July 23, 2019, 11:55 pm
On Monday, it was announced that Zion Williamson would be forgoing the opportunity to play with Team USA at August’s training camp. This comes in the middle of an avalanche of other NBA players withdrawing from the team in order to prepare for their respective NBA seasons. Of the many players who have withdrawn from the team this summer, the vast majority of them are citing NBA preparation as the reason.
Zion’s absence from the USA squad is not a big deal in my eyes, just as it wasn’t a big deal that he sat out Summer League after a minor injury. He is the centerpiece of the Pelicans’ future, and the team is going to handle his career carefully. But although Zion skipping Team USA isn’t a big deal, I do think there are some things we should consider.
As David Griffin pointed out, Zion is not in basketball shape right now and they were ultra-conservative with him in Summer League. The rampant speculation about Zion being “injury prone” that you can see on mainstream media is, well, stupid, but not because it’s unfair to question whether it’ll be a problem. It’s stupid because we don’t need to draw conclusions about something being a problem before a player even steps on an NBA court. If Zion shows up to Pelicans preseason with serious weight issues, then we can worry.
The withdrawal from USA basketball will allow Williamson to focus exclusively on integrating with the NBA game and the Pelicans roster. The NBA game is so radically different from every level of basketball, including Summer League, and it is an adjustment for everyone, even for someone as talented as Zion.
One of the things that we saw this summer is how much recruiting stars do behind the scenes. This is not anything new, but at this point, it is perfectly clear that the top players directly communicate with each other in order to figure out who wants to team up. The bottom line is this: to get a star to force his way to you or to sign one in free agency, you almost always either need a star on your roster already or have to be willing to trade what it takes to get one.
The good news is that although it seems that Zion is missing a chance to team with other top players, almost all of the top talent on the USA roster has turned down the opportunity to play this year. Plus, it’s not as though Williamson will never get a call from Team USA again.
Zion inked a shoe deal with Nike’s Jordan Brand on Tuesday and hopefully has a long, prosperous NBA career ahead of him; his withdrawal from Team USA this summer seems very much in line with what other top stars are doing and thus does not seem to be a reason for concern.