USA Basketball placed seventh in the 2019 World Cup this summer, its worst finish in a major tournament ever. That’s led to increased calls for stars to return to Team USA next summer for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, and they’re calls Los Angeles Lakers star Anthony Davis is happy to answer.
“I want to play USA Basketball if I get the opportunity to do so,” Davis said on ESPN’s “The Jump” on Friday, before pointing at the camera in the hopes USA National Team Head Coach Gregg Popovich would see the clip.
“Hey Pop, I’m ready.”
But why is Davis ready now? Is it the popular theory that stars see the Olympics as more worth of participation in than the World Cup, which isn’t as well known or popular in the United States? Davis says that isn’t the case for him.
“Me personally, I don’t put the Olympics over the World Cup,” Davis said. “If you can represent your country, I think you should do it.”
If that’s true, then what will have changed for him since this summer, when he and scores of other stars declined to play in the World Cup, helping lead to the team’s historically bad finish? It turns out quite a few things, according to Davis.
“Last summer there was just a lot going on. The trade, obviously it’s a contract year, there was a lot that I had to factor in,” Davis explained after the Lakers’ first practice of training camp on Saturday. “Next summer, hopefully I’ll just make a decision about everything and then go out there.”
The “everything” in Davis’ case is likely a veiled reference to his upcoming opportunity to enter unrestricted free agency. As a free agent, he’ll either re-sign with the Lakers or join another team on a longer-term contract, thereby locking in the type of guaranteed financial security that empowers players to risk injury to represent their country in the World Cup.
Those are sensible reasons for Davis to wait to participate, and at Lakers Media Day, James made it sound like he’s still doing the calculus to make sure that joining Team USA to seek a third gold medal makes sense for him as well.
”I don’t know. I would love to,” James said. “I want to stay healthy as well, that’s what’s most important.”
The 34-year-old — who surely has to evaluate whether he wants the extra miles that come with an extra tournament in the summer — added that while he respects the effort that was put forth by this summer’s national team, he was also “not happy” about how this competition ended for them.
“I didn’t say anything obviously while they were playing, but I applaud everyone individually who was on that team this summer, including the coaching staff and everybody, but it’s not what we are accustomed to,” James said.
“We’ll see how we do throughout this season, and I will address that at some point, and hopefully have an opportunity to have a conversation with Coach Pop and see what his direction is going forward,” James continued. “But I will always bleed red, white and blue, that’s for sure.”
Still, James doesn’t think the return of stars like himself and Davis is an instant cure for Team USA, anyway.
“You still have to go out there and work and play the game. But it does strengthen our team and it does give us a very good team going into the worlds,” James said. “The rest of the world is better, but we continue to get better as well, as Americans.”