Furkan Korkmaz, the Philadelphia 76ers' lone representative in the FIBA World Cup, seen here standing to the right of Turkish Youth and Sports Minister Mehmet Muharrem Kasapoglu.
By Bill Gorman, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer
The 2019 FIBA World Cup will begin on August 31, and as I am sure you’ve heard, a ton of NBA players will be missing from the proceedings. In fact, the entire Philadelphia 76ers roster with the exception of the recently re-signed Furkan Korkmaz (likely to start for the Turkish National Team at shooting guard) will be staying away from China in September.
Let’s dip into the reasons why the 76ers will not be better represented in this year's World Cup, the first qualifying tournament for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. We will start with the American players.
Tobias Harris was invited to USA Basketball’s camp in Las Vegas and was considered a front-runner for a forward spot on the team, despite a relatively disappointing performance in the playoffs. He withdrew from consideration not long after the training camp/selection process began so that he could focus on getting ready for the upcoming 76ers season. Harris, in an article written by Marc Narducci of the Inquirer, said that he needed to use the time in the offseason to make sure he was 100 percent healthy for the upcoming NBA season.
"It's a lot," Harris said. "I definitely want to be out there representing my country, but for myself and the team [76ers] the best decision was to get fully healthy."
Josh Richardson was considered for a spot on the team but was not invited to camp. The other American players (Mike Scott, James Ennis III, Trey Burke, Shake Milton, Kyle O’Quinn, Matisse Thybulle and Zhaire Smith) were never under serious consideration for the US team.
Brazilian Raul Neto has played for his national team in the past, but he was not invited to participate in this year’s tournament.
Joel Embiid’s Cameroon team finished 6th at the 2017 AfroBasket tournament and failed to qualify.
Al Horford decided not to play for his native Dominican Republic due to “the obligations of changing teams”
Ben Simmons and Jonah Bolden were initially slated to play for the Australian National Team. Simmons backed out early on, saying that he would play in exhibition games against the US to be held in Australia but would not be joining the team for their trip to China. And finally, Bolden withdrew from the team less than two weeks before the tournament was set to begin due to undisclosed personal reasons.
The shame in these withdrawals is the loss of playing both with and against some of the best players in the world in a competitive environment. In the past, many players have enjoyed huge success after taking on large roles during international tournaments. Kevin Durant’s career took off after spending a summer playing against the 2008 Olympic Team. James Harden, who had gotten minimal playing time on the 2012 Olympic team, ascended to superstar status in the following season, eventually leading to an MVP season in 2017-18. Anthony Davis used a starting role on the 2014 World Cup team to springboard to first-team All-NBA status the next season.
It is difficult to deny the effect that playing in these high-pressure environments can help turn very good players into great ones. Embiid is already among the top 10-15 players in the NBA, but his national team is not good enough to qualify for these major international tournaments. As a result, he can focus his off-season on training because there is really no other outlet for him to improve. Horford is 33 years old, and nearing the downside of his career, so maintaining his health is the most important factor.
However, players like Simmons, Harris and Bolden, who were likely to be included and play at least a major supporting role on their national teams, are missing out on a significant development opportunity. The hope is that they don’t ultimately regret their decisions and that staying in the US to work on their games with their new teammates is the key to the 76ers’ improvement in 2019-20 and beyond.