How Paul George's injury may affect international basketball

MANILA, Philippines – Once every year or so, a certain nightmarish moment takes place for the NBA, its fans, and a certain franchise. 

Nowadays, it’s a common sight to see a popular NBA star crumble to the ground, holding on to a certain body part – or what’s left of it – while the entire crowd in attendance who saw the incident transpire lets out a collective gasp of despair. Tears flow not long after, fears are realized, and outburst of anger takes place. 

In 2011, there was Derrick Rose. In 2013, there was Kobe Bryant. Years before them, there were Penny Hardaway, Grant Hill, and Shaun Livingston. To an extent, even Tracy McGrady can be added to the list.

Another season for a superstar-in-the-making destroyed. Another year of title contention for a franchise that had long suffered through paltry seasons and dark ages taken out of the equation. A horrific shadow cast over USA basketball over the placement of a stanchion below the basket.

The fans present at the Team Blue vs. Team White USA scrimmage on Saturday, August 2 (PH time), will live the rest of their lives with the horrific image of George’s leg snapping into two pieces in their minds. 

But for George, he will have to live the rest of his days and basketball career – which one can only guess how long it will be now – with the fear of once again crumbling to the ground, screaming in pain.

The repercussions, needless to say, will not be pleasant.

Is Team USA to blame?

It’s easy to dislike him for the comments he makes, which do have its questionable points from time to time. However, in many occasions, Mark Cuban spits out the truth.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) reaps the benefits of the best basketball talents in the world sacrificing their summers, putting potential devastating injuries on the line, for a chance to be patriotic and have that sense of national pride.

Marketing brands such as Nike also become wealthy, with incomes generated from uniforms and sneakers sold all over the world. Even the NBA, to an extent, profits from the advertising brought about by its stars participating against the rest of the globe. David Stern’s tenure as NBA Commissioner for 30 years may not have come to a pleasant close, but he was one of the patriarchs of the 1992 Dream Team, which opened the arms of different continents to the NBA, increasing global popularity for the league.

The losers, however, are the franchises that actually make up the National Basketball Association who provide the main business year in and out. It’s the team owners that pay their stars high money each season, and it will be them who face the most displeasure in such an event where their star suffers a horrific injury.

The idea of representing the letters “USA” in front of their jerseys must be an experience unlike any other for the best players in the NBA. However, their contracts show that it’s not the United States, nor is it the IOC, that pays their multi-million dollar contracts; it’s the owners of the teams they play for in the National Basketball Association. And part of that contract says that NBA players must make it a point to remain healthy and be in top shape for the games that actually matter – the NBA regular season and Playoffs – not for a scrimmage in August that brings no significant result.

Could Cuban spearhead a movement where the best of the NBA no longer takes part in the Olympics or other major international competitions where the NBA doesn’t have much control? 

Before Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and Scottie Pippen made the trip to Barcelona for the ’92 Olympics, only the best college basketball players were sent to represent Uncle Sam. Going back this route would not only give NBA owners peace of mind moving forward, it would also give the rest of the world a better chance at winning the men’s basketball tournament in the Olympics, let alone make it more competitive.

Does this affect the NBA in the Philippines?

After seeing George’s leg look like a snapped twig, Team USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski rightfully cancelled the scrimmage in Las Vegas. Not long prior, a similar decision was made when Gilas Pilipinas head coach Chot Reyes mentioned to many eager fans at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum on July 22 that a scheduled game between Gilas players and a select group of guest NBA stars would be cancelled, immediately causing an uproar from hundreds of fans who paid high amounts and traveled long distances to catch a glimpse of their favorite NBA stars.

Though the circumstances of both occasions were different (1), there were some similarities s as well. An NBA representative threatened fines and possible suspensions for the NBA players in Manila if they were to push through with the game, which eventually caused the cancellation. But had the game gone through and an injury to one of the stars taken place, the consequences would have been dire.

The blame of the ugly transpiring in Manila, of course, lands mostly at the hands of the event organizers who failed to fix all the formalities. However, for those who feel certain anger toward the players for not mustering the sanctions and going on with the show, they must realize that when an NBA player agrees to play in an event not organized by the league, a lot is placed on the line.

Not long back, even a Filipino basketball player, Marcio Lassiter, withdrew from the Gilas pool partly because of fear of injury.

"If I'm not a hundred percent I wouldn't want to jeopardize the Gilas team or put the team down. That is also an issue for me," Lassiter said at that time.

Marcio Lassiter of the San Miguel Beermen came under fire for withdrawing from the Gilas pool citing concerns over his health. Photo by Jane Bracher

Marcio Lassiter of the San Miguel Beermen came under fire for withdrawing from the Gilas pool citing concerns over his health.

Photo by Jane Bracher

Does the incident to George during the scrimmage mean no more games featuring NBA players will take place in Manila again? It’s likely that’s not the case, considering the Philippines has been a hotbed for hoops over the past few years with an avid fan base. But such a scenario would only happen if the NBA officially sanctions the game, and it’s likely that would not take place every year or two. After all, it did take a long time before a preseason matchup – the 2014 NBA Global Games contest between the Pacers and Rockets – was held in Manila.

Where do the Pacers go from here?

