For as much international preeminence as the Timberwolves roster currently features, only three of its members are slated to take part in basketball’s biggest international showcase save for the Olympics.
And even that total could be changing.
National teams have opened training camp for this year’s FIBA World Cup, formerly known as the world hoops governing body’s world championship. Spanish-speaking point guards Ricky Rubio and J.J. Barea, respectively, are listed on Spain and Puerto Rico’s rosters, and Gorgui Dieng is in line to represent Senegal.
But it’s who’s not joining his countrymen that has drawn the most attention.
With a possible trade looming, All-Star power forward Kevin Love reneged on his commitment to USA Basketball for the World Cup. The Americans reported for camp in Las Vegas on Sunday, but Love and the Wolves deemed his involvement too risky; an injury could derail Minnesota’s trade talks with the Cavaliers, who are reportedly offering No. 1 overall picks Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett, and other potential trade partners.
Because their countries didn’t qualify, Montenegrin center Nikola Pekovic and Russian point guard Alexey Shved won’t be participating, either. The same goes for big man Ronny Turiaf, a native of the French island Martinique who’s played for France in the past.
A Tony Parker-led French team won last year’s EuroBasket tournament and earned automatic entry into the World Cup, but Turiaf isn’t on the roster. The 31-year-old center hasn’t played in a major international tournament since the 2012 London Olympic Games. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute’s Cameroon squad didn’t make the field, either.
So that leaves Rubio and Barea to carry the Wolves banner to Madrid starting Aug. 30.
Entering his eighth NBA season, Barea provides a veteran presence for Puerto Rico. Last summer, he led it to a second-place finish in the FIBA Americas Championship, which secured the Puerto Ricans a World Cup berth.
But by the time teams convene in Spain next month, Barea might be on another NBA roster. President of basketball operations Flip Saunders is trying to attach him to a Love trade and dump his expiring contract, per reports — part of the reason a deal hasn’t been completed yet.
With the World Cup still a month away, Barea could pull out, too. Although he’s nowhere near the value of Love, his stock would decrease if he gets injured.
There’s no such hesitation when it comes to Dieng, who’s spent most of his offseason living and training in Minneapolis. If he joins Senegal in Spain, it’d be the 2013-14 all-rookie second-team selection’s first major international competition.
Rubio, on the other hand, is a much more seasoned member of the international circuit.
He joined Spain’s Under-16 national team at the age of 15 and rarely has missed an international event since. In 2008, he became the youngest player (17) to take part in an Olympic gold-medal game as Spain fell to the U.S.
Reuniting with longtime teammates Jose Calderon, Rudy Fernandez, Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka ought to distract from an offseason full of contract extension negotiations, though Rubio says he’s not concerned about that.
It cut Rubio to the core when he couldn’t play in the 2012 Olympics due to a torn ACL. He returned fully healthy and helped Spain to a third-place EuroBasket finish; it would’ve qualified for the World Cup with one of the six berths awarded there but was already in automatically as the host country.
World Cup bids are handed out at each continental FIBA championship — Africa, Asia, Americas, Oceania and EuroBasket — along with four FIBA-selected wild cards and guaranteed appearances for the defending Olympic champion and host nation. The 24 teams are divided into four groups of six, with the top four teams from each group advancing to a single-elimination, bracketed tournament.
With Pekovic stepping aside while his camp and Saunders negotiated his eventual five-year, $60 million extension, Montenegro went 2-3 and didn’t advance past the first group stage of last season’s EuroBasket proceedings. Shved ranked 10th in scoring during that portion of the tournament, but defending Olympic bronze medalist Russia won just one game and also was bounced. That kept either country from reaching the World Cup.
Mbah a Moute’s Cameroon team lost to FIBA Africas Championship host Ivory Coast in the knockout-round quarterfinals; only three World Cup berths come from that event, so Cameroon was left out, too.
But there are reasons for the Wolves to be OK with a small Madrid contingent.
Players can avoid the obvious risk of injury. Pekovic and Turiaf missed a combined 79 games last season and have battled injury problems throughout their careers.
Some time off in September also leaves players fresh and rejuvenated when training camp commences in early October.
And, of course, there’s the trade business. Love, Barea and Kevin Martin all have been mentioned as possible pieces on the move, and Shved could be, too. Each asset has more value sitting during the summer than putting his body at risk.
Rosters are still subject to change between now and the tournament’s opening ceremonies. For example, if Love’s situation is resolved in time, he could join Team USA as an injury replacement.
But for now, the Minnesota voice in basketball’s World Cup is sounding like a quiet one.