LAS VEGAS DeMarcus Cousins probably shouldn't stray too far from airports during the next few weeks. If this trend continues, with one NBA frontcourt star after another getting injured and dropping off the 2012 Olympic men's team, USA Basketball officials might start screaming mea culpas, working the political scene and measuring the Kings' beefy center for one of their red, white and blue jerseys.
That list of American big men just keeps shrinking. And the concern keeps growing. Chris Bosh, LaMarcus Aldridge, Dwight Howard are hurt. Andrew Bynum was not interested. And late Thursday, while Team USA was overwhelming the Dominican Republic in an exhibition at UNLV, it was reported that Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin has a torn meniscus.
Griffin, who complained of discomfort in his surgically repaired left knee after Wednesday's practice, is scheduled for more tests Sunday in New York. He won't be seen again on the court until training camp at the earliest, which leaves Team USA with Tyson Chandler, Kevin Love and alternate (and unofficial replacement) Anthony Davis as the only frontcourt players.
Griffin's expected departure also moves Cousins deeper into the conversation and USA Basketball officials into an increasingly uncomfortable position. No question about it. Publicly and privately, DeMarcus is making everyone sweat.
Here's the situation: Because Cousins wasn't in the pool of national team candidates submitted to the United States Olympic Committee in January and updated in May in other words, he was only invited to train with the Select Team because of serious lobbying from the Maloofs and Keith Smart he wasn't subjected to the requisite drug tests and, thus, hasn't received USOC clearance.
Should any of the USA's remaining big men get hurt or otherwise become unavailable between now and the London Games, adding Cousins would require serious arm-twisting by USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo, or worse, an act of Congress.
"It's not impossible," men's national director Sean Ford said Thursday night. "Nothing's impossible at this stage, but we've been focused on what's in front of us right now."
Blame all this on Cousins. The third-year center complicated matters with his increasingly impressive performances. After a bad opening day of practice and some withering criticism from Colangelo, he has been repeatedly praised for his scoring, rebounding, passing and monster all-around skills. He became a factor and not a distraction, and at times, according to Select Team coach Jay Triano, was among the best players on the court.
Cousins created further intrigue (and received additional props) when he calmly approached Colangelo the influential and all-powerful czar and asked specifically why he had been labeled "immature."
"He improved every day," Colangelo said Thursday night. "What he's done is put himself into consideration moving forward. As far as where we are we had our roster, and we were going to go with that roster."
With Davis long listed as a Team USA alternate and, now a virtual lock to replace Griffin, this means Cousins can start looking ahead to the 2014 world championships.
Then again. This is international basketball. Stranger things have happened. Charles Barkley elbowed a skinny Angolan in the opener in 1992 and still became the beefy, beloved star of Barcelona. Russia controlled the clock and won the gold medal in Munich 1972. And, within the past 48 hours, a few days after lobbying for Cousins, Kobe Bryant suggested the current Olympic team could beat the original 1992 Dream Team.
Now, Kobe was smiling and having fun when he offered the comments before Wednesday's practice, but some of the original Dreamers weren't amused. Barkley told ESPN that only Bryant, LeBron James and Kevin Durant would have made the 1992 team. Michael Jordan, whose ego is eclipsed perhaps by his spectacular skills, told the Associated Press, "I absolutely laughed" upon hearing Kobe's remarks.
"I'd like to think that we had 11 Hall of Famers on that team," said Jordan. "When they get 11 Hall of Famers, you can call and ask me who had the better team."
That '93 team also included 7-footers Patrick Ewing and David Robinson, and, unlike coach Mike Krzyzewski's current 2012 team, was intact long before Opening Ceremony.
"We're not where we want to be," Colangelo acknowledged. "Between the injuries, the short amount of time we've had to put this team together, the distractions of (NBA) free agency, it has been frustrating."
So about DeMarcus. He's big and he's thick and he's eager. And, yes, though it's probably too late for London, check back if another American forward-center gets hurt. Cousins has them talking, and apparently, realizing he's not who they thought.