Team USA center Tyson Chandler has a message for NBA owners and executives who are rumbling about their players extending themselves in the summer to play for their countries, and about limiting their stars’ involvement in future Olympics: Check the facts.
“It’s ridiculous,” Chandler told Sporting News. “Why would you want to do that? Because like I say, throughout the history, just about every time a player has played for the U.S. team, he comes back and had a better season. That goes around the board.”
While NBA commissioner David Stern has suggested that Olympic teams roll back their use of NBA players to those 23 and under, members of Team USA have a much different view—they see how playing and practicing with the best talent in the world helps push them to be better. U.S. practices are intense, the workouts are hard and the strategy sessions with new coaching staffs help players see the game in different ways.
Little wonder Kobe Bryant labeled the under-23 idea “stupid.”
Chandler can vouch for this personally. When he was chosen to play for the American team in the 2010 World Championship, he was coming off a down year for the Charlotte Bobcats. But, energized by a summer playing for a gold medal, Chandler came back with the best year of his career, helping the Dallas Mavericks to the NBA championship.
Players on the ’10 team, almost to a man, came back better the following season. Derrick Rose was the MVP. Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook became All-Stars. Lamar Odom won the Sixth Man of the Year award. Kevin Durant led the league in scoring.
That’s not to mention the maturity players gain from being in such high-pressure situations.
“I think I take the camaraderie and the relationships back more than anything else,” Andre Iguodala said. “We have a really good bond with one another. Everything is a team setting. There isn’t too much guys spreading out, so we’re trying to build chemistry and that team feeling, and being together does that.”
On the court, if you take a look at advanced stats for players on the ’10 team, only four of the 12 on the roster —Durant, Iguodala, Chauncey Billups and Danny Granger—failed to improve their player-efficiency rating from ’09-10 to ’10-11. If you go back to the ’08 Olympic team, seven of the 12 improved their PER. The five who didn’t were Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and the little-used Tayshaun Prince, Michael Redd and Carlos Boozer.
In ’10, we saw young players blossom into stardom after playing for Team USA. In ’08, it was stars raising their games after winning gold for their country. Four of the five members of the ‘08-09 All-NBA team—Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Dwight Howard—played for Team USA (the fifth was German Dirk Nowitzki, who also played in the Olympics). James was the MVP for the first time in his career, and Howard won his first Defensive Player of the Year award.
It’s not difficult to understand why.
“Thing is, summertime, we normally play pickup games,” Chandler said. “When it gets closer to the season, guys start playing pickups, you work out with guys you know or your teammates. But it’s light. You ease back into it. You’re joking around. When you are practicing like this here, it is similar, but it is 100 percent harder. We are playing for something here, so guys are out there competing. You have no choice but to get better.”
Team USA chairman Jerry Colangelo has been careful to avoid talking about the under-23 notion floated by Stern, but it is clear where he stands on the issue. When Colangelo took over, the Americans were coming off the embarrassment of the ’04 games in Athens, where Team USA won a bronze medal and earned a reputation for bad behavior off the floor. That, Colangelo asserts, was not only bad for USA Basketball, it was bad for the NBA brand, too.
“I can only speak about facts,” Colangelo told Sporting News. “Everything else is just opinions and positions that certain people have taken about what they think. And they haven’t been a part of this. … I know when I was asked to take over the program, the program was on its behind. I know in ’08, just the timing of things, one of the best things the NBA had going for it was us. Beijing was great for the league, it was great for the franchises whose players played for us, and it was great for us. It was a win-win-win. When people talk about change, you’ve got to tread carefully. When you start talking about a sea change, there is down-side risk.”
Of course, the NBA would counter by saying players put themselves at risk for injury in these tournaments. But of the 24 players who participated in the last two international tournaments, only four—Redd, Boozer, Rudy Gay and Eric Gordon—missed more than 20 games the following year. Redd suffered a devastating knee injury months after the Olympics, and Boozer suffered a series of nagging knee and ankle injuries. Those injuries have been a staple of Boozer’s career, though, and the injuries to Gordon (wrist) and Gay (shoulder) were freakish injuries that had nothing to do with Team USA involvement.
In all, the injury risk to players working with Team USA has been very limited. For the most part, in fact, the players come back better the following year, with an added dose of maturity. They also raise their profiles on an international stage, and generate interest in basketball through the NBA’s slow period.
Chandler is right. Messing with that kind of situation would be ridiculous.
I totally agree, this would be ridiculous and I don’t see how it would help us competing against other countries! It would only hurt us in my opinion! xo @RozOonTheGo