Revised NBA schedule could hinder Canada Basketball’s Olympic hopes


Canada's coach Nick Nurse gestures during a Group H match against Lithuania for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 in Dongguan in south China's Guangdong province on Tuesday, Sep. 3, 2019. Lithuania won over Canada 92-69. (AP Photo)

TORONTO – Canadian Jamal Murray has been putting on a show all post-season long, averaging 26.6 points per game on 50.5 per cent shooting from the floor, an outrageous 47.7 per cent clip from three-point range and even went off for 50 in two games.

The eyes of the world have been watching and seen the Kitchener, Ont., native blossom into a bona fide star during these playoffs. His ascent has seen gain many admirers from around the basketball world, including someone who’s probably pretty excited to coach him at some point in the not-too-distant future.

“He’s been amazing, I mean, unbelievable,” said Toronto Raptors and Canadian men’s national basketball team, head coach Nick Nurse Thursday afternoon. “And that’s huge, again, all signs and any communication that I’ve had with him was that he’s gonna play so I think everybody should be excited about that. I know I certainly am and he’s really, really becoming a superstar in the league.”

Yes, as Nurse said, Murray was not only poised to become the new “Captain Canada” of the NBA, but for the national program as well, as this past summer he was supposed to lead a host of Canadian NBA players in Victoria, B.C. to the program’s first Olympic berth since Steve Nash took the men’s team to the 2000 Sydney Games.

And then COVID-19 hit global pandemic levels and the Olympic qualifying scheduled for late June in Victoria had to be re-scheduled for around the same time in 2021, coinciding with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics getting moved back a year as well.

Obviously the impact of COVID-19 has been far-reaching and even when this collective nightmare finally comes to an end, the ripple effect from it all may end up lasting even longer, and with consequences we may not even be aware of yet.

A consequence that we do know about is, with the 2019-20 season still trying to conclude, the coronavirus has delayed the start of the next NBA season.

And when that is, exactly, is anyone’s guess at this point, including Nurse who is in a bit of a quandary as far as what his off-season outlook might be with the Raptors as there’s so much that’s up in the air.

“…As soon as we find out a start date for next season, we just kind of plot in everything retroactively or whatever like we would’ve, you know? We’d have a three-week training camp, so we’ll have a three-week training camp. We’ll have maybe three weeks of pre-season and voluntary workouts prior to that three weeks, like we would’ve had normally, I think,” said Nurse. “I know it’s not normal, but I think as close as we can, timeline-wise, and doing things as similar as we can, we’ll do.

“You know, we’d be heading to Summer League here pretty soon if this was a normal season. We certainly won’t have that, but our player development stuff will have to kick in, you know? And we’ve got some key young players that need to have a great off-season and keep ‘er going. Just, I know it’s a little weird, a little over the calendar and stuff, but we’ll try to replicate because we love what we’ve been able to do in the off-seasons here for many years and we’ll try to replicate it as best we can.”

Part of this off-season prep Nurse will be trying to replicate will also involve his duties as Canada’s national team coach as well, a situation that appears even more iffy than the next NBA season.

“I mean, I’m in contact with [Canada Basketball CEO] Glen [Grunwald] and [senior men’s program general manager] Rowan [Barrett] a lot. There’s just really nothing to report,” said Nurse. “I think people are hopeful but there’s just really nothing to pin our hopes on at this moment until we get a little more information about whether it’s gonna move forward. Tokyo is obviously the kinda domino that needs to drop before anything else drops.”

The Tokyo games are scheduled to get started on July 23, 2021, but there’s no guarantee the world would be any more COVID-free at that point than we are now, making the status of the Olympic Qualifying Tournament – which Canada would first have to win to reach the Olympics – also in limbo.

“I’m just hoping we can get back to playing normal and getting on a schedule and I’m hoping there will be a Tokyo, and hoping there will be an Olympic Qualifier Tournament,” said Nurse. “I’m just hoping that those days are coming for all of us, right? So we can get back to normal and moving around again.”

Nurse’s wish is pretty much universal, but the reality of the situation may not be so kind. Even if Tokyo 2021 can still go ahead with the Olympic Qualifying Tournament, there’s still the pesky issue of the NBA schedule bleeding into the summer again when the national team would be back in action trying to qualify for the Olympics, and maybe even play in the Games themselves.

For Canada Basketball, the timing of all this looks like a worst-case scenario because forget even players like Murray being able to play, would Nurse even be able to coach Team Canada if the Raptors are still in it?

Whether you like it or not, in the case of players, their priority is always their NBA team, so why would things be different with a coach?

“You’re just trying to stay in the loop with all these guys, especially the leaders, Glen and Rowan and see what the forecast looks like for now,” Nurse said.

There’s little denying how cool it would be to see Nurse patrolling the sidelines for Team Canada while Murray is busy hanging 40-plus on a team like Turkey in Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Victoria, but as things stand now, the likelihood of that happening don’t seem likely, no matter how much Nurse wants to make it happen.

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