Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin: Gay joins Cousins in quest to make U.S. national team

Mark Cuban has his issues with basketball’s international governing body (FIBA). Paul George has a fractured leg. Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin are either not interested or interested but ailing. Kevin Durant, the face of Team USA, is full of surprises: He gains a new endorsement deal and withdraws from Team USA within a matter of hours, citing fatigue.

So, um, about DeMarcus Cousins?

Does he speak Spanish?

When the Kings center isn’t running sprints and otherwise pushing his big, beefy body into even better shape for the resumption of training camp next Thursday, he probably should schedule a few sessions with Rosetta Stone. And make that a table for two. USA Basketball named Kings small forward Rudy Gay to replace Durant.

Gay is far from a lock to make the final 12-man roster that will play in the World Cup beginning Aug. 30. Unlike Cousins, who has to beat out center-power forwards Andre Drummond or Mason Plumlee, Gay faces challenges from versatile guards-wings DeMar DeRozan, James Harden, Gordon Hayward, Chandler Parsons and Klay Thompson.

But as much as Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski appreciated Durant, he also has a special fondness for the 6-foot-8 Gay, a member of his 2010 World Championship team.

“Rudy can play different positions,” Krzyzewski noted last week in Las Vegas during a casual conversation. “I played him at the five (center) position at times. He is just a very good basketball player, and he’s a great guy.”

Left unsaid is this: While Cousins loses his mentor (Durant), he gains a respected and familiar teammate, at least through upcoming camps in Chicago and New York. Final rosters are submitted about 24 hours before tipoff.

Interestingly, Kings principal owner Vivek Ranadive, adviser Chris Mullin and general manager Pete D’Alessandro learned about Durant’s withdrawal late Thursday en route to the Hall of Fame proceedings in Springfield, Mass. When Gay’s inclusion was announced, there was no hand-wringing or sharing of worry beads. If anything, the temptation was to crack open a bottle of champagne.

Unlike other owners who criticize FIBA for banking all the profits (Cuban) or discourage their players from participating in international events because of the risk factors – see Paul George’s horrific injury and concerns about the positioning of the basket stanchions – the Ranadive camp enthusiastically embraces the NBA’s international involvement.

“I was at the Olympics when we won the gold medal two years ago (in London),” the Indian-born Ranadive said while riding with other team officials from Boston to Springfield, , “and I’m a big fan of USA Basketball. I’m an immigrant to this country. It makes me so proud to see our players wearing the U.S. colors and carrying the American flag. It is also my belief that these are global games, and we want our best players involved.”

Coincidentally, the Hall of Fame festivities scheduled for Friday evening already included a few slices of Sacramento. The inductees included:

• Mitch Richmond, the Kings’ six-time All-Star, the All-Star Game MVP in 1995, a member of “Run TMC” during his early years with the Warriors and 1996 Olympic gold medalist during his seven seasons in Sacramento. He assists Mullin and Ranadive in front office matters.

• Sarunas Marciulionis. Though best remembered domestically for his early seasons with the Warriors, the Lithuanian native was a major contributor on the 1995-96 Kings team that reached the playoffs for only the second time in the Sacramento era. The man known within the basketball world simply as “Rooney” resurrected his country’s national program and led Lithuania to the bronze medal in an emotional, politically charged victory over Russia in the 1992 Barcelona Summer Games. He returned to his homeland to start a professional league and operate an academic/athletic academy for boys and girls.

• David Stern. During a 30-year span, the former commissioner presided over tremendous domestic and international growth, transforming a troubled sport into a marketing and money-making machine with one television contract after another driving up the profits. Additionally, he was responsible for the inception and longevity of the WNBA, the only enduring league in women’s professional sports; conducted what amounted to a league-wide immersion course on AIDS when Lakers superstar Magic Johnson revealed he had contracted the virus in 1991; and endorsed FIBA’s decision granting eligibility to NBA players before the 1992 Games, leading to the assemblage of a Dream Team that the late coach Chuck Daly labeled “majestic.”

Stern’s global vision contributed indirectly to the Kings’ success of the previous decade, with three of the main contributors (Vlade Divac, Peja Stojakovic and Hedo Turkoglu) products of overseas leagues.

Yes, the Sonics left Seattle. But, no, the Kings didn’t become the Sonics, again, largely owing to Stern’s stubborn commitment to one of his favorite smaller markets. Ranadive. Raj Bhathal. Kevin Johnson. All are indebted to the commissioner who retired last February and almost immediately was added to the class of 2014.

“It’s been a great few weeks for us,” Ranadive noted. “We trade for Darren Collison, draft the rookie Nik Stauskas, get two of our kids to the Team USA camp, and now we’re on our way to see Mitch get into the Hall of Fame. I have nothing against Kevin Durant, but I think this is fantastic for us.”