2021 Olympic qualifier poses issues for Team Canada with NBA free agents

Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray directs his teammates as he drops back to defend against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Dec. 20, 2019, in Denver. (David Zalubowski/AP)

There was good news and bad for fans of Canada’s men’s basketball team Thursday afternoon.

Starting with the good news: FIBA announced the that the 2021 Olympic Qualifying Tournaments would take place from June 29-July 4, 2021 and that Canada would still get to host one of the events.

Better yet, the beautiful location of Victoria, B.C., will remain the host of the OQT and the initial draw and groups for Canada’s tournament will remain the same.

This means Canada will have to beat out the likes of Greece, China, Uruguay, Czech Republic and Turkey on home soil to earn a berth into the Tokyo 2021 Olympic Games.

A tough task, for sure, but with the kind of NBA talent Canada can theoretically field, certainly not an impossible one.

Which then brings us to the bad news.

Due to the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, odds are Canada won’t get a chance to be fully loaded, even if every player wants to suit up.

This is because, with all the talk of the 2020-21 season starting sometime in December, there’s a chance the NBA will still be in play with key Canadian athletes on playoff-level teams such as Jamal Murray, Dillon Brooks, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dwight Powell all with the potential to be in the thick of the post-season while Team Canada is in training camp preparing for the tournament.

And looking at some of Canada’s NBA talents’ future contract statuses paints an even grimmer picture for Canada Basketball.

Not including two-way players Oshae Brissett, Luguentz Dort and Naz Mitrou-Long, seven of Canada’s NBA players could potentially be free agents in the 2021 off-season: Nickeil Alexander-Walker, RJ Barrett, Khem Birch, Chris Boucher, Brandon Clarke, Gilgeous-Alexander and Mfiondu Kabengele.

Of these seven, Alexander-Walker, Barrett, Clarke, Gilgeous-Alexander and Kabegele will still be on their rookie-scale deals with team options, meaning there’s a likely chance they’ll just be retained by their existing clubs without any mess, but there’s still a risk, especially given the uncertainty surrounding what a post-coronavirus salary cap may look like.

And in regards to Birch and Boucher, Birch is slated to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2020-21 season, meaning unless he signs an extension with the Orlando Magic he’ll likely be unavailable to Team Canada until his contract situation is resolved. Boucher, on the other hand, will be slated for restricted free agency in the 2021 off-season and would be in a similar kind of contract limbo as Birch is unless he manages to secure an extension with the Toronto Raptors in advance.

There’s also Cory Joseph whose contract for 2021-22 is only partially guaranteed, and he could get held up from suiting up for Team Canada should he enter a prolonged contract re-negotiation to try to make his deal fully guaranteed.

To put it simply, moving the date of the Olympic Qualifying Tournaments to 2021 creates a lot more potential headaches for Canada Basketball to get NBA players in Victoria than if the world hadn’t turned on its head and we were expecting the OQT this coming summer as opposed to next.

Like always, it just seems as if Canada Basketball – and the Canadian men’s basketball team, in particular – just can’t seem to catch a break.

It’s great that Canada still gets to host an OQT and that the city of Victoria won’t be denied the hosting duty, but with the cost being, once again, a handicapped version of Team Canada, it’s hard not to be disappointed.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.