The rescheduling of the Tokyo Olympic Games for 2021 after the Covid-19 pandemic is likely to produce some interesting challenges for the USA Basketball men’s team. The NBA finals schedule could make planning and preparation tricky for Gregg Popovich’s team.
As things stand, game seven of the NBA finals is set to be played on July 22, 2021 – that is just a day before the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics. That makes the job of his Popovich and his coaching team difficult when it comes to selecting 12 players who can win a fourth consecutive basketball gold medal in Tokyo.
“I don’t think we’re going to let the finals go seven games,” Popovich joked when asked about the issue. In all seriousness, though, the coach does know that the scheduling will make things very difficult.
“The timing does make everything difficult,” he added.
“And it will demand some real soul-searching and out-of-the-box type of thinking to put together the best team we possibly can.”
USA wants to strongest possible team
This is the first time that Popovich will coach the Olympic basketball team, having taken over from Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. But a plan is in place to make sure that the strongest possible roster is sent to Tokyo. As with anything in the time of coronavirus, though, it is just a tentative plan right now.
USA Basketball will name a preliminary roster of players, consisting of around 40 or 50 names, in early 2021. The final squad looks likely to be picked in mid-to-late June next year, which, if the current NBA schedules are retained, would be around the end of the second round of NBA play-offs.
A clutch of the NBA’s biggest names has expressed interest in playing for their country in Tokyo, with players like LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Devin Booker and James Harden all reportedly keen to travel to Japan.
Sean Ford, USA Basketball’s men’s national team director, has confirmed that, despite all the uncertainty and variables that are in play, a plan is being put together to ensure that as many elite NBA players are included as possible.
Other countries affected too
The scheduling of the Olympics does not just cause problems for the USA team, of course. Players like Giannis Antetokounmpo of Greece and Denver’s Nikola Jokic of Serbia have stated their intentions to play at the Games, but their nations still need to undergo a qualification process.
Qualification games could take place during the NBA play-offs next year. That would also potentially cause issues for Canada coach Nick Nurse, as his ‘day job’ is coaching the Toronto Raptors. If the Raptors enjoy a good run in the play-offs, then Canada’s chances of any kind of success in Tokyo could be damaged.
Popovich is clear that some “out of the box” thinking is required to resolve the issue. What is clear is that the problems caused by coronavirus will not be quickly solved.