Team USA: Kevin Durant Withdrawal Fallout
If things couldn’t get any worse for Team USA, the other shoe drops with Kevin Durant withdrawing from Team USA citing ‘mental and physical fatigue.’
That’s pretty vague reasoning from Durant, and depending on who you are, you may believe him. You may not. Could the real reason be Paul George’s recent injury? Absolutely. His upcoming shoe endorsement? Sure. The fact likely 2016 Olympic members LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, Russell Westbrook, etc all aren’t playing? No doubt about it. At the end of the day, Durant has to do what is best for him. His reasoning doesn’t really matter.
As has been well documented, Durant has a very important 2-year window here while under his current contract with the Thunder. He’s come painfully close the last three years to winning a title, and the whispers of whether or not the Durant/Westbrook combo can win a title are growing louder. In the ever strong Western Conference alone, the Spurs still reign supreme, the Clippers and Mavericks have revamped, while Golden State, Houston, and Portland all lurk. Now there are two budding powers in the East with the new-look LeBron-led Cavs and the Chicago Bulls behind the Derrick Rose revival. If Durant believes he needs time to prepare for the season, then there aren’t going to be too many Thunder fans that will be disappointed with him avoiding possible injury and doing everything possible to be ready for the season.
The people who will be disappointed are those who care about Team USA, those who care about the ramifications of winning vs not winning the FIBA World Cup, and basketball fans in general. Remember – this time 4 years ago in Turkey was when Durant, while not having LeBron, Kobe Bryant, Anthony on the team, led Team USA to gold and really elevated his super-star status.
As for where this leaves Team USA, there are two major issues they now face with a team sans George & Durant.
1) Lack of size was already an issue for Team USA. Now it could become a debilitating one vs big teams like Spain and France. Your pool of 4/5 men include Anthony Davis, Chandler Parsons, Kenneth Faried, DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond, & Mason Plumlee. With the exception of Davis, do you trust any of those players in a matchup against Spain’s Marc & Paul Gasol + Serge Ibaka?
2) Durant was the unquestioned star for this team. Who now becomes the go-to-guy in crunch time? The obvious answer talent-wise is Derrick Rose. He’s been there before, and has looked great, but will shouldering that kind of load be good for him this early in his comeback? James Harden is the other logical option. The best shooting guard in the league (non-aging-superstar division Kobe/Wade) is outstanding on offense and can be relied upon to get a bucket at any time. Defensively he’s a piece of work, but Harden could easily end up being the leading scorer for Team USA.
In terms of roster layout, here’s our best guess. We’ve broken it up into Starters, Rotation, Bench, and Outside Looking In.
o Durant’s departure opens the way for Parsons to enter the starting lineup as a stretch 4 and will help facilitate the offense with his above average passing abilities.
o This also means Team USA will play even more up-tempo than originally anticipated with likely two PGs in most of the game.
o Mason Plumlee and DeMarcus Cousins now both stand a chance of making the team, as Team USA may just need big bodies to handle foul trouble and may very well turn into a ‘ride-the-hot-hand’ scenario
o On the flip side, that does bump Faried out of the 12 man squad and is replaced by a wing player in Hayward. With Parsons playing a lot of Power Forward, this would still only leave Harden, Thompson, and Hayward as true wing players on the squad.
o Hayward could easily be replaced by DeRozan or Korver. We chose Hayward for his dual-commitment on offense and defense.