Pros and Cons of Team USA Basketball Using Under-23 Roster
David Stern has made headlines with his notion that Team USA should have an under-23 roster for future Olympic basketball tournaments.
Like most arguments, there are both good and bad consequences that come with either side of the debate.
From a fan’s perspective, it’s easy to think about the game of basketball and forget that there is an entire business side that is actively working behind the scenes.
From an owner’s standpoint, it’s easy to forget that at its most fundamental level, the game of basketball is just that—a game.
The basketball tournament isn’t likely to leave the Olympics any time soon, but it could look drastically different by the time the next Games roll around in 2016.
Pro: Prevent Injuries, Increase Longevity for League’s Top Stars
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After a grueling 82-game season—plus a postseason run for most Olympic participants—the thought of international competition is too much for some NBA owners to bear.
Summer is a time for players to rest and rehabilitate, and the practices, exhibitions and official competitions simply add extra miles to the league’s veterans.
From a financial standpoint, it’s tough for NBA owners to fathom a situation where their star players—overseas—get injured and then come home to continue collecting paychecks.
The NBA is a star-driven league, and when the nation’s best players put their bodies on the line outside of their own league, one big injury could have a big-time impact on the entire association.
Con: Lost Opportunity for a Number of Players
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If David Stern implements the under-23 rule, he will be denying players—who would qualify in every criterion other than age—the opportunity to play.
For those who have been productive throughout their whole careers or are late bloomers who hadn't established their roles early on, their chances are gone before they ever hit their primes.
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports has said that the players have the leverage in this situation, and they could ultimately refuse to play in any alternative tournaments if they’re not allowed to play in the Olympics.
Should this be the case, it could be an ugly back-and-forth between the league and its stars. It could also be what ultimately decides this debate.
Pro: Increase Development of Young NBA Players
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The rule that states a player must be one year removed from high school before entering the NBA was designed to allow prospects more time to develop their games before transitioning to the professional level.
That being said, numerous one-and-done players have proven that even the most talented of prospects need time to grow and to work on their games.
Anthony Davis is a perfect example.
A clear-cut No. 1 pick, Davis still has areas of his game that need improving. His offensive game is raw, and we’ve yet to see his shot-blocking capabilities against professional competition.
This summer, he’s playing against high levels of competition and is around NBA players on a day-to-day basis. As long as he stays healthy, his Olympic experience is going to be nothing but positive.
Many young players are thrown into the league without ever truly testing their games, and with the under-23 rule, they will be given a great opportunity to do that early in their professional careers.
Con: Players Have Yet to Hit Their Prime
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Very few players—if any—have reached their highest level of play by the age of 22.
In the NBA, 22-year-olds (or younger) typically have a lot of growing to do.
Internationally, the story is the same, but on many of the international squads, star players have been playing professionally throughout their youth and are already well established in their own countries.
The NBA is full of young, up-and-coming stars, but very few of them have proven they can compete with the best.
The U.S. would still likely have the edge over the competing nations, but if the league is assuming they can walk over the competition without their best players, they could be vastly disappointed with the results down the road.
Pro: Increased Awareness for World Cup of Basketball
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This is the big one.
As a result of Team USA having an under-23 roster, the FIBA Basketball World Cup—once known simply as the FIBA World Championship—would ideally become the primary focus of basketball on a global scale.
The big question here: Would removing the league’s top stars from the Olympics truly add to the excitement of the World Cup?
Just ask FIFA.
While basketball isn’t nearly the worldwide game that soccer is, this is a page almost directly out of soccer’s playbook. The World Cup is far more recognizable than Olympic soccer, and part of it has to be that we don’t see the players in the Olympics that we see in the World Championship.
Awareness is great, and good competition is fantastic, but what this really comes down to for David Stern and the NBA is money.
According to Tim McGarry of USA Today, NBA owners do not receive any revenue from Olympic basketball, but if the league shifted their focus to the World Cup, owners would begin profiting from their players’ participation.
Con: Lesser-Quality Team out on the Court
Every con on this list has led to one overarching concept: Team USA would simply not be as dominant without the NBA’s best players representing the country.
Imagine this year’s roster without LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant. Who would take their places?
The NBA has the most talented pool of players to choose from, so yes, there would be serviceable replacements for the Olympic games.
That being said, James, Anthony and Bryant are on this year’s team for a reason—they give the U.S. the best chance to win.
Fans don’t want to think of this as a business, because it’s a form of entertainment.
Jerry Colangelo, the chairman of U.S. basketball, may have put it best when he stated (via ktar.com), “The game comes first, money comes second."
If the Olympics are truly about putting the best athletes on display and competing for medals, then this rule makes little sense, as people want to see the best competition that the world has to offer—regardless of age.