The Summer Olympics are the pinnacle of international basketball competition, when the world’s very best come together to prove themselves and express national pride. The United State is no different, as all-time greats have been a part of basketball at the Olympics, from the Dream Team and the Vince dunk to the Redeem Team. The Cleveland Cavaliers have frequently been represented at the games, from LeBron James and Kyrie Irving to Kevin Love.
Love’s presence on the current 12-man roster guarantees the Cavaliers will once again be present at the Olympics, this time around in Tokyo, Japan. Unfortunate circumstances involving one of the team’s stars could possibly open the door for that representation to double.
Even as the world tries to break free from the oppressive cloud of a global pandemic, COVID-19 continues to make its mark — including on basketball. The Olympics this summer are being branded “Tokyo 2020” because the entire games were delayed an entire calendar year because of the virus.
Bradley Beal might miss the Olympics due to health and safety protocols.
All-NBA shooting guard Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards was one of the expected starters for Team USA, but it was announced Wednesday that he has entered health and safety protocols, putting his ability to play in the Olympics in jeopardy.
Japan has succeeded against the virus by choking out its ability to spread with lockdowns and contact tracing. What they have not done is vaccinate a large percentage of their population, which means the entire nation will be that much more conservative when it comes to the virus. That context only increases the likelihood that this situation will keep Beal from traveling to Tokyo.
Team USA is already playing its exhibition games down three players, as Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton of the Milwaukee Bucks and Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns won’t join the team until the NBA Finals are complete. Their absences have led to a trio of players from the “Select Team” playing exhibition games with the Olympic roster.
The USA Select Team is made up of young players in the national program, often players who played for the United States at lower levels such as U-16 or U-19. This group historically practices with Team USA during Olympic training camp and even scrimmages with them. This year, three players from the Select Team have joined the top roster for exhibition play.
Those three players are the Detroit Pistons’ Saddiq Bey, Keldon Johnson of the San Antonio Spurs, and Darius Garland of the Cleveland Cavaliers. If Beal cannot go, it is likely one of these three players will be selected to join the team. Of those three, it’s reasonable to think that Garland would be the choice.
Garland has appeared in all three of Team USA’s exhibition games thus far, the only Select Team player to do so. His shooting and ball-handling have made him valuable on this team, especially since their two best passers are probably playing center.
In the team’s third exhibition game, a blowout victory over Argentina, Garland played over 10 minutes and took seven shots as he helped cover the absence of Jayson Tatum. With Bradley Beal now out for an indeterminate amount of time, Garland should see even more run. Of the team’s 12-man roster just seven might be available for their next match on Friday, and only two of them are guards: Damian Lillard and Zach LaVine.
The roster has size and versatile defenders, but it has a need in the backcourt. That need will be reduced when the players currently in the NBA Finals fly to Tokyo, but given the quick turnaround and the travel it will be important to have other players to fill minutes in the backcourt early on.
Gregg Popovich could lobby for a different player, including his own player on the Spurs, Keldon Johnson. Saddiq Bey is not afraid to get up shots. They could even elect to take a more veteran option, selecting one of the non-NBA players who helped Team USA qualify such as John Jenkins or Cameron Reynolds.
Yet the money has to be on Darius Garland, a rising talent who can score and hit teammates with passes. Garland averaged 17.4 points and 6.1 assists per game this past season, including a 39.5 percent mark from 3-point range. All of this in just his second season; Garland is just barely old enough to buy himself a drink.
There is precedence for having a young, less-proven player on the Team USA roster. The Dream Team had Christian Laettner to represent college players; Mike Krzyzewski’s teams took Mason Plumlee or Anthony Davis as young bigs. Garland could be the latest edition of the up-and-comer role.
Fans of the Cavaliers took to social media when the news of Beal’s status was made public, expressing their support for their young guard to get the slot on the roster.
The entire basketball community will rejoice if Bradley Beal can exit the protocols and join Team USA. He has earned his spot on the roster and is a vital part of their hopes of bringing home a gold medal. If he can’t go, however, the choice to replace him very possibly, if not probably, lands on Garland.
For a player coming off just his second season in the league, this could be an opportunity to give his career a boost. Add on the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to compete for your country in the Olympics and it’s a no-brainer for both sides. Team USA, if it needs to fill a slot, should replace Bradley Beal with Darius Garland to compete in the Tokyo Olympics, of which play will begin on July 25 at 8 AM Eastern for the Americans against France.