Every team has questions during its preseason and the U.S. National basketball squad is no exception. For this team, it is not a matter of who will play and how much. It is more a question of "Is this all worth it?"
Consider it a resounding "Yes" from the players who have signed up and decided to stay.
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"This is a huge opportunity and a great honor to represent your country," said Stephen Curry, the Warriors star who scored eight points in a 105-62 exhibition win over the Dominican Republic before a spirited crowd at Madison Square Garden Wednesday night. "We have such a short window playing this game on this level, for us to be fortunate enough to have this opportunity to play against the best in the world and compete for a gold medal for your country, it's a huge honor."
An honor yes, but also a huge risk. That has crossed a lot of players' minds since Paul George went down with a horrific leg injury that will cost him the entire season. Soon after that, the NBA's Most Valuable Player, Kevin Durant, begged off the team that will compete in the World Cup in Spain later this month.
"Obviously," Curry said, "there's been a lot of questions the last couple weeks, whether we should be or should not be doing this, or what's in it for us. But this is a great memory, it's a great fraternity of guys who have worn this jersey and won gold medals."
Derrick Rose insists he wants to be one of those. He did not play Wednesday night, but both he and coach Mike Krzyzewski said it was not because of knee soreness that kept him out of practice. The latter said it was a matter of finding minutes for 16 players, adding, "We know what Derrick Rose can do."
Rose is Exhibit A in the debate as he has missed almost all of the Bulls' past two seasons because of knee injuries. But he said he will play in an exhibition game against Puerto Rico at the Garden tomorrow night.
Wednesday night was a blowout, but not simply a walk-through. There was excitement in the building with a sizable portion of the big crowd rooting for the Dominican Republic -- notably for Francisco Garcia (14 points) and Edgar Sosa (11 points), who grew up in New York.
There were roars for the United States too, of course, with alley-oop dunks by Anthony Davis and Andre Drummond. The latter's made the score 100-60. DeMar DeRozan led the United States with 13 points and said nobody can afford to coast: "If you play four or five or six minutes, you have to play as hard as possible."
Such an outlook reassured NBA Commissioner Adam Silver about the World Cup. He appeared at a pregame news conference with Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and said, "There's a big risk without enormous financial reward, but I'm sitting next to our highest ranking military official, so I'm almost embarrassed to be talking about the risks that our players face."