[Note from Tim: Within minutes of Dave posting this article, Team USA announced the official 12-man roster, effectively cutting Damian Lillard along with Kyle Korver, Chandler Parsons and Gordon Hayward. We'll have more coverage soon.]
As we await news, whether Damian Lillard will survive or fall prey to the impending cut of Team USA's Basketball World Cup roster, let's ask the obvious question: What's at stake here? What would Lillard making (or not making) the national team mean? How big of a deal is this really?
Prestige is commonly-cited argument for wanting Portland's prize point guard to make the national squad. The Trail Blazers need all the exposure they can get. Lillard's star rising--by whatever means--could translate into more respect and a higher reputation in a league that seems to value both as de facto tiebreakers between similar players. Every minute Lillard spends in the spotlight makes the case that he and his team are legit.
Fast on the heels of the reputation argument comes pride. Defining broad distinctions between Lillard and his national teammates is difficult. Every player wearing the uniform is qualified. Ranking one above another depends on perspective: what you choose to value, where you draw the lines. Every time you sort the roster one way, 92 alternatives emerge. Inevitably that lack of resolution will allow the specter of ulterior motive to creep in. Why not our guy? What's wrong with him and us? Why's that other guy still here?
Instinctive as they may be, neither of these issues matters much in the long run. Nobody likes the ignominy associated with being cut, but it's not like Lillard was starting for Mike Krzyzewski. He's barely played in actual competition. Filling a 12th Man role won't win him more prestige and will only partially assuage his pride and that of his loyal fans. His performance with the Blazers next season, his ESPN highlight reel, and Portland's post-season progress will all factor in more heavily than a fleeting few weeks in an international tournament that most Americans wouldn't know existed were the U.S. not participating. We can probably set aside these intangibles either way the decision goes. The world isn't going to change if Lillard makes the team, nor will it fall apart if he gets cut.
The most compelling argument for Damian remaining is the opportunity to play with other talented NBA players. If you have the chance to leave your university for a few weeks and participate in a mathematics seminar with some of the greatest minds on the planet, you take it. It doesn't matter if your personal contribution is small. Breathing in the environment, absorbing new definitions of (and perhaps new means to) greatness...there's the main point. Granted, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and a host of A-List stars are missing from this year's lineup. But guarding Derrick Rose and Kyrie Irving in practice, picking up scoring tips from James Harden, listening to Coach K and his assistants game plan provide their own reward. A second-year burgeoning star in Lillard's shoes would be a fool not to take advantage.
On the other hand, international competition gets grueling...not so much during the tournament month but next March when your legs realize that you've been playing basketball at a high level for most of the last two years straight. Stamina and focus might argue Lillard's dismissal as a gift. A couple more weeks of rest, a longer respite before the pressure of the season hits, even just not having to get on a plane a dozen more times over the next few weeks all might pay dividends down the road.
Like the cuts themselves, positives and negatives of either outcome depend on perspective, where you draw the lines.
Perhaps the best answer to the question at hand is, "It matters less what happens to Damian Lillard today and more what he makes of it."
What say you? Why do you want Lillard to make the team...or not? What are the advantages and disadvantages either way? Feel free to share below.
--Dave email@example.com / @DaveDeckard