With Lance Stephenson gone via free agency and Paul George likely out for the 2014-2015 season, Indiana loses their only guys from last year who could actually create something from the perimeter. David West is a solid power forward, Roy Hibbert is serviceable when his head is in the right place, and George Hill is an okay point guard.

But if the core of the Pacers will feature only the three of them, there’s a very slight chance they make the Playoffs even in a weak Eastern Conference. Not with teams like the Hornets, Bulls, Cavaliers, Hawks and others improving.

A suggestion that hasn’t been put out there yet but could be the answer for team owner Herb Simon and Pacers president Larry Bird would be to blow up the roster and start another rebuilding phase. 

It’s weird saying that considering just January this year, Indiana looked like the team that would usurp the Miami Heat in the East and become one of the strongest franchises of the future in the NBA. But with what has gone down this past few months, Indy might not have a choice.

West is owed $24.6 million these next two years – the second a Player Option (2). Hibbert, who averaged 9.3 PPG and 5.5 RPG in the 2014 Playoffs is set to make close to $30.5 million over the next two years, the second of which also a Player Option. Hill’s contract, meanwhile, runs until the 2016-2017, with him slated to earn $8 million each year – not the best payment for someone who averaged just 10.3 PPG, 3.7 RPG, and 3.5 APG as a starting point guard last season.

That’s a lot of money that takes up a lot of the Pacers’ cap space, and that’s without counting the max contract payment to George and the charges of the rest of the supporting cast: Luis Scola, Rodney Stuckey, CJ Miles, to name a few. Indiana can’t be faulted for spending a lot; they expected to be title contenders in the coming years with George leading the way, and with Stephenson returning rather than bolting for Charlotte.

West is somewhat still in his prime now and will be a more tempting piece to trade for in 2014 rather than in any of the next two years. He’s someone who can score in the post, a decent mid-range shooter, a quality defender, and just an all-around professional. Many teams would jump on him in a heartbeat, especially the Suns, whom West could guide to the Playoffs similar to what he did with Indiana when he joined the team in 2011.

Hibbert’s stock has plummeted compared to what it was last offseason, but advanced metrics show he is still one of the best rim protectors in the NBA, and teams are always in need of serviceable big men. Finding a taker might be difficult (3), but it’s possible. Indiana could keep Hill considering he’s not that pricy, but the length of his contract should give them reason to explore options.

For the rest of the team, Bird should try to trade the guys who have multiple years left in their contracts and keep those whose are expiring in 2015 for future flexibility. Get a high draft pick after letting go of the 2014-2015 season, pick someone up in the Draft that can be built around with a returning George in 2015-2016, and then use the available cap space money to sign guys who can load up the team.

Pacers fans, obviously, will not like the idea of going on a rebuild, even if only for a year. But it might be the most logical choice right now. The team could opt to see how far this current squad goes this season and the re-group again when George returns the following year, but West by then will be a year older and a step slower, no one knows how good Hibbert will be, and Hill will still be average at best. The money Indiana is committed to paying its current crop of players also handicaps the team from acquiring a major game-changer.

What now for Paul George

Tim Grover, trainer of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Dwyane Wade, gave his opinion of what the timetable for how long George’s recuperation could take place.

Probable Paul George timetable: 3-4 months: cast. Walk: 6mos. Run: 9mos. Plyo:11mos. Bball activities: 12mos. Mental return? No timetable. — Tim S. Grover (@ATTACKATHLETICS) August 2, 2014

With the advancement in operations and surgery procedures today and the report that “no major ancillary damage” was found, there’s little doubt the Pacers All-Star can return in great shape physically. But mentally is a different case.

Even before Rose suffered a second major knee injury in 2013, he looked very different from his usual self in the few games he played to open the most recent NBA season. At times, he looked afraid to attack the rim and use the explosiveness that made him a superstar. It also took time for him to get used to the pace and flow of the game as well, which will be a similar problem George faces.

For what it’s worth, George doesn’t seem to lack the confidence he can return in top shape.

Thanks everybody for the love and support.. I'll be ok and be back better than ever!!! Love y'all!! #YoungTrece — Paul George (@Paul_George24) August 2, 2014

But obviously, what he tweets now and shows on the hardwood could be very different. Injuries are gruesome, and even some of the best to ever lace them up never return the same way they did prior to going down – just ask Hardaway and Hill.

Paul George is the most exciting up-and-coming star of the NBA today. Losing another potential superstar to injury is cruel and unfortunate for basketball fans all over the world. All everyone can do for now is hope the basketball gods spare someone from feeling their wrath.

(1) East West, the organizers in charge of bringing in the NBA talent, failed to secure permits from the NBA.

(2) A Player Option is when a signed roster members has the choice whether to accept the remaining year(s) and money on his contract, or opt out and become an unrestricted free agent. 

(3) Dallas would have been the obvious choice here, but they acquired Tyson Chandler through trade during the offseason and he doesn’t come cheap as well.

A trade focused on Hibbert and Amare Stoudemire could take place. Indiana gets a player whose contract expires at the end of the season while New York receives a big man they can pair up with the freshly re-signed Carmelo Anthony. With the Pacers out of the Playoff picture, the Knicks could snag a spot.

- Rappler.com