Some of the sideshow buzz in the Olympic men's basketball tournament was about the NBA's desire to change the rules and impose a 23-and-under rule. As expected, FIBA passed on the idea, but it's not necessary for the NBA to accomplish what it wants to do internationally.
The NBA wants to emphasize a new basketball "World Cup" style tournament because the league would benefit financially from its superstar participation. NBA owners hate seeing their stars in the Olympics because they are risking injuries without any financial benefit. In a world cup that the NBA runs independent of the IOC, the owners can now see some of the money the tournament generates flow into their own pockets.
To do that, they need to make a change. So they proposed the 23-and-under rule in an effort to continue the USA's dominance in the Olympics while saving the superstars for their own tournament. It was a nice try by the NBA, but the reality is the idea never had a chance because there isn't a single international team that could compete under those rules. The biggest advantage international teams have over the United States is their years of experience together. No one is going to give that up in the Olympics, which is more heavily emphasized around the world than in the U.S., just so Mark Cuban can add to his bottom line.
But a new rule isn't necessary at all. USA Basketball can accomplish its goal, and the NBA's, by simply fielding two separate men's national teams. It could actually be a blessing for USA Basketball, because they could actually field a properly constructed international team for the Olympics without worrying about offending any of its superstars. It also keeps the option open of perhaps one or two of the superstar players to play in multiple tournaments if they so choose.
An Olympic squad can pick from highly skilled role players around the NBA to do the specific jobs superstars are being asked to do. A player like Stephen Curry would be a killer in the Olympics. A lock-down defender who can also hit open shots like Boston's Avery Bradley would be gigantic asset for Team USA (imagine him checking Juan-Carlos Navarro in the gold medal game). Good young bigs like Greg Monroe could combat teams with size. Austin Rivers is a proven scorer in international competition and is already in the USA Basketball pipeline. And Kyrie Irving could weave it all together.
There are a lot of players that might not normally be considered for the Olympic team that suddenly warrant consideration. And when you look at this current gold medal team, they could have used a few of these role players to shore up some of the team's deficiencies. This squad won on sheer talent. But a properly constructed team could still have a lot of the talent to succeed, while also having well-defined, well-executed roles filled by the guys who play those roles for a living.
Meanwhile, the sheer force of nature that is the primary Men's National Team would be saved for the world cup. LeBron James and Kevin Durant would be the highly marketable centerpieces that would drum up the interest of the new tournament. With the league's biggest stars playing in the world cup, it would get instant credibility. The money would roll in to the NBA, creating another revenue stream both sides can fight over in the next CBA.
The NBA would be happy because it would have its biggest stars generating cash in its own tournament. The IOC would be happy because its Olympics would be untouched. And Team USA would be happy to have an opportunity to put together a proper international team so it can showcase just how good its international product can be without relying on mega-stars to do it. And a new group of player would be happy to get a chance at the Olympics which might not have normally existed.
In this age of trying to market everything and chase dollars, creating different teams for the different events is the best case scenario. You don't dilute the program, the product, or the tournaments. You create another event that is worth watching that satisfies owners who are taking a risk with their talent. And you create new experiences for the players involved. And you do it all without any blatant rules changes to skew anything in anyone's favor.
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