Sunday Musings: Rudy Gay puts it all on the line for Team USA

LeBron James and Rudy Gay. (Photo: Jonathan Santiago)

Playing for your country is one of the highest honors a professional basketball player can achieve.  For a young player like DeMarcus Cousins, who’s trying to make it for the first time, it means everything.  And that is exactly what it should mean.

The FIBA World Cup in Spain isn’t the Olympics.  But it is a chance for 12 players to put on a jersey that represents more than just a team.  Wearing the letters USA across your chest is a privilege that comes with great responsibility.

During the summer of 2014, that privilege has been taken for granted by the NBA’s biggest stars.  It is well within the rights of the game’s giants to step aside, but it appears they have lost sight of the opportunity.

LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kawhi Leonard and Blake Griffin all turned down the invitation to play in Spain, leaving the team with very little experience.

When Team USA director Jerry Colangelo announced on Friday that Rudy Gay was added to the pool of 16 fighting for a spot in the World Cup, Sacramento Kings fans rejoiced.  It meant they would now have an even greater shot of seeing one of their guys compete in Spain.

For Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski, adding Gay is a no-brainer.  The Sacramento Kings starting small forward has 27 games under his belt for the program, including a gold medal in the 2010 World Championship games.

“I received a call last night indicating that Rudy was available to join the national team if Coack K and I felt he could help,” Colangelo was quoted as saying. “We both felt he would be a valuable addition because of his outstanding skills and the fact that he’s so familiar with USA Basketball and our national team program.”

On a team that has lost both the reigning MVP in Durant and All-Star forward Paul George in the span of a week, Gay is a perfect fit. He can play both forward positions and has an opportunity to slide right into the starting lineup, despite joining the team this late in the process.

Durant stepped away from the team earlier this week, citing mental and physical fatigue.  It’s a disappointing development for a team that was completely built around the Oklahoma City star.

George went down with a gruesome lower leg injury during the showcase game last week and will be sidelined for the upcoming season and perhaps longer.

The injury to George shook the team to its core, and Durant’s decision is beyond surprising.  At 25 years old, this was his team to run.

For Gay, accepting this invitation makes no sense.  He has already done his tour of duty with the national team and an appearance at the World Cup does not mean he will be invited back in 2016 for the Olympic games in Brazil.

More than that, Gay became a father for the first time this summer and will be a free agent at the end of the season.  He most assuredly saw the gruesome injury to George last week and knows he has everything to lose by making this commitment.

Gay is risking injury and long-term stability.  He is foregoing valuable time with his family.  What does he have to gain?

The answer to that question is complicated.  It could be something as noble as love of country or loyalty to Colangelo and Coach K. But the real answer is probably more about redemption.

At one time, Gay was considered one of the game’s rising stars.  He was on pace to make All-Star games and play for Olympic gold medals.  But somewhere along the way, his status as an elite player was called into question.

Gay is rehabilitating his name. At nearly 28 years old, his subpar showing as a No. 1 scoring option in Toronto opened the door for criticism and his $19.3 million salary for the 2014-15 season made him an easy target for the media.

A 51-game stint in a nearly 600-game career became an acceptable sample size to tear down a player and sully his reputation.

“I am extremely excited to once again be part of Team USA and its rich tradition,” Gay said in a prepared statement. “I can’t wait to join my teammates in Chicago and work hard to make certain the USA takes home the gold in Spain.”

There is still time for the Sacramento Kings and Gay’s agent to lighten the stress of the situation by working out an extension with their star forward.

Maybe those talks will resume over the next few days leading up to Team USA mini-camp in Chicago on Aug. 14-15.  Or maybe Gay and his management will roll the dice and hope that Gay can further drive up his value during World Cup action.

Either way, Gay is back with Team USA.  He is risking injury, long-term stability and precious time away from his family for a chance to represent his country.  It’s either an extremely noble act or an insane gamble…or both.


James Ham

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