After championships are won and lost, the NBA, college and high school basketball lays its foundation in the summer months. With the draft, the AAU circuit and summer camps giving rise to new stars replacing the old â€” plus the world’s most-watched basketball tournament getting underway in Beijing â€” we give you this summer’s Players 2 Watch…
Don’t let last summer’s FIBA Americas tournament fool you â€“ there is no guarantee that Team USA will win gold at the 2008 Olympics. As good as the home team looked running through the likes of Puerto Rico, Venezuela and the JV version of Team Argentina to qualify for its Olympic spot, this current stars-and-stripes roster has yet to face any of the notable European powers. Leading that group is Spain, the reigning World Champions who boast NBA-certified talent in Pau Gasol, J.C. Navarro, Jorge Garbajosa, Sergio Rodriguez, Rudy Fernandez and Marc Gasol.
But if there is one player most responsible for the Spaniards posing a threat to knock off the U.S., it’s Jose Calderon. You see, international competition is just like the NCAA Tournament; it’s all about the guard play. And Calderon is coming off a season in which he established himself as one of the best point guards in the world. Splitting duties with T.J. Ford for the Toronto Raptors, the 26-year-old Calderon averaged 11.2 points and 8.3 assists (fifth-best in the NBA) while posting a 5.38-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, the best in the League. In February he was considered one of the biggest All-Star Game snubs, and later helped lead the Raps to a second straight playoff berth. Calderon’s value was perhaps best displayed when Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo publicly stated in a mid-season ESPN podcast that the franchise would be more than willing to open up the checkbook and do whatever it took to keep Calderon, a restricted free agent this summer.
Between a healthy contract from Toronto or another NBA squad, and a medal shining gold, silver or bronze from Beijing, this should be an offseason full of riches for Jose Calderon.
(Editor’s Note: Calderon reportedly agreed to a five-year, $40 million deal with Toronto yesterday.)