We don’t know when the 2020-21 NBA season will begin. We don’t know how many games will be played, where they’ll be played or who they’ll be played in front of.
We do have some clues though, after multiple recent reports suggested the league wants to start a 72-game season around Christmas. A LeBron James-led player faction would reportedly prefer a Jan. 18 beginning.
NBA owners met on Friday, where they agreed with players to extend the negotiation deadline for one week.
“The NBPA is actively engaged with our players in an effort to be able to reach agreements with out league and team partners to address these significant and complex issues,” the players’ union said in a statement Friday. “Each of us has a stake in doing what’s fair, what’s best for our business and what respects the rights and interests of all stakeholders. We are confident we will get there.”
That four-week difference between Dec. 22 and Jan. 18 could determine the Canadian men’s basketball Olympic fate.
Instead of waiting until February or March in hopes of having fans in the stadium, the league seemingly prefers staying close to its regular schedule while letting the virus determine when crowds would be OK.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver had previously stated his “best guess” for next season’s start would be January “at least,” but record-low Finals ratings while going up against the NFL may have ignited desire to get the league closer to its regular schedule.
There’s still a gulf between NBA and NBPA on a start date for the 2020-2021 season, sources tell ESPN. NBA wants pre-Christmas; NBPA still preferring mid-January. Economic issues remain significant, including escrow withholding on player salaries w/ revenues down b/c of no fans. https://t.co/tX4dlyP1EE
Accordingly, the possibility of NBA players participating in the Olympic basketball tournament that begins July 25 has reopened.
Canada, however, has yet to qualify, leaving itself to a last-chance tournament in Victoria, B.C., beginning June 29, where only the victor heads to Tokyo.
In a regular year, that late-June date would come a week or two after the Finals, meaning many Canadian NBA hopefuls would have had a month or more from the end of their season.
In 2021, however, June 29 could fall right in the middle of the playoffs, with the Finals wrapping shortly before the Olympics.
And that means there are even more questions for the Canadian men’s basketball team. Most crucially: who will be available for the qualification tournament?
Considering the schedule crunch, there’s almost no chance Canada boasts a full roster in Victoria. But that also means competitors won’t have their NBA talent either — including Greece’s Giannis Antetokounmpo.
So what might Team Canada look like?
Projecting the ‘Dare-to-Dream Team’
The first question comes at coach, where the Raptors’ success will be inversely correlated to Nick Nurse’s availability. The further the Raptors advance, the less likely Nurse is available to coach in Victoria. Meanwhile, lead assistant Nate Bjorkgren now helms the Indiana Pacers; his availability will be in question too.
That equation is fairly simple.
It’s tougher to parse how players might be thinking on the heels of the NBA season.
It’ll be tough for the Nuggets to return to the West final in a loaded conference, but they’ve proven capable. Even a second-round exit might make Murray question heading straight to Victoria.
Murray, however, was the first player to tweet his commitment to the team for the Victoria tournament way back in November. It’s an understatement to say lots has changed since then, but his willingness to lead the charge, plus his guaranteed contract with Denver through 2024-25, portend good things for his participation.
WATCH | Murray drops 50 in potential elimination game:
Behind Murray, the second-most impactful player would be OKC point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who followed Murray’s footsteps in November by committing to the national team.
Also like Murray, Gilgeous-Alexander’s contract status is set, so barring injury he should have little reason not to attend.
That guard duo is a virtual lock to start, but the other three spots are all up in the air. At the wing, there’s Memphis’ Brandon Clarke and Dillon Brooks, as well as OKC playoff standout Luguentz Dort and national team stalwart Kevin Pangos.
Potential starting bigs include veterans Tristan Thompson and Kelly Olynyk, Dallas’ Dwight Powell, who’s recovering from a torn Achilles, and Pangos’ Gonzaga teammate Kyle Wiltjer.
And then there’s Andrew Wiggins and RJ Barrett. Wiggins famously hasn’t played for Canada since 2015, but indicated a willingness to mend fences. His star has faded since being drafted No. 1 in 2014, but there is certainly appeal for him on Canada as a microwave bench scorer.
We’ll know a lot more about Barrett after next season. If it goes like his rookie campaign, there won’t be much case for him to be on the team — despite his father being GM.
There should also be consideration given to those who have consistently shown up for Canada, like Melvin Ejim, Brady Heslip and Phil and Thomas Scrubb. Raptors depth players Chris Boucher and Oshae Brissett could also be options.
Canada is ranked 21st in the world by FIBA. It will play No. 7 Greece and No. 28 China in the group phase, where the top two teams reach the semifinals. The other group contains No. 43 Uruguay, No. 15 Turkey and No. 9 Czech Republic.
If Canada can dress its full team, it should be favoured to book its ticket to Tokyo. But that’s still a big if.