Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NBA [Print without images]

Friday, August 1, 2014
Why this Team USA injury is different

By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com

Paul George's gruesome leg injury leads you off in so many obvious directions -- his ability to recover, the future of the Indiana Pacers and the future of USA Basketball, to name just three -- that I bet you never thought you'd end up back at Donald Sterling and V. Stiviano. Once you think it out, that will be the most logical comparison if George's injury winds up altering NBA player participation in international basketball.

After all of Sterling's misdeeds in the past, what prompted the league-wide outcry over Sterling and the NBA's swift and unprecedented punishment this year? It was the recordings made by V. Stiviano, the tangible evidence that struck much more viscerally than transcripts of depositions.

Players have been hurt in international team games and practices before. They've put off surgeries in order to play in the Olympics. But the video of George's injury in Friday night's Team USA scrimmage (I still haven't brought myself to watch it; a still photo was jarring enough) was the visual equivalent of the Sterling recording, something that sears the brain with such force it makes you think something could change.

The minds that matter are those of the players and the league office. Plenty of owners and front-office executives have already expressed their disapproval of risking their assets in international competition that doesn't directly benefit their teams. But they've been largely powerless in this discussion, able to intervene only when there's a pre-existing injury (a right the San Antonio Spurs just exercised in barring Manu Ginobili from playing for Argentina because he had a stress fracture in his leg). And plenty of players have decided to sit the summers out because of lingering injuries or fear of injuries. The question is whether this has become a tipping point, whether enough big-name players can't shake the image of George's lower leg sticking out at an acute angle that the Team USA rosters will no longer mirror the All-Star game starting lineups.

I believe the benefits outweigh potential for injury. Then again, I'm not the one with a career at stake. One agent I conversed with Saturday morning said he would advise his players not to participate unless they've already secured their primary NBA goals (championships and money) and have less to lose.

It's still more likely that playing in the Olympics and world championships can serve as a springboard to success rather than a path to the operating table. This goes back to the original Dream Team, the precursor to Charles Barkley's Most Valuable Player campaign in his first season with the Phoenix Suns. Kevin Durant has been candid about the growth of his game because of his experience with the 2010 world championship team. And before George went down Friday night, the story of the scrimmage was shaping up to be the strong return of Derrick Rose. Yes, the best Rose-related news the Chicago Bulls have heard in more than two years came while he was wearing a USA jersey.

International competition injuries are somehow seen as worse because they're "extracurricular." But are they any more risky and unnecessary than anything other than an NBA playoff game? Blake Griffin missed what should have been his rookie season because of an injury he suffered in a preseason game, but that didn't prompt calls to reduce or eliminate exhibition games. Kobe Bryant tore his Achilles tendon in the 80th game of the season; you didn't hear any talk of the need to shorten the regular season.

Basketball players are going to play basketball, be it for their NBA teams, in summer workouts or charity games. Might as well let them play in the name of their country.

The NBA and USA Basketball were too stunned by George's injury to think about any policy changes at the moment. USA Basketball officials were too shaken up to even deal with the immediate business of making the scheduled roster cuts. That's how jarring the visuals were. We'll see if they're graphic enough to make a lasting difference on international basketball, the way nine minutes and 26 seconds of audio posted on TMZ altered the course of the Los Angeles Clippers.