I reacted to the news that Keldon Johnson would replace Bradley Beal on Team USA the same way all other San Antonio Spurs fans did: with pride and happiness. It’s great that one of the best and youngest players on the roster is getting the credit he deserved and is also getting to play alongside some of the league's most elite players and coaches. The experience will surely accelerate his development.
After some further thought, though, I became a little worried. I’ve always thought that Johnson has a ceiling as a top-15 player in the NBA, and this experience should boost his already high projection. But then I remembered that, as of right now, the Spurs don’t have a true superstar to pair with him. Call me paranoid, but it's certainly possible (if not likely) that he'll really enjoy playing with top-tier talent and the attention that comes with making friends with NBA royalty.
If I were a young, up-and-coming player, I think it goes without saying that I’d love to play with Damian Lillard or Kevin Durant to soak up as much of their knowledge as possible. Initially, this made me worry that Keldon would enjoy that change of scenery a little too much.
Thankfully, I think that paranoia may have been getting the best of me. I’ve been harping all offseason long about how Team USA needs team players and that a conglomeration of superstars is not enough to play productive basketball. In fact, such stacked teams can lead to needless spats like the one between Durant and Bam Adebayo today.
Keldon Johnson (awkwardly) got a taste of clashing star players
For anyone that may not understand what's going on in the video, Durant made a shot and expected to be awarded “change,” meaning he gets the same ball returned to him. Adebayo rebounded the ball but didn't seem to want to give it back to Durant.
Adebayo (jokingly) suggested that the ball he was holding was a smaller “girl's ball” and that Johnson was holding the ball he wanted. Johnson tossed his ball to Durant, and upon inspection, he ruled that the ball he now held was, in fact, a girl’s ball and that Adebayo still had the ball he wanted. They then switched balls and continued shooting.
Meanwhile, Johnson never got a ball back despite having his arms outstretched and muttering, “that was my ball.” Johnson's befuddled smile was perhaps the funniest part of the entire interaction.
I think it's safe to say that Derrick White, Dejounte Murray, and Patty Mills would not throw a fit over something so trivial back in San Antonio. However much Durant may be trying to play off the incident as a joke, it sure looked like he responded with some genuine frustration. Perhaps this incident helped Keldon to understand that playing on a team with good chemistry is sometimes better than playing with great players that don't work well together.
Ultimately, though, I wouldn't look too much into this. Spurs fans should be glad that Johnson gets to play with such fantastic players and coaches. He’ll come back to San Antonio playing better basketball than ever, and he'll also be thankful he was drafted by a team and organization that isn't known for drama.