NBA season expected to end before Olympics, but which stars will be in Tokyo?

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An NBA season schedule plan is tentatively approved to avoid overlap with the Olympics, after doubt earlier this fall, but what’s left to decide is which of the league’s superstars will be in Tokyo.

A month ago, it appeared the NBA season would clash with the Games and definitely keep at least some of the world’s best male basketball players from representing their nations.

On Sept. 22, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said his best guess was the season starting in January with a standard 82-game schedule and playoffs. In that scenario, the Olympics would have started while the NBA playoffs were happening.

Silver acknowledged then that Olympic participation may be limited, including a scenario where the “top 15” NBA players weren’t in Tokyo, “but other great American players are competing.”

That awkward situation was avoided with this week’s news, but USA Basketball still has plenty of work ahead.

The U.S. finished seventh at the 2019 FIBA World Cup, its worst-ever senior national team tournament result. After that failure, some NBA stars who didn’t suit up for the World Cup declared intent to play at the Olympics.

USA Basketball named 44 finalists for its 12-man Olympic team on Feb. 10, though in the past players have either withdrawn or been added to the pool as the Games approached.

Before the pandemic, two of the U.S.’ potentially most valuable players, LeBron James and Anthony Davis of the Los Angeles Lakers, said it was too early to say if they would definitively accept an Olympic roster spot.

That was when the NBA Finals were due to end at least one month before the Opening Ceremony. Now, if the Lakers return to the NBA Finals again next season, they will play within one or two weeks, perhaps a matter of days, of the U.S.’ first Olympic game, an unprecedented situation.

The deadline for nations to submit Olympic rosters is July 6.

NBA stars from some other nations may be unable to compete in the final Olympic qualifying tournaments in late June or early July while the NBA playoffs are happening.

That includes Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece), Luka Doncic (Slovenia), Nikola Jokic (Serbia) and Jamal Murray and Andrew Wiggins (Canada, whose coach, Nick Nurse of the Toronto Raptors, may also have to miss qualifying).

A total of 24 nations were split into four different tournaments where each winner qualifies for the 12-nation Olympic tournament. Previously qualified: the U.S., Spain, France, Argentina, Australia, Nigeria, Iran and host Japan.

The NBA has participated in every Olympics since the 1992 Barcelona Games. Before the NBA era, U.S. Olympic men’s basketball teams consisted of college players.

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