The German basketball federation announced today that NBA Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki and Clippers center Chris Kaman would be playing for die Mannschaft at the European Championships in Lithuanian next month. Nowitzki is playing despite an NBA schedule that saw him competing until the Mavericks secured the title on June 12. Kaman for his part has pretty much always hitched his German team participation to Dirk. Since he first competed for Germany in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing after receiving a quickie passport based on his heritage (his grandfather was German), Kaman has always maintained that whenever Dirk plays for Germany, he'll be there. They flirted with the idea of playing in both Eurobasket 2009 and the World Championships in Turkey last summer before eventually deciding against it. But with a spot in the 2012 London Olympics on the line this summer, they're headed to Lithuania.
Unlike Mark Cuban and the Mavs leadership who have always been pretty firmly opposed to having their franchise player risk injury in non-NBA competition, the Clippers are actually happy about Kaman's decision this time around. Not that they're allowed to comment on Kaman with the lockout in full swing, but prior to the lockout a Clippers executive made it clear to me that they'd like nothing more than for Kaman to play high level basketball this summer. After a season in which Kaman missed 50 games with injuries, the feeling is that his trade value is currently depressed. A strong showing in Lithuania, particularly in the near vacuum of basketball news created by the ongoing lockout, could spark renewed trade interest in Kaman as more than just an expiring contract.
If Germany finishes first or second in Eurobasket they will secure one of only ten remaining spots for the 2012 Olympics (so far only Great Britain as the hosts and Team USA as the reigning World Champs have qualified for the twelve team field). If they finish anywhere from third to sixth, they will get a place in the play-in tournament for the final spots directly prior to the Olympics.
This will be a very different team for Germany than the last time Kaman and Nowitzki played back in 2008. In fact, Kaman and Nowitzki figure to be the only holdovers from that team. Around them will be a new generation of pretty exciting young German talent - players like Robin Benzing and Gonzaga standout Elias Harris. In fact, I wonder if Kaman's presence might actually be a little ill-advised for Deuschland. With Tibor Pleiss (7'1", 21 years old, the 31st pick in the 2010 draft whose rights are owned by Oklahoma City) and Tim Ohlbrecht (6'11", 22 years old) available, one wonders if Kaman's presence might stunt the development of some of the younger German players. Certainly neither Pleiss nor Ohlbrecht has Kaman's skill set, but by the same token it's not as if center was going to be Deutschland's weakest position in Lithuania.
A few teams are struggling with insurance issues, in part owing to the NBA lockout, but I'm nonetheless confident that the level of competition will be very high for this tournament, as it usually is for EuroBasket. You can't teach size, and the NBA tends to find talented bigs wherever they are, so there will be plenty of NBA big men in Lithuania. Rosters haven't been finalized yet, but Kaman could find himself going up against players like Marc Gasol of Spain, Omer Asik of Turkey, Nenad Krstic of Serbia, Ronny Turiaf of France and even his near teammate, Sofoklis Schortsianitis of Greece.
For Citizens of Clips Nation, this at least gives us something to pay attention to in this wasteland of a locked out offseason. Eurobasket 2011 begins August 31 and runs until September 18. Interestingly, in a best-case scenario in which a new CBA is reached in time to salvage the full NBA season, those same three weeks will no doubt be chock full of activity as teams scramble to sign free agents and finalize rosters prior to training camp. Here's hoping it's a crazy time for basketball all over the world.