LAS VEGAS -- The news of Blake Griffin's knee injury renews all kinds of questions about USA Basketball going into its Olympic opener July 29 against France. What has become of the American big men? Can Griffin's rookie replacement, Anthony Davis, be counted on to provide reliable minutes?
Perhaps most important of all: Has Griffin's injury affirmed the opinions of Mark Cuban and other critics that the "Dream Team" concept is an unnecessary risk for NBA owners?
Griffin suffered an injury to his left knee at practice Wednesday,
The exact prognosis of his latest injury was unknown, pending an examination in Los Angeles on Thursday. The Clippers said Griffin will undergo an MRI and be examined by the team's medical staff and then be examined Sunday by Dr. Neal ElAttrache of the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic.
The timing of Griffin's setback will surely revive questions of whether stars who have been guaranteed eight-figure contracts by their NBA teams should be allowed to participate in the Olympics for free.
Deron Williams held himself out of U.S. practices entirely because he did not want to put himself at risk of injury until he had signed his five-year, $98 million contract with the Nets. He was able to practice on Wednesday, the same day Griffin went down.
The argument raised most eloquently by Cuban, who owns the Mavericks, is that he and other owners take on all of the risk when their players compete in the Olympics. It is on behalf of that point of view that NBA commissioner David Stern has raised the possibility that the "Dream Team" era may end with this Olympics, and that an age limit of 23-and-under -- similar to that created by professional soccer at the Olympics -- will be enacted for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
There is also talk of the NBA and FIBA partnering on a new version of the World Championship, which takes place every four years and has always been viewed in the U.S. as far less prestigious than the Olympics. In the future, the best NBA players could be invited to participate in an upgraded World Championship -- or basketball World Cup, as it should probably be known -- with NBA owners realizing a share of the profit in order to compensate them for the risk incurred by players whose NBA salaries are guaranteed whether they are healthy or not.
Jerry Colangelo, the managing directory of the national team, has pointed out that the NBA has derived a number of benefits from USA Basketball. The best American players are respected around the world for their willingness to accept complementary roles on behalf of their country while playing for free. Those same players improve by competing for spots on the national team and training in each other's company, as young players have learned firsthand from Kobe Bryant and other established stars to upgrade their daily work habits in pursuit of excellence.
Bryant has pointed out that NBA owners should want their stars to participate in USA Basketball practices and games, because the players would be at greater risk if they were left to play unsupervised pickup games on their own throughout the summer. Kevin Durant, 23, is among the stars who have publicly hoped that plans for an age limit are scuttled, because he wants to continue to represent his country in future Olympic Games.
The threat of a significant injury to a major star like the 23-year-old Griffin is going to incite both sides of the argument. In the meantime, the U.S. front line is more vulnerable than ever.
Tyson Chandler, at 7-foot-1, is the only true center on the U.S. roster. The 6-10 Griffin plays power forward for the Clippers, but he was named to the Olympic team as a center after a variety of circumstances had already robbed the U.S. of big-man candidates Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum, Chris Bosh, LaMarcus Aldridge and Lamar Odom. Davis, the slim 6-10 power forward who last month became the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, has been recalled to the U.S. team as a potential replacement for Griffin.
Davis failed to make the 12-man roster on Saturday because he had suffered a sprained ankle that prevented him from practicing with the team. Now the U.S. may face no better choice than to rely on Davis to provide length in the frontcourt for his country before he has played a minute for the New Orleans Hornets, who are not only funding his own new eight-figure contract but are also counting on him to become their franchise star.
A tangential reason for including Davis on the team is that he is 19, which could enable him to represent the U.S. if an age-limit is imposed for the Olympics in 2016. His presence on this team could help him serve as the bridge to the next era.
The U.S. opens its five-game exhibition schedule here Thursday against the Dominican Republic.