At full strength, Team USA is a juggernaut. But with pre-World Cup exhibition games just weeks away, it’s anybody’s guess as to who will actually board the plane to head Down Under.
Superstars like LeBron James (Los Angeles Lakers), Steph Curry (Golden State), Kevin Durant (Brooklyn) and Kawhi Leonard (Los Angeles Clippers) have already absented themselves from the initial squad.
Recent news has revealed that Anthony Davis (Los Angeles Lakers), James Harden (Houston), Bradley Beal (Washington), C.J. McCollum (Portland), Eric Gordon (Houston) and now Tobias Harris (Philadelphia) have also withdrawn from the tour.
Other marquee names such as Damian Lillard (Portland) and Kevin Love (Cleveland) are also rumoured to be considering their options, as the squad continues to shrink by the day.
Update: Damian Lillard has withdrawn, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania.
International basketball availability is always an iffy proposition outside of the Olympics, particularly when the World Cup falls just one month shy of the 2019/20 NBA season but the lack of star power is unquestionably a blow for Australian basketball fans hoping to see some of the world’s best on our shores.
The initial 20-man squad has been slashed to 14, with further names expected to be added to the absentee list, meaning reinforcements are on the way, with the Boston Celtics, Marcus Smart and the Chicago Bulls, Thaddeus Young the first cabs off the rank.
Smart’s Celtics teammate Jaylen Brown is also reported to be in Team USA’s sights, along with D’Angelo Russell (Golden State) and Aaron Gordon (Orlando).
The latest withdrawal from Harris should hardly come as a surprise given his Philadelphia teammate, Australian Ben Simmons pulled out last week with the same desire to focus on training camp in the lead up to the NBA season.
With the 2020 Olympic games now just one year away, it’s hardly surprising that NBA stars have been unwilling to give up their summer break in back-to-back years. Despite the growing number of players removing their name from the squad, Smart went to Twitter to share how much the honour of playing for Team USA means for him.
Milwaukee Bucks All-Star, Khris Middleton is another player expected to play for Team USA, had this to say when speaking with The Pick and Roll last November.
“If the opportunity presents itself where I’m going to be on the World Cup or Olympic team, that’s going to be something I couldn’t turn down. Any time you get a chance to participate in one of your country’s events, it’s definitely an honour,” Middleton said.
When told about the capacity of Melbourne’s Marvel Stadium and the expected crowd numbers for the two warm-up games, Middleton drew a smile.
“I’ve never played in front a 60,000 thousand people. I mean, that’s just enormous, it’s like playing in a football stadium,” Middleton said. “I definitely want to get a chance to play in something like that.”
Fans that have tickets purchased for the the Team USA games next month shouldn’t be too disappointed, as the basketball talent on the floor will still dwarf anything locals have possibly seen live in Australia in recent years. While it’s easy to understand the reasons behind the decisions, it certainly becomes a little more disappointing with each name that gets scrubbed off the list.