By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted May 13 2009 1:46PM
From a team perspective, there are some potential disadvantages in one of your players participating in international competition over the summer.
There's the risk of injury, of course. If your player isn't injured, you have to worry about him getting worn down. And if the player isn't injured and he isn't worn down, it's a long NBA season, and if you're a team that goes deep into the Playoffs ... well, the guy won't be getting much rest.
For many of the players who played for Team USA in Beijing in 2008, the commitment has meant three straight years of summer tournaments, with two of the competitions on the other side of the world. That's a lot of basketball and a lot of travel.
But while concentrating on all the disadvantages, what many didn't think about were the potential benefits of the Olympic experience. Several players came back from Beijing with a taste of championship champagne, a renewed focus and a better understanding of what it takes to win on a high level.
So it's no coincidence that the five players who received the most points for the All-NBA team, announced Wednesday, won gold in Beijing.
Yes, they were on the Olympic team because they're great players. But these great players had even greater seasons because they were on that team.
When asked what LeBron James brought back from his summer abroad, his coach had nothing but good things to say.
"He went through a great experience," Mike Brown said. "He saw how hard Kobe Bryant works. He saw Jason Kidd lead. He learned from coach [Nate] McMillan, coach K [Mike Krzyzewski] and the rest of the guys. He grew from that experience. He won a gold medal being on the biggest stage in the world. He's gone through what it takes to win the gold medal. And you can't replace that stuff.
"And you know, because he's gone through it, because he's your leader and because he's the type of guy that he is, he's going to bring it back to your organization."
Cavs general manager Danny Ferry noted that James was a part of the 2004 Olympic squad that failed to bring home gold, in part due to a lack of team chemistry. "He saw when things were a little out of whack or dysfunctional," Ferry said. "And he saw it come together, what it takes and why.
"This team was more successful and enjoyed itself more. It was an opportunity for all of these players to kind of share best practices. This is how hard I work, this is what it takes, this is how I feel. Probably some of them talked about it at some level [before], but they were able to watch each other and how they go about their business. It was a very positive peer pressure."
James, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul all were big parts of Team USA's run to gold, and they all brought that experience back to their NBA teams. They became better leaders and better defenders. In addition to earning the All-NBA and MVP votes, they all were named to the league's All-Defensive first or second team.
James, the near-unanimous MVP and the best overall player in the world, led the Cavs to a league-high and franchise-record 66 wins. The Cavs were a top five team both offensively and defensively. James led them in points, rebounds, assists and steals per game.
Bryant led the Lakers to the No. 1 seed in the West once again. With a stronger supporting cast, he didn't need to put up the same numbers as he did in his MVP campaign of 2007-08. But he helped the Lakers become a more consistent defensive squad.
Howard became more of a presence in the paint, leading the league with 13.8 rebounds and 2.92 blocks per game.
Wade almost single-handedly led the Heat to the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference and 28 more wins than they had last season.
And Paul put up better numbers than he did last season, when he finished second to Bryant in MVP voting.
Unfortunately for Paul, because both Bryant and Wade are also guards, he gets bumped down to Second Team All-NBA. Earning First Team honors at forward is Dirk Nowitzki, whose numbers were comparable to when he was the MVP in 2006-07. Nowitzki, a 7-footer from Germany, represented his country in Beijing last summer, too.
Joining Paul on the Second Team are Tim Duncan, Yao Ming, Paul Pierce and Brandon Roy, who earned his first All-NBA selection. There are two first-timers on the Third Team: Pau Gasol and Tony Parker. They're joined by Chauncey Billups, Carmelo Anthony and Shaquille O'Neal.
Including Anthony, Deron Williams and Chris Bosh, eight of Team USA's 12 medalists finished in the top 18 of All-NBA voting. Bosh was the only gold medalist whose NBA team didn't make the postseason. Five of the players are on teams still playing.
Team USA brought back a lot more than gold medals from Beijing. And while many have avoided playing for their country in the past, Team USA managing director Jerry Colangelo, thanks to the system he built and the players he selected, now fields calls all the time from player representatives volunteering their guy to be a part of the program.
"I think overall, the NBA is better off because of it," Ferry said.
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