How Worried Should Team USA Be After Kevin Durant Withdraws from FIBA World Cup?

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How Worried Should Team USA Be After Kevin Durant Withdraws from FIBA World Cup?
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The 2014 FIBA World Cup will have to go on without last season's NBA MVP.

According to ESPN.com, "Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder withdrew Thursday from consideration for Team USA before the FIBA World Cup, citing 'physical and mental fatigue.'"

The report adds, "Team USA managing director Jerry Colangelo said Durant reached out to him and coach Mike Krzyzewski on Thursday afternoon and 'expressed that he is just physically and mentally drained from the NBA season and his attention to his many responsibilities.'"

Fair enough. 

Last season, Durant carried Oklahoma City to its third conference finals appearance in four years. He took his game to another level, keeping his team in the title conversation even as All-Star sidekick Russell Westbrook played in only 46 regular-season games.

The 25-year-old probably deserves a break, especially with what promises to be another long season ahead of him.

Per ESPN.com's report, Durant said in a statement:

This was an extremely difficult decision as I take great pride in representing our country. I know that I owe it to my USA Basketball teammates to be totally invested in the experience. After going through training camp with USAB, I realized I could not fulfill my responsibilities to the team from both a time and energy standpoint.

It will, of course, be hard to view Durant's decision as a "favor" to Team USA, but his point will be well-taken. This is no venture for halfhearted participation.

Inevitably, some will suspect Durant left the team in reaction to the tragic broken leg teammate Paul George suffered during a scrimmage in Las Vegas. Subconsciously or otherwise, George's misfortune served as a reminder that seasons can be ruined in one unlucky play.

The official record suggests otherwise.

There's no reason to doubt Durant's story on face.

The Washington Post's Des Bieler reminds us, "Playing for Team USA, especially as its go-to scorer, can be a draining experience, and this year a bit daunting as well, considering that the tournament will be played in Spain, home to arguably the world’s second-best national team."

But doubts will persist in cynical corners.

Either way, Team USA's biggest worry going forward is what kind of precedent this sets.

At the very least, the withdrawal is yet another reminder that international competition isn't an especially high priority for the league's most well-established stars. As Deadspin's Barry Petchesky notes, the club, "was already without LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook and Blake Griffin."

Though remaining pieces like James Harden, Stephen Curry and Derrick Rose continue to lend their star power, Durant was far and away the most accomplished of the bunch.

His absence sends an unmistakable message that there are things more important than representing one's country at the FIBA World Cup.

Things as simple as rest.

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

And while there's truth to that message, its implications are unsettling. Most players have something else they could be doing right about now. If Durant and Co. can tend to their summer to-do lists, why can't everyone else?

It bears mentioning that no two cases are entirely equivalent. While Durant's decision won't affect his future chances at Olympic or international play, others on this roster are still trying to establish themselves or otherwise cement their legacies.

They may not have the luxury of picking and choosing the opportunities that present themselves.

In any event, the more immediate worries have little to do with symbolism and everything to do with basketball.

Durant brought a virtually unparalleled scoring ability to the roster, along with physical tools that made him a versatile presence along the front line.

As NBCSports.com's Kurt Helin points out, "Kevin Durant was the real lynchpin of Team USA this summer—he was going to play the 4 while Team USA went very small with three guards on the perimeter. He was going to be the perfect international stretch 4 and likely the team’s leading scorer."

USA Today's Jeff Zillgitt and Adi Joseph similarly note, "His departure could have a major effect on a severely depleted frontcourt. Small forward Paul George was injured in an exhibition last week, while power forwards LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Love pulled out previously."

Head coach Mike Krzyzewski will likely find a way to make things work. He still has plenty of talent at his disposal along with more than enough coaching prowess to devise some plan Bs.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

CBSSports.com's James Herbert sees the glass half full:

There is no one on the current roster who can make up for Durant's absence on his own, but this does provide opportunities for several of them. Anthony Davis can start to establish himself as a true superstar, and guys like Derrick Rose and Stephen Curry will surely use up more possessions on offense. 

Davis turned heads in his second season with the New Orleans Pelicans after being selected with the first overall pick in 2012's draft. He averaged 20.8 points, 10 rebounds and a dominant 2.8 blocks per contest. The 21-year-old will have a significant athletic advantage over much of the competition, and his evolving combination of inside and outside scoring should keep defenders off balance.

Curry has turned the Golden State Warriors into dark-horse contenders and put together a career-best season in 2013-14, averaging 24 points and 8.5 assists en route to a closely contested first round against the Los Angeles Clippers.

After tallying 25.4 points, 6.1 assists and 4.7 rebounds for the Houston Rockets, James Harden belongs in the conversation as well. He's accustomed to serving as a high-volume scorer and could certainly pick up much of the slack.

Team USA's Durant-sized void also may pave the way for some long-awaited heroics from Rose. 

ESPNChicago.com's Nick Friedell suggested that Rose "opened eyes throughout the past week with his play," adding, "Team USA players and coaches continually said Rose was playing like he did before the ACL injury in April 2012."

"I think he's exceptional in every way," Krzyzewski added, per FIBA.com.

If Rose has returned to his 2010-11 MVP form, Durant may be quickly forgotten.

But for all the reasons to believe Team USA is still in strong standing, question marks persist. The squad is beginning to look less like a star-studded behemoth and more like a mortal team replete with vulnerabilities. 

And if this summer has established any norms, the future of USA basketball may be characterized by similar superstar deficits. 

That may be just as well in the eyes of some. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has repeatedly critiqued the status quo arrangement in which international organizations reap profits while NBA teams incur risk.

George's injury provoked a renewal of that criticism.

According to ESPN.com's Marc Stein, "Cuban then reiterated his longstanding criticism of the NBA's agreement with FIBA, which stipulates that only players themselves can refuse their country's invite to play for the national team except in the event of a 'reasonable medical concern.'"

The allure of patriotism will ensure Team USA continues to attract plenty of talent, but we may be witnessing a gradual decline of a golden age in which the NBA's very best flocked to international opportunities.

There are risks. There are distractions. And there's an 82-game season (plus playoff competition) that rightly remains atop most stars' priorities. 

This isn't a crisis for the nation's international exploits. But it could be part of an evolution.

At the very least, it's a reminder that we should appreciate our biggest names while we can still watch them on the global stage. It wasn't always that way, and it may not always be that way.

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