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Paul George's leg reignites the USA Basketball debate

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The fact that Paul George injured himself playing for Team USA doesn't mean that international competition is a bad idea.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

I did not see Paul George's injury. I happened to be in a bar that Friday night while the USA Basketball scrimmage was taking place, but when I asked that the TV be switched to an off-season, exhibition basketball game, I was shouted down by the patrons watching Yankees-Sawx (ugh!). I have not watched the replay -- I probably won't. I lived the Shaun Livingston thing in real time and in great detail -- once is enough. From what I've heard of the George injury, it's just not something I want or need to see with my own eyes.

Maybe we can get Citizen Shap or another more expert person than myself to describe the nature of the injury. From what I've read, both of the bones in the lower leg (the tibia and the fibula) snapped -- not good, but somewhat less structural in nature in the long term than the total implosion of Livingston's knee. (This was a Kevin Ware, not a Shaun Livingston, but none of them are pretty.) George will almost certainly miss all of the upcoming season, but there's some optimism that he can be ready and recovered by the start of the 2015-16 season.

Inevitably, the injury will reinvigorate the debate about the risks involved in having NBA players compete in non-NBA events. In fact it already has. You can read Mark Cuban's long-held views on the subject for yourself, but let's recognize a couple obvious holes in Cuban's argument right up front:

(1) His tirade in the above link towards the corruption of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is totally irrelevant where the World Cup is concerned. This is a FIBA event and the IOC has neither a stake nor any control in the World Cup. Referencing IOC bribery issues from a 2002 Olympic event a dozen years later while discussing a FIBA event is at least misplaced and more than a little bizarre. If IOC corruption is your issue, then worry about Rio, but Spain 2014 is a different thing.

(2) The question of who benefits from the involvement of NBA players in international competitions is a valid one -- but that's really a conversation between the NBA and FIBA and the IOC. It is not the players' problem. Given the parameters of the relationship in place, really all the players worry about is whether they want to play or not. Cuban's issue about NBA owners taking risk without reaping benefit comes off as more than a little whiny when you consider that it's really the players who are offering their services at a massive discount. Players are smart enough to eschew that risk when they are free agents and not under contract. Cuban wants owners to have the option of refusing to allow the players that are contracted to them to say no as well, but that implies that teams own players 365 days a year, which is simply not true. Contracts preclude dangerous activities like skydiving and motorcycle racing -- they don't preclude playing basketball in the off-season, because that's what players are supposed to do. Besides, complaining about entities that enrich themselves off the labors of superstars like Dirk Nowitzki is the pot calling the kettle black in the aftermath of the NBA lockout from the not-too-distant past.

This debate resonates in Clips Nation because in two years Chris Paul and Blake Griffin will likely be off to Rio de Janeiro with Team USA for the 2016 Olympics. Should Clipper fans be worried about a catastrophic injury befalling CP3 or Blake Superior? Should they be more worried after what happened to PG?

The answer is that you can be as worried as you want to be about an injury (I choose to not be very worried), but that George's injury doesn't change a thing.

Long time readers know that the effect of random events, and in particular how poorly understood they are, is a pet subject of mine. The fact that Paul George suffered a terrible injury in a Team USA exhibition game is completely meaningless in this discussion. The injury is an outlier, a fluke event that was highly unlikely, no more likely to occur during a summer with Team USA than on an NBA court or in a pick up game. There may even be an argument that injuries would be less likely to occur in a highly controlled environment like USA Basketball than in a random run in Pauley Pavilion (though I guess those are off for a bit).

In an off-season workout in 2007 Elton Brand suffered a ruptured Achilles that cost him almost all of the next season -- and effectively ended his tenure as an elite NBA player. Reggie Lewis died playing pickup basketball. Off-season injuries are not the exclusive domain of international competition. Besides, if Cuban is truly concerned about the risks to his investment then he really should be monitoring how fast his players drive and whether they are texting or impaired behind the wheel, because those are probably more significant risks than injuries in FIBA competition.

What happened to Paul George was unfortunate verging on tragic. He's a great player who has elevated his game significantly over the past 18 months and was likely ready to make another step forward. But it's a random event, related to his involvement with USA Basketball only insofar as that is where he was playing basketball at the time. He's a professional basketball player, and the Indiana Pacers have a vested interest in him playing basketball, even in the off-season, which is the ideal time to develop new facets of one's game. If he wasn't playing for Team USA, then he would likely have been playing somewhere else, and he could have injured himself there.

This is to say nothing of the undeniable benefits of playing with Team USA. Players like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, and a host of others, all elevated their games immeasurably playing high level basketball for top coaches with Team USA. There's a legitimate fatigue concern, and Kawhi Leonard opted out of Team USA duty for that reason. But basketball players clearly benefit from playing basketball -- and the higher the level of competition, the higher the benefit. Ask yourself this simple question: if a player is going to be playing basketball anyway, will they benefit more playing under the guidance of Mike Krzyzewski or on their own in pickup games? Where are the more likely to add to their already high level of skills?

I am not privy to the details of the arrangement between FIBA or the IOC and the NBA. I believe that it is a mutually beneficial relationship, but that doesn't preclude the possibility that the details need to be revisited. Cuban was hostile towards making his players available for international competition before the injury and he still is -- so at least he's consistent. But the simple fact is that one random event is a non-factor in the discussion. Hopefully those individuals who supported the idea previously continue to feel the same way.