This summer, national teams will fight for a spot in the upcoming FIBA World Cup to be held in Spain in 2014. Traditionally, Spurs fans have had a conflicting relationship with international ball because of injury concerns involving Manu Ginobili. But with Manu sitting out this summer, we can have some fun with it while we wait for the regular season to start.
Speaking of Manu, the last couple of summers he's competed internationally, and the last couple of years he had nagging injuries all throughout the regular season. The last time he took the summer off, he went on to play a career high 81 games (it would have been 80 if he'd been held out of the last game of the season in order to avoid that broken arm in the final game of the regular season!) and average over 30 minutes for the second time in his career while maintaining his stellar career per 36 minutes numbers. And all at the age of 33. He needs to work on his body and come back strong next season, and the only way that was going to happen is if he sits out.
I think it's only right that every player has the right to choose to play for their country and had Ginobili decided to play I would have defended his decision. But for the Spurs, it's great news that Manu is staying at home in Bahia Blanca instead of toiling for the Argentine national team.
Then we have Tiago Splitter, who decided to sit out the FIBA Americas competition (starting on August 30 in Caracas, Venezuela) which will allow him to rest his body after a grueling season. For the first time in his career, he had to play over one hundred games, and he was one of only 21 forwards or centers over 6-10 to play at least 75 games and play over 1800 minutes, not counting the playoffs. Splitter was really durable and that's huge for a center. But in his first year with the Spurs, an injury he carried from international play limited him at the start of training camp. Splitter had no problem after the Olympics last season, but at this point the benefits from him playing for Brazil are not worth the risk, at least from the Spurs' perspective.
Hopefully the rest allows him to work on his game and his body a bit and come back stronger and more polished offensively next season. But even if it only helps him stay healthy, it's a huge plus for the Spurs; especially when it comes to making things easier for Tim Duncan in the regular season.
So the South American Spurs will be resting, but the European and Oceanic Spurs won't. Tony Parker, Nando De Colo and Boris Diaw are on France's preliminary list for Eurobasket (starting September 4), Marco Belinelli will suit up for Italy and Patty Mills has confirmed his involvement in the Oceania New Zealand-Australia series (form August 14-18). Baynes and Cory Joseph are not locked in yet but will likely make their respective teams.
But unlike their teammates in the Western Hemisphere, I think playing this summer could be a good thing for these guys.
Let's start with Tony Parker. The leadership skills he displayed with the Spurs last season, he honed with the French national team -- or at least Pop thought so. At 31, Parker has a lot of miles on those legs but he has been very durable the last few years and his lack of success at the international level is something that probably bothers him. So it's better if he goes for it now than in a couple of years. There's also the question of Tony's off-season activities.
I know it's not fair to single Tony out because every NBA player uses the off-season to cut loose, but I'm more worried about Parker in a nightclub in New York or riding on a motorized skateboard than hanging out with the national team. It's silly and unfair since it's not like Parker ever got hurt riding a moped then lied about it, he just got caught in the middle of a brawl he didn't participate in. But I can't help but think it's better if he limits his risky behavior to his court time with the national team. But maybe that's just me.
Something similar happens with Boris Diaw and his weight. Boris will be in a contract year and usually takes relatively good care of his body, but he has struggled with weight issues in the past and that likely won't happen this summer. De Colo, meanwhile, will have a great chance of working against quality competition in practices and hopefully games too, depending on the amount of playing time he gets. Along with his Summer League run, that means he will have the minutes needed to develop his game in the off-season after not getting too many with the Spurs last year. And the more he gets to play with the other French Spurs, the better.
As for Mills and Baynes, competing can only help them. Mills' development as a play-maker won't happen playing for Australia, as he is usually off the ball and in the role of volume shooter. But he can continue to develop as a scorer, which seems an area in which he's more than equipped. Baynes, on the other hand, will play a similar role this summer as the one he will likely have in the NBA, since Australia has a solid starting front court already in place. Seeing if he can contribute in short bursts off the bench against decent competition could help predict just how good he can be for the Spurs next season.
And last but not least we have Marco Belinelli and Cory Joseph, the guys that can probably get the most of their summer play. Italy did not qualify for the London Olympics and has not been an elite European national team since they won silver in the Athens Olympics in 2004. After a mediocre campaign in the 2011 Eurobasket in which Belinelli scored 12 points per game on 43.5% from the field in five games (28.1% from three), he will likely be relied upon to be a featured scorer with Gallinari not available due to injury. Both Belinelli's scoring and playmaking will be put to the test against some high level competition, as Italy will face very talented teams in the group stage, including Turkey (Asik, Turkoglu and Ilyasova), Russia (Shved, Karasev), Sweden (Jerebko) and Greece (Spanoulis, Calathes, Bourousis).
Cory Joseph, meanwhile, has made the preliminary Canadian team and will likely make the team when it battles in Caracas for a place in the World Cup. For a young guy like Joseph, getting to play at a high level for his country is key for his development. He wasn't able to get significant playing time throughout the Spurs season, but he took his chances in the D-League, and eventually saw his minutes increase just before and into the playoffs. This summer he'll be able to play with, and potentially lead from the PG position, the talented Canadian national team (Tristan Thompson, Andrew Nicholson, Joel Anthony) which could further aid in his growth.
So there you have it. We can all breathe a sigh of relief this summer as Manu Ginobili won't be playing. Splitter is also taking the summer off, which is soothing news after he signed that big contract. While Parker playing might not be ideal, he's limiting his minutes, and his relative youth and durability alleviates some concerns, while the rest of the players should actually benefit greatly from playing for their respective national teams.