As NBA season opens, it’s already clear many stars hope to play in Paris Olympics

Kevin Durant poses for a photo with his gold medal during the medal ceremony for basketball game at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Saturday, Aug. 7, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (Eric Gay/AP)

Kevin Durant just got done with his summer vacation. He’s planning to go to France for work next summer, and plenty of other big NBA names hope to join him.

Stephen Curry is among them.

Durant — along with many other top players, including Curry, the all-time 3-point king — said Monday at media days being held around the league that he plans to play for his country at next summer’s Paris Olympics, when the Americans will try for a fifth consecutive gold medal. If he plays and the U.S. wins, Durant would be the first men’s player with four basketball golds.

“I will play in the Olympics next year,” Durant adamantly said at Phoenix’s media day.

Curry essentially said the same, because if he wants to play, it’s certain that USA Basketball will find him a spot.

“Definitely want to be there,” Curry said at Golden State’s media day. “Definitely want to be on the team.”

Others expressed the same sentiment: Bam Adebayo has said he’s committed to the team, while DeMar DeRozan, Devin Booker, Bradley Beal, Jaylen Brown, Donovan Mitchell, Khris Middleton, Julius Randle, Zach LaVine, Aaron Gordon, Fred VanVleet and Brook Lopez are among those who indicated they would play if asked. Kyrie Irving said the same at Dallas’ media day last week, and Draymond Green previously indicated that he wants another Olympic opportunity.

This much is clear: There are 12 roster spots and a lot more than 12 interested players. It’s a wonderful problem for USA Basketball to have.

“From the players that we have here off the top of my head that could fill that roster up, I don’t think it would be too much of a physical toll,” said Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, the NBA’s all-time scoring leader confirming that he’s interested in another shot at gold. “I wouldn’t have to do much. Rebound a little bit, pass a little bit, defend, block some shots, you know? But we’ll see. We’ll see what happens.”

Also planning to play in the Olympics: Joel Embiid. The uniform he’d wear is still a mystery.

Embiid isn’t a man without a country, but rather a man who just hasn’t chosen a country yet. He would be eligible to play for France or the U.S. because he has dual citizenship — and his birth country, Cameroon, still has a shot at qualifying for the Paris Games as well.

“My goal is to play in the Olympics,” Embiid said. “I love all three options. Cameroon, I’m born there, I’m from there and I always want to represent my country. But the goal is also to play in the Olympics. If we had a chance, or if we would qualify for the Olympics, that will be an easy decision. But that’s still up in the air. And I really do want to play in the Olympics.”

When will Embiid decide? “Probably going to make that decision in the next few days,” he said.

Others who revealed they have an interest in playing included Zion Williamson, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Kuzma. Among those who haven’t ruled it out: Jimmy Butler and Anthony Davis.

“Playing for USA Basketball, I think there’s no greater honour,” Brown said. “Playing for your country, coming from my community, coming from where I come from, where the majority of our demographic comes from — having an opportunity to represent that, your community, your outer community the ones that support you is part of it as well. So being able to participate would be great.”

The U.S. finished fourth at this summer’s World Cup, yet did enough to reclaim the No. 1 spot in the FIBA world rankings and earn a berth in the Paris Olympics.

“I am proud of the World Cup Team and all they did to qualify USA Basketball for Paris 2024,” said USA Basketball managing director Grant Hill, who along with men’s national team director Sean Ford and coach Steve Kerr of Golden State will pick the team in the coming months. “We are thrilled there is interest and excitement going into next summer and are looking forward to going through the process of naming the 2024 Olympic Team.”

They will have tough decisions to make. Let the lobbying begin.

“It’s something I’ve always dreamed of experiencing since I was a little kid,” Milwaukee center Brook Lopez said. “I’m absolutely for it. I asked Steve Kerr while I was subbing into a game last year, I didn’t ask, I told him I was free this coming summer of ’24. Hopefully, this will help remind him.”

Durant could join six women, all of them Americans, with four Olympic basketball golds. Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi each have five Olympic golds, while Teresa Edwards, Lisa Leslie, Tamika Catchings and Sylvia Fowles are four-time Olympic champions.

Some might play for their first Olympic gold. Curry has never been to the Olympics, and he hopes that’s finally about to change, with him saying “It’s the one thing I haven’t done.”

Atlanta’s Trae Young evidently has interest in the Olympic team and hasn’t hidden that he feels like he was snubbed by not making the World Cup team.

“If you don’t think I’ve been disrespected, you’re just not telling the truth,” Young said.

It’s been reasonable to think that USA Basketball will have plenty of experienced options to choose from next year. There are 26 players in the NBA right now with at least one Olympic gold medal — Durant has three (2012, 2016, 2021), Chris Paul has two (2008, 2012), Green has two (2016, 2021) and James (2008, 2012) has two as well as a bronze (2004).

Add the 12 players from this summer’s World Cup team to the mix as well, since it’s likely each would say yes if called. That pushes the list of realistic candidates for USA Basketball to choose from to about 40 names, at minimum.

“I think anytime you’re asked to play for USA Basketball, it’s really hard to say no,” Miami forward and Olympic gold medalist Kevin Love said. “Wearing USA across your chest and getting an Olympic gold medal for your country is maybe the coolest thing you can do.”

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