- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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While still hopeful that Shaquille O'Neal will decide to play, USA Basketball officials are operating under the premise that Kevin Garnett will not be accepting his invitation to join the Olympic team, ESPN.com has learned.
Sources close to the situation have told ESPN.com that the Minnesota Timberwolves star, having already won a gold medal in Sydney, still has strong reservations about committing himself to a long summer on the court after what is already the longest season of his career. The Timberwolves are one win away from their first-ever trip to the second round of the playoffs and Garnett hasn't missed a game -- durability that serves as just one aspect of the campaign expected to deliver Garnett's first league MVP award next month.
Garnett, furthermore, was recently engaged and plans to get married this offseason. Team USA is scheduled to convene in Jacksonville, Fla., on July 26 for training camp and then play exhibitions in Germany, Serbia and Montenegro and Turkey before the Olympics in Athens, which run through Aug. 29.
Sources say Garnett has made it clear to USAB that he is unlikely to participate, although a formal announcement isn't expected until after Minnesota's playoff run.
Barring a last-minute reversal, Garnett would merely be the third player to cite family obligations as a factor in his unavailability. Toronto's Vince Carter, also getting married this summer, has already declined the opportunity to fill one of Team USA's final three roster spots. And Seattle's Ray Allen, one of the original nine core players on the roster, has said he might have to withdraw because he and his fiancée are expecting a child in early September.
O'Neal and Garnett, as reported by ESPN.com, received formal invitations to join the Olympic team in mid-March. The Lakers' center said this week that he's "still not sure" of his plans.
If O'Neal declines as well, Team USA could be forced to revamp its entire frontline, as each of the three power players from the original core of nine has expressed some level of doubt about his participation. The Lakers' Karl Malone is reportedly leaning toward pulling out after missing nearly half of the regular season with the first serious injury of his NBA career. San Antonio's Tim Duncan also missed time during the season with a knee injury and could opt for a summer of rest. Indiana's Jermaine O'Neal, meanwhile, was one of the first players to publicly express concern about an issue that privately worries many of the American stars -- security in Athens.
The availability of L.A.'s Kobe Bryant is also in question, with lawyers from both sides of Bryant's criminal case suggesting a trial date in late August.