Leaving Candace Parker off Rio team is bad call by USA Basketball

Seven women have won the WNBA's MVP award over the past eight years, one of them twice. She's the same person who has the league's highest career player efficiency rating (PER) among those currently active in the WNBA: 26.77. And only two players, both retired, are ahead of her all time in that statistic.

She led the United States in rebounds and blocked shots in the 2012 Olympics, and was tied as the team's third-leading scorer. Last year, she sat out the first part of the WNBA season to rest, and her team was 3-14 in that time. With her, the team went 11-6 and grabbed a playoff spot.

The player, of course, is Los Angeles Sparks forward/center Candace Parker, who is indisputably one of the best in all of women's basketball. Yet when the U.S. team attempts to win its sixth consecutive gold medal in the upcoming Summer Olympics, Parker won't be there. It was reported Monday by ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne that Parker isn't among the 12 finalists.

Who they are won't be officially announced until Wednesday morning by USA Basketball. But a two-time Olympic gold medalist -- who just turned 30 this month and is still in her peak-performance years -- has been left out. And whatever reasons that will be given for this decision, they're likely not going to satisfy a portion of the women's basketball fan base.

"We're not talking about giving an aging, fading star one last chance to add to her medal haul. This is an elite-level player who still has the goods, big-time."

One thing that USA Basketball always stresses is that it's not the 12 best players in the United States that make the team, but the 12 who play best together. But Parker has competed on two Olympic teams and one world championship team. Hasn't she already proven she can contribute on this kind of team and in this environment?

Because of the depth of basketball talent in the United States, there's enormous competition to make this team. A lot of very good players have never had a realistic chance to do it. That's part of why some have forged connections with other countries to play on their national teams, such as when Becky Hammon competed for Russia.

However, Parker is a longtime USA Basketball presence. Because of injuries, she didn't play in the 2010 and 2014 world championship tournaments, but was on the senior national team as far back as the 2006 world championship, when she was still in college at Tennessee.

There's no such thing as an "until you retire" appointment to the national team, but we're also not talking about giving an aging, fading star one last chance to add to her medal haul. This is an elite-level player who still has the goods, big time.

Last season, as mentioned, Parker sat out the Sparks' first 17 games. In the 16 regular-season games she played in, Parker was outstanding, averaging 19.4 points, 10.1 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.9 steals and 1.8 blocks.

In the playoffs, where the Sparks lost 2-1 to eventual champion Minnesota, Parker averaged 23.0 points, 10.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists.

Then in a four-game European tour with USA Basketball in October, Parker led the way in minutes played, rebounds, assists and blocked shots, while being third in points scored.

No players from the Lynx and Indiana Fever took part in that tour, as it was during the WNBA Finals. So that left out past Olympians such as Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus, Lindsay Whalen, Sylvia Fowles and Tamika Catchings. Plus, Phoenix's Diana Taurasi, who sat out all of last WNBA season, didn't participate in the tour, either.

But of the 10 players who competed, Parker was statistically the best overall performer. How do you go from that to six months later being left off the Olympic team? How is that possible?

Admittedly, USA Basketball was facing challenging decisions that were going to disappoint some people no matter what. Everybody knew that. There were 10 players from the 2012 London Olympics who made the list of 25 finalists for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Parker didn't attend USA Basketball's three-day training camp in Connecticut in February because she was still competing in China. But New York's Tina Charles and Minnesota's Fowles missed the camp for the same reason.

Three players who were widely considered the most likely to be first-time Olympians -- Chicago's Elena Delle Donne, Phoenix's Brittney Griner and UConn senior Breanna Stewart -- were at the camp. Griner and Stewart both played on the 2014 world championship team.

So there were at least 13 very strong candidates for 12 Olympic spots. Something had to give. And, again, while we don't yet know who the 12 are, we know one of them is not the 6-foot-4, multi-dimensional, two-time WNBA MVP who has averaged 17.8 points and 9.1 rebounds in her WNBA career.

"Some will say it's strictly strategic: that the U.S. team somehow felt it had a surplus of what Parker does, and despite her being on the short list of 'best in the world,' she was the odd woman out. That seems absurd."

There will be plenty of theories about why. Some will say it's strictly strategic: that the U.S. team somehow felt it had a surplus of what Parker does, and despite her being on the short list of "best in the world," she was the odd woman out. That seems absurd.

Others will say it came down to chemistry/personality clashes. To that end, some will see this as evidence that USA Basketball has turned into Club UConn in the past eight years with Huskies coach Geno Auriemma guiding the senior national team. And that Tennessee grad Parker was outside of that clique, and thus deemed more expendable. (Six of the 12 Olympians in 2012 were former Huskies.)

I'm sure USA Basketball will insist college affiliation was totally irrelevant in how the team was picked by the selection committee. I'm equally sure that many Tennessee and Sparks fans will believe the committee members rubber-stamped what they knew Auriemma wanted. And never the twain shall meet.

But even if you don't think this is some kind of personality conflict that goes way back, it's still jarring to think Parker will not be on the Olympic team.

The U.S. women remain the overwhelming favorites to win gold in Rio no matter who the 12 players are. Auriemma has put considerable time and commitment into being the national team coach, and you can't argue with the golden results he has produced. Nor can anyone deny how successful so many former Huskies have been at the pro level. All 12 players who end up on this Olympic team will have worked hard to earn their spots. That's just how good U.S. women's basketball is. It's an excess of riches.

Still, this is Candace Parker. Can you picture an NBA player of her age, experience, ability and accomplishment being left off the men's Olympic team if he'd played in two previous Olympics and remained eager to be a part of it again? Can you imagine being Parker right now and not feeling utterly stunned and angry?

Perhaps she'll channel those emotions into her play and have a WNBA season that's incredible even by her standards. At this point, knowing Parker, that's probably what she's trying to get to in her thought process. She is still seeking her first WNBA title. You can be sure she didn't want this kind of disappointment as fuel -- but it might be powerful fuel nonetheless.

Bottom line? Bad call, USA Basketball.