USA would have been so loaded with Durant, Love, and George on the roster that they wouldn’t need any Drummond, Plumlee, Rudy Gay, and DeMar DeRozan. They wouldn’t need the skills those guys have to offer and could afford keeping around another guard, especially when Curry and Rose could easily play shooting guard or off-the-ball with another point guard like Irving or Lillard.
Because Coach K’s options were so limited when Love, Durant, and George couldn’t play in the world cup, he had to take DeRozan and Gay for depth on the wings. He had to take Drummond and Plumlee to find the right combination to work before the Spain game. Coach K now gives himself eight more games to find that right lineup combination.
As Portland fans and Lillard fans, we shouldn’t feel bad for Lillard. He’s going to be okay!
This might have been a slight against Lillard and some home cooking from Coach K by taking two Duke guys, but at least Lillard comes out of this situation healthy and with a chip on his shoulder next season. That’s what we, as fans, should be focused on. Lillard is healthy, and that’s a major relief.