SALT LAKE CITY — For those believing the Jazz could one day win a championship, the prospect of Donovan Mitchell joining Team USA for this summer’s FIBA World Cup should be disconcerting, if not alarming.
The Jazz don’t need another Dante Exum, and Mitchell doesn’t need another distracting summer. Here’s what Mitchell needs: five months with no major engagements and a lot of carefully scripted workouts.
The opportunity to play against first-rate competition — if named to Team USA for this summer’s World Cup — would be a growth experience for Mitchell. But he does that every year.
It’s called the NBA.
He won’t see better competition from Japan or Tunisia than he sees every night from the Warriors and Rockets, or even the Hawks and Suns.
The chance to represent his country would be cool unless, like Exum, he went down with an avoidable injury. Mitchell owes it to his fans and his employer not to risk injury via a side gig. His loyalty belongs with the people who sign his everyday paycheck.
The Jazz guard’s name arose last weekend when New York Times reporter Marc Stein tweeted about a possible invitation. There’s no denying it would be a thrill to follow in the footsteps of Karl Malone, John Stockton, Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer, who played in international competition. The chance to be on the same team as today’s finest players makes it doubly enticing.
It would be understandable if Mitchell considered such a proposal. He is built for marketing stardom as well as for basketball success. The two-year veteran could charm the scowl off Walt Kowalski. The fact he has a lucrative shoe deal further drives the narrative. The Mitchell brand would have international reach.
Winning on a world stage with other stars would be good, but winding up in a hospital wouldn’t. Playing to a worldwide audience is cool, but Mitchell already is doing that. He’s in the finest basketball league in the world. Prestigious as an FIBA World Cup championship might be, it’s not bigger than winning an NBA championship.
If Mitchell wants to enhance his brand, an NBA title would do the trick.
Not everyone that plays international competition gets injured. But Exum has had a disheartening career since tearing his ACL in a 2015 game against Slovenia.
Mitchell needs one-on-one tutoring, even now, and most importantly he needs to do it in a controlled environment.
These days, filling out a Team USA roster is iffy. An invitation isn’t a calling, the way it was in the 1992 Olympics when 11 of the world’s 12 best players showed up. That year Malone, Stockton, Michael Jordan, Clyde Drexler, Scottie Pippen, Charles Barkley, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, etc. said yes — gladly and unanimously.
They comprised the greatest talent assembly in the game’s history.
Selecting an American team nowadays is like picking a car off the lot. Sometimes you have to do without some of the options.
By the time the 2016 Olympics arrived, a host of stars deferred as they rested/healed/relaxed. Damian Lillard, Anthony Davis, Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, John Wall, Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James and Harden declined for various reasons. This year Rudy Gobert has said he’ll play for France and Joe Ingles is on Australia’s roster.
To learn three Jazz players might take the risk is enough to give Jazz VP Dennis Lindsey hives.12 comments on this story
The Jazz don’t openly oppose their players in these matters. The message is that players can follow their conscience. Some believe Mitchell’s inclusion on the national team would help recruit talent to Utah. Maybe. But winning an NBA championship is the best recruiting tool of all.
Mitchell went many directions last summer, with good intentions. This year he should be focused only on upping his game, improving his conditioning, working on small details. Losing in the first round of the playoffs this year was understandable, but consecutive years would be unacceptable.
Mitchell is noted for “leaving it all on the court” when he competes.
Just so he doesn’t leave it all in China.