Paul George‘s broken leg suffered in the Team USA scrimmage on Friday has been called a “game-changer” by an anonymous GM who wants to prohibit players from contributing to their national teams. Two days later, NBA commissioner Adam Silver did his best to squash the push by teams to restrict where and when their athletes play in the offseason.
“Without a doubt, basketball has grown tremendously since 1992 when NBA players began playing in the Olympics,” Silver said. “Also, it’s important to note the [improvement] many of our players have made in terms of ability, leadership and passion for the game by playing for their home countries.
“Injuries can happen any place at any time. The experiences our players have enjoyed by participating in their national teams, however, are ones that are unique and special in almost every other way. At this point, I don’t anticipate a major shift in the NBA’s participation in international competitions.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has long been the harshest critic of the current rules, which only allow teams to bar players from international competition if they have reasonable and preexisting injury issues. Cuban has said the Olympic committee and FIBA, which is hosting this summer’s World Cup, are taking advantage of the NBA teams. He believes the teams are getting nothing in return.
Silver is realistic to such complaints. He knows teams will surely bring up the issue during league meetings. George’s gruesome injury may have been a freak event that will also make the league make significant rule changes regarding player safety, but it’s a reminder that the summers also give a lot of players wear and tear.
The current rule specifically is interesting to the Phoenix Suns as guard Goran Dragic readies to play for Slovenia for the second summer in a row.
It would appear that the Suns could withhold Dragic from international play considering his multiple ankle sprains spanning the 2013-14 season. In fact, Dragic didn’t seem optimistic he would play for Slovenia at the very end of the season. In the end, he changed his mind after a few checkups seemed to green-light him to play summer ball.
Suns general manager Ryan McDonough said that Phoenix put in place restrictions on how much Dragic participates with his national squad. Not only would that create less opportunity for a major injury like George’s, but it’ll reduce the wear and tear that comes with the training.
“If he wants to play, we’re happy he wants to play, put it that way,” McDonough said in May. “He had the best year of his career last year after having come right off the European Championships. If that’s what he feels like he needs to do to get ready to play, then we support him.
“It’s a great honor to play for your country,” McDonough added. “We want to be strategic and selective about how many exhibition games he plays in and his practice schedule to make sure his body is preserved for the year, but at the end of the day it’s his call and we support him 100 percent.”
Studies will be done. Arguments will be made. Kevin Pelton’s research from 2006 looked at wear-and-tear, and it showed that playing for a national squad didn’t necessarily coincide with more injury issues in the following season. Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins’ profile on Brandon Jennings’ streetball addiction during the 2011 lockout gave a look at how hard it’ll be to keep players off even less-regulated courts. NBA teams can’t — or shouldn’t — be able to put straitjackets on their players.
Dragic indeed appeared to grow last summer with Slovenia, and he’s evidence that NBA teams aren’t completely without impact when their players return from national team duties.