Chris Paul exits Rio, Is LeBron Next?

There is a photograph of an ecstatic Chris Paul with two gold medals around his neck, taken in London, after USA Basketball’s second straight triumph in the summer of 2012. In the background of the photo, Kobe Bryant is looking off in the distance. He also has two gold medals. Neither Bryant nor Paul will be in Rio this August and not because they don’t have the desire to play for their country, but because their bodies are battered and abused after more than a decade of NBA post-season wars.

In Paul’s case, he has had a grueling season because of Blake Griffin’s absence. Paul, desperate to get the Clippers into their first Western Conference Finals, had to save the season for the Clips and took his game to incredible levels even as the fear that he might be pushing too hard, hard enough to injure himself long term, was a dark cloud clinging to him.

Chris Paul has never been better in 2015-16 but his body has paid the price for his career high in points. He is leaving Rio behind, and his Olympic career now belongs to the historians and the record books. His decision to not play in Rio is indicative of the gruesome toll of playing 100+ games in a season, having a month off, and then practicing and competing for another six weeks. Chris Paul will be 31 in May. But it’s an old 31.

“I feel my body telling me that I could use the time.”

Dwyane Wade is also out of the Rio Olympics. And so what you are left with from that grand 2008 men’s basketball team that was determined to return international basketball glory to America is LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.

Gone: Kobe Bryant. Gone: Chris Paul. Gone: Dwyane Wade. Gone: Deron Williams. Gone: Chris Bosh. Gone; Dwight Howard. Gone: Carlos Boozer. Gone: Michael Redd. Gone: Jason Kidd. Gone: Tayshaun Prince.

A dynamic chapter is forever closed. Chris Paul, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade changed the perception of playing in the Olympics. They made it popular and glamorous and an honor to be chosen. They were exactly where the rebuilding had to start, the NBA’s best point guard, best shooting guards, best small forwards. They succeeded in what they set out to do. The torch is being passed to another generation.

Will LeBron be a part of it now? His body is just as battered and bruised and begging for mercy as his best friend Chris Paul. No one has played more NBA games this past decade than LeBron James. He is on track to appear in his sixth NBA Finals, something that has not been done since Bill Russell. Pencil LeBron in for 107 NBA games.

But expecting a short vacation and then back at it again, particularly since he has two gold medals and was part of that special 2008 team, may be asking a bit much. LeBron doesn’t need the Olympics and the Olympics don’t need LeBron. LeBron did his part. He elevated the summer games to a destination event for serious NBA players. He helped create the culture.

That his two best friends, Paul and Wade, won’t be there will undoubtedly affect James decision. He loves playing with his friends and the summer games gave him extraordinary joy. James already remarked that when Kobe pulled out, he stopped thinking about the Olympics.

But USA Basketball and Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski have not stopped thinking about LeBron James.

 

photo via llananba