On Tuesday, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games were officially postponed until 2021 due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
For USA Basketball, the postponement of the Games means the men’s and women’s national teams will have to wait another year to defend the gold medals they won in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
The men’s national team is coming off a seventh-place finish at the FIBA World Cup in China last year. Now it will have to wait to avenge that disappointment, although who’ll be on the team when it attempts to do so is just one of the many questions raised by Tuesday’s announcement.
Could the Olympics and the NBA season now conflict?
Yes. Japan and the International Olympic Committee are not certain when the Tokyo Olympics will take place. While the summer of 2021 remains a strong possibility, the Games could move to earlier in the 2021 calendar, possibly spring.
Furthermore, commissioner Adam Silver said last week that the NBA’s calendar could change — the NBA schedule could perhaps shift forward.
As a result of these potential changes, the Olympics and the NBA season could run concurrently, or close to it.
What will happen to the Team USA roster?
The roster and selection pool are in complete flux. USA Basketball named 44 finalists for the Olympic roster earlier this year and planned to select a 12-player team from that group in late June or early July, without further tryouts.
Now that preliminary roster is likely to be revamped or discarded, and the process will start again once there’s a new date for the Tokyo Games.
There was strong interest among veteran stars — including two-time Olympic gold medalist LeBron James, who will turn 36 before next year, and Stephen Curry, who has yet to compete in the Olympics — to play for the team this summer, but everyone’s priorities are being reset.
Is it possible the NBA won’t be able to send its top players?
Yes. Even if the Olympics and the NBA season do not conflict directly, players could be coming off a grueling 12-to-15-month schedule that could include squeezing in the remainder of the 2019-20 season and then playing the 2020-21 season on a tighter-than-normal timeline.
For top players who typically have long playoff runs, especially older players, that might impact interest. For example, Chris Paul will be 36, Curry will be 33 and James Harden and Russell Westbrook will be turning 32 by the fall of 2021. Durant will be almost 33.
On the other hand, many of the league’s best young players, including Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, Trae Young, De’Aaron Fox and others, were left off the 44-man roster. If some veterans don’t play, it could give younger stars an opportunity to represent Team USA.
With the college basketball calendar likely not changing — the NCAA has already canceled this season and plans to start next season as normal — it’s possible top college players could be recruited as well.
What happens to Gregg Popovich? Will he remain Team USA’s coach?
There was some uncertainty about whether Popovich would coach the San Antonio Spurs past the 2019-20 NBA season — some thinking he would finish the NBA season, coach the Olympic team and then ride off into the sunset.
On Tuesday, Team USA managing director Jerry Colangelo told ESPN that both he and Popovich would remain with the program through the Tokyo Games. Colangelo had previously said 2020 would be his last year with USA Basketball.
That Popovich would want to continue coaching isn’t a surprise. Popovich is passionate about this job, having poured hours into the role over the past several years. Considering the team’s miserable seventh-place finish in the World Cup last year, it’s hard to believe Popovich would want that to be his only showing as the national team coach.
Which countries might benefit from a delay? Which countries might suffer?
The delay might benefit Team Canada, which had yet to qualify for the Olympics. The Canadians were scheduled to host a qualifying tournament in June — one they likely would have been favored to win. But that event was in danger of being canceled due to coronavirus concerns. Under that scenario, the remaining Olympic spots would have been filled via FIBA’s world rankings — and Canada, currently ranked 21st, wouldn’t have qualified.
Additionally, the Canadians could potentially have several players — including Tristan Thompson (free agency) and Dwight Powell (torn Achilles) — available to play next summer that they wouldn’t have had available to them this year.
One team that could suffer is Australia. A strong contender to get their first-ever medal, the Aussies have an older team led by veteran Andrew Bogut and guards Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavedova. The delay will make them even older. But one positive could be the improved health for star Ben Simmons. He had been sidelined due to a back injury before the worldwide stoppage, and a year’s delay could give him enough time to fully remedy the issue.