Lillard, McCollum Decline Team USA Invites Prior To 2019 FIBA World Cup

by Casey Holdahl
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With a little less than two weeks before the start of Team USA's minicamp in Las Vegas, both Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum have withdrawn from consideration for the Men's National Team roster schedule to compete at the FIBA World Cup later this summer in China. Lillard and McCollum join a growing number of players, including Anthony Davis, James Harden and Tobias Harris, who have declined to make themselves available for the 2019 FIBA Worlds.

While playing for your national team, especially a team that is always the prohibitive favorite to come away with the gold, is typically a sought-after opportunity for NBA players, there are various reasons, both general and situational, why one would decline to participate. And for both Lillard and McCollum, it's not hard to understand why they'd choose to forgo a roster spot on Team USA for the 2019 FIBA Worlds.

In leading the Trail Blazers to their first Western Conference Finals appearance in nearly 20 years, Lillard and McCollum logged considerably more minutes than they're accustomed to. Though they were eventually swept in the conference finals, Portland's season didn't end until May 20, which is obviously a good thing, though it did cut roughly a month out of the offseason. Those postseason minutes are hard and add up, so it's understandable why both players would be reluctant to jump back into competitive basketball earlier than usual.

Then there's the time commitment. While the tournament doesn't start until August 31, the competition for roster spots begins August 5 in Las Vegas. That's followed by training camp in Los Angeles starting August 13, after which the team heads to Australia for more preparation, including friendlies versus Australia and Canada. And from there it's on to Shanghai for another week before the United States plays their first group stage game versus the Czech Republic on September 1. That's a month worth of preparation (and time away from your family) even before the start of the tournament.

Then there's two weeks of tournament play in various locales in China before the final, scheduled for September 15 in Beijing. Outside of a monumental upset -- the Senior Men's National Team hasn't lost an international competition since 2006 -- Team USA is likely to play all the way to the championship, meaning that players aren't likely to return to the United States until the middle of third week of September, which is just a little over a week from the start of NBA training camps.

All told, it's roughly a 45-day commitment spanning three continents that leads right into the start of the NBA season. That's a tough ask for FIBA competition, which most here in the United States generally pay little attention to, especially compared to the Olympics.

That truncated timeline between the end of the FIBA Worlds and the start of NBA training camps would be especially troublesome for both Lillard and McCollum had they made the national team roster. After quite a bit of roster continuity over the last three seasons, the Trail Blazers will have at least six new players on their roster going into the 2019-20 season, with mainstays such Al-Farouq Aminu, Evan Turner, Moe Harkless and Meyers Leonard replaced with the likes of Kent Bazemore, Mario Hezonja, Hassan Whiteside and Anthony Tolliver.

Given that significant turnover, there has already been talk about the latest iteration of the Trail Blazers getting together in early September for workouts and team building (similar to the team trip to San Diego a few offseasons ago) to give themselves the best chance to get to know each other, both on and off the court, before the start of the 2019-20 season. That can't happen if their starting backcourt is in China.

Then there are smaller issues that alone would not result in Lillard and McCollum declining potential roster spots on Team USA, but when taken in totality, tilt the scales toward skipping the FIBA Worlds. From Lillard participating in shoots for "Space Jam 2", McCollum having already spent a month in China this summer on tour with Li-Ning and both players hosting youth camps, offseason downtime is already at a premium. Sources also say that not participating in the 2019 FIBA World Cup will not diminish Lillard nor McCollum's chances of making the 2020 Tokyo Olympics team -- after the United States failed to win gold at both the 2004 Olympics and the 2006 FIBA Worlds, USA Basketball started requiring players to commit to a full international "cycle" including both Olympic and FIBA competitions.

So between the prospect of fatigue, the significant time commitment and the relative anonymity of FIBA competitions, it's not exactly surprising to see Lillard and McCollum, along with many players in similar situations this offseason, decline a Team USA invite. Seeing either or both player suiting up for Team USA would have been fun, but at least at this point in time, it's probably not worth the cost.


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