The squad that will represent the United States at the upcoming FIBA World Championships in Spain suffered a major blow today when Kevin Durant announced that he was bowing out. In a statement released to the press, Durant had this to say:
“This was an extremely difficult decision as I take great pride in representing our country. I know that I owe it to my USA Basketball teammates to be totally invested in the experience. After going through training camp with USAB, I realized I could not fulfill my responsibilities to the team from both a time and energy standpoint. I need to take a step back and take some time away, both mentally and physically in order to prepare for the upcoming NBA season. I will be rooting for USAB and look forward to future opportunities with them.”
Durant becomes the latest NBA superstar to decline to play for Team USA, joining LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Dwight Howard, Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook, among others. One can’t help but wonder if the recent fractured leg suffered by Paul George during an intrasquad scrimmage affected Durant’s point of view, but he denies that this was the case.
Kevin Durant pulls out of USA camp for physical and emotions reasons and not due to Paul George, @usabasketball announced.
— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) August 7, 2014
It does seem plausible that Durant decided that it was simply more important to give himself the best shot possible to win an NBA championship this season. Playing for Team USA, especially as its go-to scorer, can be a draining experience, and this year a bit daunting as well, considering that the tournament will be played in Spain, home to arguably the world’s second-best national team.
In 2010, when the tournament was played in Turkey, Durant more or less put Team USA on his back and led it to the title. This was when he was a less-proven player, and Durant’s clutch performance was seen as an important step in his maturation.
Now, the Thunder star is gunning for another title that has eluded him, and he has undoubtedly surveyed the NBA landscape and realized that he has a significant, but closing, window of opportunity. He is locked into playing for Oklahama City for the next two seasons, before possibly going to a new team as a free agent, and he will have an excellent supporting cast in Westbrook and Serge Ibaka for that period. At the same time, LeBron James has changed teams, and even with the expectation that Love will join him in Cleveland, there’s no guarantee that the pair will mesh right away, or that the inexperienced Cavaliers already there will be up to the ultimate challenge.
In addition, as fantastic as the Spurs looked this spring en route the NBA championship, the reality is that they are an old team whose performance can be expected to slip a bit next season, and Durant and Co. already proved they could beat San Antonio in 2012.
So Durant has valid reasons for wanting to save his strength — and health — for a NBA title run. However, his decision, combined with George’s injury, has the Team USA roster looking mush less potent than it did a week ago, especially in the frontcourt. Anthony Davis is the last truly elite forward/center left, so much of the scoring burden will shift to guards such as Stephen Curry and James Harden, who have yet to show that they can thrive in a pressure-packed tournament at the highest level.