Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard’s chances of wearing the red, white and blue at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, got another huge boost over the weekend.
Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook and Houston Rockets guard James Harden, both of whom were on the 2012 Olympic team, have withdrawn from consideration to represent the United States at this summer’s Olympics.
Although neither stated a reason, the Bay Area News Group reported earlier this week that several NBA players, including LeBron James, are concerned with the Zika virus that has ravaged the South American nation and could end their candidacy because of it.
Chicago Bulls center and Spanish national Pau Gasol is the only NBA player to publicly consider not going to Rio because of the Zika virus.
Golden State guard and two-time MVP Stephen Curry announced earlier this week that he would not participate in the Olympics, citing injuries that caused him to miss games in the NBA playoffs.
Perhaps USA Basketball knew this would be a concern, when they sent Men’s National Team Director Sean Ford to Portland to meet with Lillard face-to-face to get him back on board in February.
Lillard is almost certainly a lock to be in Rio this summer, should he decide to keep his name in the player pool.
Lillard has been in the USA Basketball pipeline since his rookie year and was one of the last cuts for the USA team that won 2014 FIBA World Cup.
The recent withdrawals leave Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving (2014 World Cup MVP), Golden State’s Klay Thompson and Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan as the only returning guards from the 2014 team.
Blazers center Mason Plumlee was part of the 2014 team, but was not included in the player pool for the Rio Olympics.
Blazers guard CJ McCollum has been asked to play for the USA Select Team, which will practice against the Olympic team during their training camp.
The USA Men’s National team will be touring the country from July 22 to August 1, including an exhibition game against China, in Lillard’s hometown of Oakland, Calif., on July 26.
The tour concludes in Houston on Aug. 1 with an exhibition against Nigeria, where Lillard could have the opportunity to face Blazers teammate Al-Farouq Aminu, who will also be in Rio.