As if gas prices and West Nile virus weren't worrisome enough, now there's one more thing for Utahns to fuss about: Whether playing in the Olympics will adversely affect Jazz players Carlos Boozer, Deron Williams and Andrei Kirilenko.

The theory is they'll return from Beijing tired and spent and in a mere 36 days be back in training camp. And while it's been fun watching the Americans trample their opponents, Jazz fans may eventually pay for it. There could be a diminished team in 2008-09.

That's the dilemma every four years. NBA players expend valuable energy and risk injury in the off-season just to represent their countries.

Couldn't they just plant a flag in the front yard?

Before I go further, perhaps I should add this rejoinder: EXACTLY HOW MUCH REST DO THEY NEED? THEY'RE IN THEIR 20s!

When I was in my teens, I played two or more hours of basketball almost every day. It wasn't at an NBA level, but I didn't have personal trainers, cooks, masseurs or even a hot tub to keep me fresh, either.

I had a job and/or school to worry about, too. But I still didn't get tired.

Playing basketball in the Olympics isn't that hard. Take a look at the Jazz players' minutes. Because they are on the supremely gifted "Redeem Team," Boozer and Williams are playing only 7.8 and 20.6 minutes per game, respectively — far fewer than they log in the regular season.

Boozer gets a bigger workout lacing his shoes.

It's understandable Jazz fans might initially be concerned. They bear more to risk than almost anyone. Counting Kirilenko, who plays for Russia, the Jazz have more Olympians than any other NBA team except Toronto. The Raptors have Chris Bosh playing for Team USA, Roko Uki playing for Croatia and Jose Calderon playing for Spain.

Similarly, the Lakers' two best players, Pau Gasol (Spain) and Kobe Bryant (USA), are playing in the Games, as are Denver's Carmelo Anthony (USA) and Linas Kleiza (Lithuania), and Dallas' Jason Kidd (USA) and Dirk Nowitzki (Germany).

So other teams are risking something, too.

But barring injury, it would be hard to prove playing in the Olympics is a detriment. The fatigue argument came up in 1992, when Karl Malone and John Stockton played on the Dream Team. The following season Malone averaged 27 points and 11 rebounds, better than he did the ensuing three seasons. After playing in the 1996 Olympics, he averaged 27 points and 10 rebounds.

The Games had no effect whatsoever on the Mailman's production.

Likewise, Stockton followed his Dream Team summer with a league-high 12 assists per game. After the '96 Olympics, his 14.4 points and 10.5 assists were still better than any ensuing year.

Neither missed a game in either post-Olympic season.

Some believe the effects of the Olympics don't catch up to players until the next spring. While it's true the Jazz lost in the first round of the playoffs in '93, four years later they reached the NBA Finals.

Players are encouraged — ordered, actually — to stay in shape in the off-season. What better way than to play against international competition?

It's better to get winded than fat.

As for the "mental fatigue" argument, the rest of the work force gets mentally tired, too, but it doesn't usually get 36 consecutive days to recuperate — especially after already taking vacation time in May and June.

Basketball is no more mentally taxing than accounting or teaching. And five weeks is more than enough time to get your mind off work.

Kirilenko is still just 27, Boozer 26 and Williams 24. They're kids, and kids play all the time. They run around, bump into things, get bruised and scratched, slurp their food, stay up late, eat too much pizza and play hours and hours of basketball — yet still bounce back.

At their age, the Jazz stars should be ready to go in two or three weeks.

Anything beyond that is just loafing.

E-mail: [email protected]