TORONTO – Kelly Olynyk has suited up for Team Canada – beginning as a youth player before transitioning to the senior team – for over a decade.
His commitment to Canada Basketball is never in doubt.
"I’ve been there year-in and year-out," said Olynyk Tuesday morning as his Miami Heat were shooting around on the Scotiabank Arena floor ahead of their matchup with the Toronto Raptors. "It’s what I love to do. Playing for my country is special. I’m glad people are coming out and doing it, but I hope when the time comes people are actually there putting on the jersey and helping us get there."
Olynyk, of course, was referring to the significant wave of NBA-talent commitment seen on social media to play in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) in late June in Victoria, B.C.
Beginning with Denver Nuggets star Jamal Murray, Canadian hoopers from all over appeared to follow in his example, with names such as the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, his cousin and New Orleans Pelicans guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker, the Toronto Raptors’ Chris Boucher and Oshae Brissett, and guys who haven’t played since they suited up for the junior team like Murray’s former Nuggets teammate, and current San Antonio Spurs forward, Trey Lyles.
It’s created something of a wave of good vibes with Team Canada, a far cry from what happened with the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China that took place earlier this year that saw many notable Canadians drop out, including Olynyk, who committed to play for Canada but was forced out as he suffered a bone bruise in his right knee playing in an exhibition game against Nigeria that cost him all of Heat training camp and some of the pre-season, in addition to the World Cup.
Olynyk looks healthy now and has helped the Heat jump out to a surprising 14-5 record – good for third in the Eastern Conference entering Wednesday’s action – with averages of 8.7 points and 5.2 rebounds while shooting 43.7 per cent from deep as a backup stretch big for Miami.
This strong play figures to bode well for Team Canada, but there’s a rather significant roadblock that could be holding him back from playing in Victoria: his contract situation.
Olynyk has the freedom to opt out of his current deal and become an unrestricted free agent come July 1. He’s slated to be owed $12.2 million if he opts in for next season, but given the relative weakness of this summer’s free agency class, and the fact he provides very valuable shooting from the centre position, he could be in line for a pretty significant long-term contract.
This all impacts Olynyk’s Team Canada status for the OQT as when the event is being played from June 23-28, unless Olynyk opts in to the final year of his deal with Miami early, he’ll be without a contract through the entire duration of the OQT.
This is a factor Olynyk needs to seriously weigh.
"Often the reason why guys can’t play is because they don’t have a contract," said Olynyk. "It’s a lot to risk, especially with me playing last year and getting hurt and missing the training camp and pre-season, basically, and just trying to get back to 100 per cent, still.
"And it’s not easy to walk into one of those things and to put your career on the line. And as much as you want to, and as much as you know you’d love to do it, it’s tough. It’s really tough to do."
Still, no matter the complications, Olynyk hopes to get his contract status resolved in time so he can play in Victoria.
"If I’m able to and my contract and stuff has settled out and I’m feeling healthy then there’s no reason why I won’t be there," he said.
No matter how badly Olynyk wants to play in the OQT, however, his contract will likely take precedence, meaning he might have to rely on others to get the job done so he can play later in the summer in Tokyo.