Withdrawing from Team USA big mistake for Portland Trail Blazers stars

Portland Trail Blazers - Damian Lillard Team USA (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
Portland Trail Blazers - Damian Lillard Team USA (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Dropping out of the Team USA training camp will end up being a missed opportunity for the Portland Trail Blazers star duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.

Following the example of many of the league’s stars, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum opted to not participate in this year’s Team USA training camp leading up to the 2019 FIBA World Cup. This leaves the Portland Trail Blazers without any representatives in one of the world’s biggest basketball tournaments.

They join an accomplished list of players including Anthony Davis, James Harden and Bradley Beal in their decision to focus on the upcoming NBA season. Paul George’s tragic leg injury in the 2014 Team USA exhibition game likely swayed the decision-making process of this year’s crop of stars.

In the past, playing for the national team would be seen as a honor. Now the tables have turned, and it seems playing in additional games is an unnecessary risk to take in a year where anyone could be champion and injuries may be the sole deciding factor.

In that sense, it makes sense why Lillard and McCollum would be hesitant to play in this summer’s World Cup and instead opt to focus on their personal games. History tells us that would be a mistake however.

It’s been well-documented that players that participate in the Team USA training camp typically experience a big boost in their performance the following season due to spending the summer training with and practicing against the world’s best talent. Take a look at some achievements these players made following an offseason spent with the national team.

2016 Olympic Team – Rio De Janeiro (2016-17)

  • Jimmy Butler averaged the highest points, assists and rebounds of his career.
  • Draymond Green led the league in steals at 2 per game.
  • Paul George averaged the highest points per game total of his career thus far.

2014 FIBA World Cup Team – Spain (2014-15)

  • Derrick Rose played his most games since 2010-11 and averaged 17.7 points per game.
  • DeMarcus Cousins earned his first All-NBA and All-Star selection.
  • Anthony Davis led the league in blocks at 2.9 per game.
  • Klay Thompson earned his first All-Star selection.

2012 Olympic Team – (2012-13)

  • Carmelo Anthony won the scoring title at 28.7 per game.
  • Chris Paul led league in steals with 2.4 per game.
  • Durant had the second highest true shooting percentage of his career.
  • James Harden made the jump from sixth man to an All-NBA and All-Star player while averaging 25.9 points per game.

I could continue on and on, but chances are you probably get the message by now. This is a trend that spans decades and generations. Following the international phenomenon that was the Dream Team, playing for Team USA has long been the most glamorous thing an NBA player could do.

There’s been a strong correlation between player’s individual improvements and participation in Team USA play. For a Portland Trail Blazers team that seems just one step away from title contention, hearing the news that Lillard and McCollum would not participate is not only disappointing for entertainment purposes, but devastating when it comes to their development.

If CJ could take that next step in his game, there’s no reason why the duo of guards couldn’t be considered amongst the NBA’s best superstar tandems. Alas, too many other stars dropped out of the running along the way.

Perhaps they were on the fence about joining before news broke of all the drop-outs. Perhaps if Lillard wouldn’t be the best player on the team, it would be more worth his time. Perhaps if players Kemba Walker and Donovan Mitchell weren’t the new de-facto leaders of Team USA, there would be more to be learned for a player reaching his athletic peak like CJ.

Next. Grading the Pau Gasol signing. dark

Perhaps — perhaps we will be sitting here this time next year, considering what could have been if the Portland Trail Blazers fall short yet again in their pursuit of a championship.