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Griffin declines Team USA invite

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For the third time in three biannual competitions, Blake Griffin will not compete for Team USA.

Stephen Dunn

In 2010, before he had played an NBA game, Blake Griffin was invited to play for team USA in the World Championships in Turkey, At that time, after having missed the entire 2009-10 NBA season with a knee injury, Griffin wisely declined -- it made more sense to prepare for his rookie season. The Los Angeles Clippers had a lot invested in him, and it made sense for him to prepare for his delayed rookie season.

In 2012, Griffin made the final cut to represent Team USA in the Olympics in Beijing alongside Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. However, fate once again intervened, as BG suffered a knee injury in a tuneup game that was enough to keep him out of the Olympics, but not enough to affect his NBA season. He was replaced on that team by Anthony Davis.

Griffin would have been a lock for the 2014 World Cup squad (FIBA changed the name of the competition between 2010 and 2014 to try to capitalize on some of the appeal of the FIFA World Cup) for the event that begins next month in Spain. Most of the biggest names -- Bryant, James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Griffin's LAC teammate Chris Paul -- were already sitting out the less prestigious Worlds, and as a designated Olympian, Griffin's roster spot was all but guaranteed. Instead, he has decided to forego Iberia in August in order to "focus and dedicate 100 percent of [his] energy on improving and preparing for the upcoming season with the Clippers."

Whether this is a good decision or a bad decision rests almost entirely on how you feel about the benefit of international competition. Griffin was third in the NBA in Most Valuable Player voting this season -- he's long since arrived. But if his goal is to improve, playing elite level basketball in an elite environment for an elite coaching staff is not exactly a bad way to go.

I've actually been contemplating a now irrelevant post on Griffin's fit into Coach Mike Krzyzewski's Team USA schemes. In a system where Kevin Durant is a power forward (or even a center), where the emphasis is on perimeter shooting, it's not clear that Griffin would have a big role. Team USA bigs, since Coach K took over, have mostly done one of two things -- either they can shoot (Kevin Love, Chris Bosh), or they are elite defenders who protect the rim (Dwight Howard, Tyson Chandler). Griffin is the best power forward in the NBA -- but those are pretty much the only things he does not do at an elite level. The profile of a Team USA member in the Coach K era has been elite athleticism, elite shooting and a big to clog the middle. Griffin's got the athleticism thing in spades -- but he's not going to block a lot of shots, and he shouldn't really be shooting a lot of threes.

In Coach K's Team USA approach, Griffin was pretty much destined to be a 5 -- the most athletic 5 the Ukrainians have ever seen, as it happens -- but other than filling lanes on the break, it's not clear what his role would have been. Durant just won his first MVP, and he's going to be playing pretty much the entire time at Griffin's natural power forward position. Was the fact that Griffin was faced with a choice of either playing out of position or behind KD (assuming Krzyzewski deigned to play big, which he hasn't in prior cycles) a factor in his decision to skip the whole thing?

The better question may be how this affects his standing for the 2016 Olympics. No one can blame him for opting out of 2010 and he was committed to 2012 before being injured. But the talent pool is deep, and at some point USA basketball grows weary of waiting for players (LaMarcus Aldridge finds himself in a similar position). Perhaps Griffin is doing that very American thing of diminishing the importance of the Worlds and focusing on the Olympics, which is a much bigger event in the States even if it's not any more important to the rest of the planet. As one of the top five talents in the NBA, it's difficult to imagine USA Basketball saying no if Griffin wants to be in Rio in 2016. It's also likely that a different coach, who might employ a different system more conducive to his skillset, will be in charge by then. Still, Jerry Colangelo is not used to being turned down, and he has a long memory.

I can't help but be a bit disappointed for my own purposes. I love the Worlds, and will watch them intently with or without Griffin on the team. But it would have been that much more compelling with him. (First Reggie Bullock and C.J. Wilcox pull out of Summer League and now Griffin pulls out of the Worlds -- the Clippers are conspiring to remove compelling basketball from my summer, but at least the Sterlings are making things interesting.) As for his development as a player and preparation for the season, he's almost certainly making a mistakein opting out -- there's just no way that pick up games at the training facility in Playa Vista are going to be as beneficial as a couple of months playing with Durant and Love, for Krzyzewski and Tom Thibodeau, against the Gasols and Varejao and Krstic and Valunciunas, etc. If his goal is to improve as a basketball player, he should play for Team USA. He'll work on his game on his own as he always does, and he'll get better, but there's no substitute for real competition.