Kevin Durant's withdrawal from Team USA cost the club its reigning MVP and clear leader, and it may have also done serious damage to America's status as the team to beat at the FIBA World Cup.
Durant released a statement explaining his decision, per The Oklahoman's Darnell Mayberry:
Kevin Durant statement - pic.twitter.com/5gslzSYEHt— Darnell Mayberry (@DarnellMayberry) August 7, 2014
It's hard to fault Durant here, as nobody in the NBA has a stronger fatigue card to play. This guy has been killing himself on the court over the past four years to an unparalleled degree:
Good time to pull this out of the archives: KD's minutes have been insane last 4 seasons. pic.twitter.com/MkeKZhgdjv— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) August 7, 2014
So far, there hasn't been much public outcry or disappointment expressed. After Paul George's gruesome departure, would-be critics are keenly aware that the risks of playing for Team USA don't just include fatigue.
Catastrophic injury is also in play.
Losing Durant hurts all the more because George's absence had already taken away the team's second-best big wing. Not only that, but Blake Griffin and Kevin Love withdrew earlier in the summer, leaving the 4 and 5 spots (one of which Durant would have occupied) even thinner.
Plus, a whole separate tier of major talents—LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul—took a pass on Team USA entirely, as veterans of their ilk are wont to do.
The US squad certainly isn't hurting for talent, though. James Harden (who many forget has NBA Finals experience) is still on the roster. Derrick Rose, the only other former MVP, looks terrific and could use this opportunity to prove he's ready to lead on a big stage again.
Still some offensive weapons w/ Rose, Curry, Harden & Davis, but there's no replacing KD.— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) August 7, 2014
Durant, though, was the only guy who could play as a legitimate stretch 4 in the international game. He was big enough to bother power forwards on defense and created a matchup nightmare on the other end. Missing Paul Millsap, who was cut earlier this summer, stings a little extra now.
On USA team cuts: Paul Millsap's the best shooter of any big on that team not named Kevin Durant. I don't get cutting him.— David Vertsberger (@_Verts) August 5, 2014
If the US is smart, it'll be placing a call to the Atlanta Hawks forward, posthaste.
Kenneth Faried, Andre Drummond and DeMarcus Cousins will get bigger roles now, as the team may be forced to opt for size and strength instead of Durant's frontcourt shooting. Love would have been nice for that reason as well.
Thanks to Spain, easily Team USA's most accomplished opponent, size will matter more than ever.
Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka were going to be tough to handle even with Griffin, Love and Durant on the roster. And now that KD can't create a mismatch on offense while handling Ibaka or Pau on defense, Team USA will have no choice but to square off against the Spaniards, big on big.
In terms of overall skill—and certainly experience—Spain has the US frontcourt smoked.
Marc Gasol is better than any big man on the US roster, and Ibaka could be awfully scary with the shorter international three-point line turning his excellent long-two accuracy into even deadlier triples. Is Team USA really ready to trust Cousins or Drummond against the Gasols? Can Faried, a substandard defender, do enough to make Ibaka's life difficult?
We're about to find out.
As much as anything, Davis' already sky-high value just jumped into the stratosphere.
Spain's odds got an instant bump after the Durant news broke, per ESPN News Services: "USA's odds to win went from 2-7 to 2-5 while Spain went from 5-2 to 2-1. All other odds remained the same."
France, Brazil, Argentina and Greece all boast rosters littered with NBA players, and they collectively fill out the tier below the US and Spain on the international hierarchy. It's hard to see any of those clubs ever being favored against Team USA, though Brazil looks dangerous up front with Nene, Tiago Splitter and Anderson Varejao.
Argentina is loaded with vets and is always a tough out. France has skill and international experience with Boris Diaw and Nicolas Batum.
Threats, perhaps. But not grave ones.
In terms of overall talent, Team USA is still tops. The danger posed by Spain all along, though, has only increased.
Matchups are going to be more conventional now, and that's good for Spain because it never had anyone who could guard KD (who does?).
Ultimately, we should still consider Team USA the favorites. The odds say so, and the objective collection of talent remains impressive. But it wouldn't have been an outright shock to see Spain upset the US before Durant backed out. Now that he's joined a few other key withdrawals on the sidelines, the chances of an upset have only increased.
Rose and Davis must step up now, along with the rest of the relatively untested roster.
Crisis begets opportunity, and if the remaining players can save the US from a disappointing defeat, perhaps they'll build their own legends through international play. Who knows, maybe if they handily cover for KD's absence, they'll accrue enough cache to withdraw from the next international competition.
That's how it works, isn't it?