The USA Basketball men’s national team beat Serbia on Sunday, 96-66 in the Gold Medal Match earlier Sunday. The Americans won their third consecutive Gold Medal, and have won a medal in every Olympics since 1984 in Los Angeles.
Unlike the 2008 and 2012 USA Olympic teams which were about as loaded as we would have wished, the 2016 team was about was without many of the the NBA’s top American stars like two-time defending MVP Stephen Curry, LeBron James, and Russell Westbrook. To replace them, USA Basketball replaced them with folks like Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and Harrison Barnes.
But don’t tell me that all three are better options than John Wall and Bradley Beal, at least individually.
It is understandable why Wall couldn’t be on the national team. He had procedures done on both of his knees and is still undergoing a lengthy rehab process.
For Beal however, it’s a somewhat different story. USA Basketball invited him to be on this very team last spring. However, he declined, citing his near-chronic stress reactions on his leg and his new five-year max contract. This is understandable, and there are some people who believe that was the right decision.
However, I disagree and believe this is a missed opportunity for him to accelerate his development. This is why:
- Beal would played on a roster full of players who are at least as good as he is - Because of the USA’s systematic talent advantage, players won’t be on the floor for extended periods of time. All but one player on the roster averaged at least 10 minutes a game. Only Kevin Durant averaged close 30 minutes per game, in part because of a need to outscore other teams in close game situations. If he accepted Team USA’s invite, Beal would have likely been a reserve, which is fine with me. I also would assume that Beal still would have time to focus on tweaking his posture or balance with the leg issue, even if it was simply due to him growing.
- USA Basketball would have been a prime networking opportunity for him and the Wizards - Today’s NBA players are buddies with each other and will play with each other if the opportunity came about. I don’t care much about Durant playing here and never seriously thought it would have happened. The same goes for DeMarcus Cousins. But Durant and Cousins — both of whom many Wizards fans dream about as free agent or trade targets — are on this team. If Beal really wanted to get a feel for them as teammates, this was that time.
- Beal misses out on the potential “Team USA effect” - A number of players, most notably the Golden State Warriors backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, saw their careers take off in the NBA season right after their first appearances in the FIBA World Cup in 2010 and 2014 respectively. Of course, association with USA Basketball isn’t necessarily causation. But the experience of being on a USA Basketball national team goes beyond winning games in FIBA play. Now, we’ll never really know if Beal gets that or not this season.
- The max contract should not have been a reason for Beal to forego his opportunity with USA Basketball - Yes, the Wizards had to pay him that type of money in order to keep him. If they did not, then another team was. I also don’t think that this contract would have been contingent on Beal not playing internationally. Also, other players like Harrison Barnes and Kevin Durant signed big money deals this summer, yet they played.
- USA Basketball will keep this in mind for the 2019 World Cup and 2020 Olympics in Tokyo - Beal stated that he “hopes to receive another opportunity” to play for USA Basketball. I hate to say it, but I don’t think Beal will ever get an inside track to play for the Americans again. It’s because he turned them down despite the lack of an overt injury or rehab, unlike Wall. USA Basketball is also more likely to expect a “first timer” like Beal to play if called upon. There will be younger guards in the near future who show promise between now and the 2019 World Cup who deserve a chance to at least audition for Team USA. If it came down to Beal or another first-timer who was never asked to play yet, don’t be surprised if USA Basketball asks that other player.
In closing, I am happy to see that Beal will be on the Wizards for years to come. And I still think that he can ultimately be an All-Star in this league.
However, I’m also disappointed that he turned down the chance to be on the USA Basketball men’s national team and be part of a Gold Medal winning squad. I’m not sure if USA Basketball will shut the door on Beal for his decision, but it will never be as wide open for him as it was earlier this spring.