The current incarnation of the USA Basketball program was built to sustain the coming and going of superstar players, but its effectiveness in meeting that goal may soon be tested.
According to Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports, LeBron James is likely finished playing international basketball. From Spears' report:
"LeBron is going to be three years older during the next Olympics. He will have two older boys. He has a lot to endure with his family," the source told Y! Sports. "He played in three Olympics. Everyone that knows LeBron knows it's always based on a decision at that moment. But if the moment was today, the answer would be no."
"The only way I could see him playing in the Olympics is if his country really, really needed him to play," the source said. "But hasn't he done enough?"
Spears' report leaves open the possibility that James could compete in the 2016 Olympics (if only by classifying his status for that competition as "doubtful," rather than expressing a certain pass), but at the moment it seems that James is leaning toward calling it an international career. By the time the next Olympics roll around, LeBron, then 31, will likely have even more obligations as a father, mentor and businessman than he does now and will need every bit of rest he can get to relieve the toll that comes with what's likely to be a string of long playoff runs. Even if James isn't playing into June every season, the responsibility he bears on both ends of the floor still comes at a physical cost that is best alleviated in the offseason.
That such a decision might exclude him from international competition would be a shame, if inevitable. James plays most freely when on a team loaded with star players. He's able to contribute as he pleases and as his team -- which stands as a decisive favorite in most every matchup -- needs.
In 2012, he led a star-laden Team USA in assists and ranked third in points, rebounds and steals, but did so with an ease of play different from the standard LeBron fare. While we've grown accustomed to his on-court greatness in an NBA context, everything that James does for Team USA remains unspoiled. The wealth of talent on the roster allows him to play breathtakingly simple basketball that's completely unburdened by the usual narratives -- a relief that does wonders for James and only enriches the pleasure of watching him. As great as James is under pressure, he's something to behold when he breaks free. But even James can't play through his summers forever, and the USA Basketball program would remain in capable hands with chairman Jerry Colangelo at the helm, coach Mike Krzyzewski running the rotation and Kevin Durant as the de facto star of Team USA's next iteration should James indeed sit out the 2016 Games in Brazil. There's enough talent in the program to erase any risk of notable decline with James' "retirement," making this development more pertinent to James as a player (and USA Basketball great) than the program itself. The national team rolls on, just as it was intended to, with a new wave of players eager to accomplish what James already has.