As a fan of Australian basketball, I’m furious, bordering on livid, with the fact our brightest young star has turned his back on the Boomers for the Rio Olympics.
Rio promised to be Australia’s best chance to break their medal drought in men’s basketball. A starting five of Matthew Dellavedova, Patty Mills, Joe Ingles, Ben Simmons and Andrew Bogut, with the likes of Dante Exum, Aron Baynes and David Anderson on the bench, was going to be a serious medal threat.
Unfortunately, Simmons, the projected number one pick in this year’s NBA Draft, has announced he won’t be competing in the Olympics.
The Boomers’ medal hopes aren’t completely scuppered by the news – there are still three NBA champions in the squad – but they’ve taken a massive blow. Simmons might not be as developed as Bogut or Mills, but on raw talent he is in a league of his own.
But, taking away the bias of an Australian basketball fan, Simmons’ decision is understandable.
The Boomers’ pre-Olympics camp takes place smack bang in the middle of the NBA Summer League. For a rookie who missed out on March Madness, it will be vital for Simmons to get as much basketball with his new team under his belt before the NBA season proper starts.
That means turning up for Summer League.
Skipping the Olympics will also allow Simmons to hit the gym as much as possible with his new team. It’s no secret the Aussie didn’t develop at LSU as much as everyone was expecting.
Simmons needs to learn as much from his new teammates and coaches before he makes the jump to playing against the seasoned pros of the NBA. He won’t get that chance at the Olympics.
Skipping Rio will also boost Simmons’ relationship with his new team. It’s no secret NBA teams don’t like having their players take part in international tournaments, and it’s easy to understand why.
NBA franchises pay a player’s salary. Their coaches develop them, iron out any weaknesses in a player’s game. From their point of view, national teams do little but tire out players, already fatigued from the NBA’s gruelling 82-game schedule, and provide an extra opportunity for injuries to arise.
Just ask the Indiana Pacers, who lost Paul George for most of the 2014-15 season after the superstar small forward gruesomely broke his leg during a scrimmage for Team USA.
Or ask the Utah Jazz, who lost Exum for this season when the Aussie tore his ACL playing for the Boomers against Lithuania.
Dallas Mavericks owner Marc Cuban certainly hasn’t been shy about criticising the Olympics.
“The [International Olympic Committee (IOC)] is playing the NBA. The IOC is an organisation that has been rife with corruption, to the point where a member was accused of trying to fix an Olympic event in Salt Lake. The IOC [pulls in] billions of dollars. They make a killing and make Tony Soprano look like a saint,” Cuban said after George’s injury.
“The pros in multiple sports are smart enough to not play when they are eligible free agents. But teams take on huge financial risk so that the IOC committee members can line their pockets.
“The greatest trick ever played was the IOC convincing the world that the Olympics were about patriotism and national pride instead of money. The players and owners should get together and create our own World Cup of Basketball.”
Simmons is going to be burdened with the hopes and dreams of whichever franchise drafts him in June. The last thing he needs is to start off on the wrong foot with his new team by flying off to Brazil in August.
That Simmons won’t be part of the Boomers’ medal push at Rio is a travesty for Aussie basketball fans.
For unbiased fans of Simmons though, it’s nothing but good news.