Last Thursday, Portland Trail Blazers forward Nicolas Batum announced via his Facebook page that he would be playing with the French national team this summer in the 2014 FIBA World Cup from Aug. 30 - Sep. 14.
Captioning a photo of himself revealing France's uniforms for the tournament, Batum posted a message in French which read, via a rough English translation courtesy of Google Translate: "It is with pleasure that I confirm my participation at the World Cup in Spain this summer, here are exclusively for you the shirt that you will! Nicolas."
Even though the bit at the end about the uniform reveal was somewhat lost in translation, it's clear that Batum has opted to spend his sixth straight summer playing internationally for Team France.
Blazers coach Terry Stotts was prompted in team exit interviews back in mid-May about forward LaMarcus Aldridge and guard Damian Lillard's participation in Team USA activities this summer and in the future. Stotts told reporters he wasn't worried much about his All-Star players practicing with USA basketball in the offseason because it's "not as strenuous."
Then, after noting the French national team's schedule this summer -- two months of two-a-day practices leading up to the World Cup's Aug. 30 opening -- Stotts was asked if he had any concerns about the potential of Batum playing for France this summer. He replied:
If he does -- I don't know if he is going to play or not, that's his decision. I'd be more concerned about that. When you expend that much mental and physical effort over the summer, especially when you play in the playoffs, that is a concern. That would be a concern for me.
Do Stotts and the rest of the Blazers organization have good reason to be weary of Batum's participation in international basketball this offseason? The versatile 25-year-old small forward -- who started all 82 regular season games for Portland this year and averaged career-highs in rebounding (7.5 rpg) and assists (5.1 apg) while scoring 13 points per game -- played 36 minutes a night this past season. Batum also battled a sore wrist for several weeks in late-January and February, though he didn't miss any games and appeared to finish the season in good health.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who has been outspoken against NBA players competing internationally in the offseason for years, saw his star forward Dirk Nowitzi come into Mavs training camp a few years ago physically exhausted, partially blaming his fatigue on playing for Team Germany internationally the summer prior.
Two years before Nowitzki's slow start to the 2011-12 season, Mavericks guard Rodrigue Beaubois broke his foot practicing with the French national team. Cuban has since raised an interesting point, saying it's not particularly fair that NBA owners invest millions of dollars into international players, only to risk injury to them when they compete for their home countries in the NBA offseason.
Even though Cuban's disapproval of his players participating in international basketball over the summer is largely for financial reasons, there is certainly room for debate. Is it fair for NBA owners to see their players -- long-term financial investments -- risk their health playing internationally when the NBA isn't in season?
Keep in mind San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker was slicing through the Blazers defense for three-and-a-half games in their second-round playoff series last month before Batum switched onto the All-Star point guard for the duration of the series, effectively slowing down Parker. How was Portland's French swingman able to neutralize his fellow countryman? Batum cited his familiarity with Parker's game from playing on the French national team with him for several years.
There's clearly a lot a player can gain by playing internationally over the summer, as the competition is high and participants keep their conditioning up over the offseason. Before Beaubois broke his foot practicing with Team France in 2010, Cuban had even reportedly given his young point guard the blessing to play internationally because he thought Beaubois could use the minutes playing against solid competition.
What are your thoughts on Batum playing with the French national team this summer in the 2014 FIBA World Cup? Does the knowledge and experience gained from competing with and against top-level international talent trump the fatigue and possible injuries an NBA player can suffer from when playing for his home country in the offseason? Should Stotts, Portland GM Neil Olshey and the rest of the Blazers brain trust be concerned with Batum's commitment to Team France this summer?
-- Chris Lucia | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter