Double Dribbles: Long live Team USA
There was a time, and not long ago, that NBA teams weren't real thrilled about their players participating in international competition.
Not that the NBA doesn't support its country, or more specifically, USA basketball. It's just that general managers and coaches worried about potential injuries and basic wear and tear on their athletes. It makes sense, as players who go all out in international games are exposing themselves to all of the above and more.
But when you look at the members of the most recent Team USA, and how those members have fared this NBA season … well, it might be time to start begging your players to serve their country via basketball.
Seriously. Think about the names.
Derrick Rose. Russell Westbrook. Kevin Love and Eric Gordon. And who could forget about Kevin Durant?
All were members of the USA basketball team that scooted to World Championships gold in September, all are having banner years in the NBA.
Rose led Chicago to the Central Division championship and is widely considered the frontrunner for league MVP.
Westbrook isn't far behind when it comes to young, elite point guards -- averaging an underrated 21.8 points and 8.2 assists per game for up-and-coming Oklahoma City.
Love and Minnesota aren't faring nearly as well overall -- but as an individual, Love set an NBA record with 52 consecutive double-doubles in points and rebounds.
Meanwhile, Gordon has missed some time with assorted injuries, but for the most part, just kept right on cruising after an impressive international performance in the fall. He is averaging 22.5 points a night with the L.A. Clippers, up from a career average of 18.1.
As for Durant, well, you already know all about him. Basically, if it wasn't for Rose, everyone might be chanting about KD for MVP.
Of course, this trend isn't limited to just younger players.
Veterans Lamar Odom (L.A. Lakers) and Chauncey Billups (New York) were both key members of Team USA, and both will be playing important roles in this year's NBA playoffs. Odom is even being mentioned as the possible Sixth Man of the Year.
Granted, Memphis forward Rudy Gay, another member of Team USA, suffered a season ending knee injury a few weeks back. And true, USA basketball member Andre Iguodala (Philadelphia), has had a few on-again-off-again aches and pains of his own.
But none of that is anything different than what most players experience most seasons. And there's no denying both Gay and Iguodala have played major roles (injuries or not) in their young teams' surprising runs to the playoffs.
So when you consider everything, the bottom line is there really is no dilemma when it comes to NBA players and USA basketball. At least, there shouldn't be for NBA teams.
It might, however, create a dilemma for Team USA itself.
After all, the 2012 Olympics aren't far off. And with the way Rose, Durant, Westbrook and others have been playing, USA basketball director Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski will have some tough choices to make.
Will they go with former Olympians such as LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony -- or stars from the most recent regime? Or will the next Team USA consist of members of both teams.
We won't know the answer until the next tryouts are complete. But with the regular season winding down and playoffs taking shape, it's safe to say that USA basketball only helps, and not hinders, the NBA's biggest stars.
* Dwight Howard in … Charlotte? According to the Charlotte Observer, Orlando's star center stood next to Charlotte big man Kwame Brown during a game the other night, then looked over at the Bobcats bench. "Hey, wouldn't I look great here next to Kwame?" Howard said. "Twin Towers -- Kwame and me." But don't get too excited, Bobcats fans. Howard loves to goof around, and that's all he was doing here.
* One season after a making an unexpected sprint to the Western Conference finals, Phoenix will miss the playoffs altogether. But Suns point guard Steve Nash said he wants to be around when things are good again, and that he has no desire to play elsewhere. "I have no choice. We are in transition," he told the Arizona Republic. "I'm a part of it. I want to do the best I can to help. I don't want to leave. I want to do the best I can to get us back to contention."
* Speaking of contention, Dallas sure doesn't exactly seem ready for the postseason. Since Jan. 19, the Mavericks are just 1-9 against the other seven Western Conference teams that would qualify if the playoffs started today. The Mavs are also 8-9 since March 4.
* Tom Thibodeau is in his first season with Chicago and a serious candidate for coach of the year. Not surprisingly, Thibodeau lives and breathes the game. He has no wife and no kids, and if rumors are true, no pets either. Boston coach Doc Rivers labeled his former assistant a "basketball nerd." But Thibodeau said his life isn't necessarily all basketball, all the time. "My rare stamp collection is pretty nice," he said.
* Miami coach Erik Spoelstra got a kick out of LeBron James' recent minority ownership purchase of celebrated English soccer club Liverpool. "I would love to see LeBron even try to kick a soccer ball," Spoelstra said, smiling.
Follow Sam Amico on Twitter @SamAmicoFSO