The star power is fading from Team USA this summer.
First it was Russell Westbrook. Then Blake Griffin. Then Kevin Love.
Griffin, the former OU dunk machine, decided to withdraw from Team USA duties last week, citing that he wanted to get ready for the upcoming season. Reports surfaced Monday night that Griffin has a back fracture he suffered in the playoffs that also needs to heal up (although this video of Griffin doing backflips on vacation raises questions about the severity of the injury).
Following Griffin, there was Love bowing out. Love has been in the middle of trade rumors all summer, with the Cleveland Cavaliers his likely next destination..
The Cavaliers signed No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins on July 24, meaning they can’t trade him for a month. Wiggins is critical to the Cavaliers pulling off a deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves for Love.
“He wants to play but it’s a little bit of a sign of the times when you look at the league in terms of contracts, rumored trades,” USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said last week. “All of those circumstances put players in a funny position.”
Then there’s Westbrook, who’s coming off a year stretch in which he had three knee surgeries and missed significant time with the Thunder. He made it back for the team’s run to the Western Conference Finals, but decided to rest this summer.
Since the Team USA roster was released, four players have dropped out (LaMarcus Aldridge is the other). That doesn’t include stars who opted not to play this time around like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard and others.
Where does that leave Durant – the guy who played the most regular season minutes in the league last year?
In his exit interview in June, Durant said he’d take some time away from the game, but didn’t specify how much.
From Darnell Mayberry’s story on KD’s exit interview:
He led the league in total minutes in the regular season with 3,122 and followed that up with a postseason-high 815. His 3,937 total minutes were one more than he could have played in a full regular season with no overtimes.
If at any point Durant was tired, he had every right to be.
Thunder general manager Sam Presti said coach Scott Brooks and his staff monitored Durant’s activity in other ways, limiting him in practice sessions and shootarounds to maximize his availability in games. But even that practice, like everything else, Presti said, is worth examining.
“I think that as we go forward there’s no question that’s something we want to look at and understand,” Presti said. “Not only for the long term, but to also make sure we are getting the most out of the minutes that are played during one particular game or another. … I can’t tell you what comes of it.”
Something’s got to give.
With players dropping left and right from the USA camp, particularly in the frontcourt, it looks like Durant is going to be relied on even more by Team USA leading up to the FIBA World Cup (Aug. 30-Sept 14). Coach Mike Krzyzewski said so on Monday.
“Kevin loves being here and he wants to play for his country,” Krzyzewski said. “Guys see that and they look to him for leadership because he’s been with us the last two international competitions and has competed at a high level and won.
“But Kevin also has a maturity about him — both a physical and an emotional maturity — that lends itself to being a leader. And he is our leader.”
And at the sacrifice of rest, Durant isn’t going anywhere.
“I do want to take care of my body, but I also want to experience all this stuff,” Durant told reporters Monday in Las Vegas. “Ten, 12 years, it flies by. I want to have as many memories as possible.”