Prior to being traded to the Indiana Pacers, Domantas Sabonis was expecting to log minutes for the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Summer League team in Orlando before playing for the Lithuanian national team in EuroBasket 2017 from August 31 thru September 17. Now, it appears that his plans have changed. Or, rather, they’ve been changed for him, reports 24sek’s Donatas Urbonas.
This is it: Domantas Sabonis won't play in Eurobasket 2017. Indiana Pacers have high hopes for Sabonis, wanted him to prepare for NBA season— Donatas Urbonas (@Urbodo) July 20, 2017
Opting not to release the 21-year-old to participate in international competition represents an abrupt shift in team policy. Larry Bird, Indiana’s previous President of Basketball Operations as well as a member of the 1992 Dream Team, was an outspoken advocate of Paul George’s comeback with Team USA last summer in an interview with ESPN’s Nick Friedell:
You always stood behind USA Basketball after the injury. Why were you strong in your support of the program?
Bird: I had an opportunity in high school to play against the Russians, and I thought that was the neatest thing in the world. I got in college, I played overseas, and it was over a month, and [I] got to see the world and play the game I love. And had an opportunity there at the end of my career to get into the Olympics and play for my country. Even though it was the end of my career, it's still an honor. And I just wish everybody had that feeling. If you love your country and you get to represent them and you can win, it's one of the greatest feelings, and I wanted Paul to have the same feeling. And I know he cares, he wants to play and he wants to win, and I think it's awesome.
Neither was Myles Turner dissuaded from being a member of the select team that assists the men’s national roster in training for the Olympics.
Sabonis, for his part, has been candid with FIBA in the past about his eagerness to represent Lithuania at the EuroBasket Championships:
How important is it for you to play with Lithuania's national team?
It is very important. I like to represent my country at the highest level in every competition, whether it is EuroBasket, the FIBA World Cup or the Olympics. I am very proud to be from Lithuania and I want to do my best for my country.
Given the emphasis the Pacers placed on Sabonis staying stateside this summer, it will be interesting to see if the team takes a similarly hard line with newcomer Bojan Bogdanovic, who played for the Croatian national team at EuroBasket 2013 and 2015, or if this change of stance only temporarily applies to young developing players who are acquired via controversial trades.
Per 24sek, more than 200 disgruntled Lithuanian basketball fans have already taken to Facebook with the hashtag #LetSabonisToEc to voice their displeasure with the Pacers.