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Olympics

Commentary: Postponed Olympics creates new problems for Team USA basketball

Team USA coach Gregg Popovich talks to guard Kemba Walker during an exhibition game against Spain on Aug. 16, 2019, in Anaheim.
Team USA coach Gregg Popovich talks to guard Kemba Walker during an exhibition game against Spain on Aug. 16, 2019, in Anaheim.
(Marcio J. Sanchez / Associated Press)

It’s hard to think of someone involved with Team USA men’s basketball that wanted to compete this summer at the Tokyo Olympics more than Jerry Colangelo.

The Hall of Fame executive has been the architect of three consecutive gold-medal teams, and after a brutally disappointing 2019 when Team USA finished seventh at the FIBA World Cup, losing to France in the quarterfinals, Colangelo was eagerly awaiting the Tokyo Games, his last as managing director of the men’s national team.

With the IOC announcing the Summer Games are postponed to 2021, he and coach Gregg Popovich now have to wait.

“Look, when I commit to something, I commit all the way. Pop is the same way. And so we’re in the trenches,” Colangelo said in a phone interview Tuesday. “Yeah, we were anxious to get to the Olympics and take care of business. Candidly, I wanted to go out on a very high note because I said this would be my last Olympics. So, that’s been delayed a year.

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“... My competitive juices are still where they are. We will get the job done that we need to get done in terms of preparation and putting a team together. I’m very optimistic about all the pieces coming together at the right time.”

With COVID-19 causing crisis around the globe, he understands the right time is not now.

“We were on hold, on pause, at the mercies of all the governing bodies that we have to deal with,” Colangelo said. “… I’m glad now that it’s been postponed. It could’ve been a nightmare under any circumstance.”

That’s not to say what comes next will be easy for Team USA.

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While player commitment for the 2020 games was high — Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, James Harden and more verbally committed to play, while others such as LeBron James, Paul George, Anthony Davis and Kawhi Leonard expressed interest — the timing of the rescheduled games could eliminate NBA players altogether.

The uncertainty about the remaining games in the current NBA season and the effects of finishing the season deep into the summer could have an impact on the player pool if the 2020-21 season starts in December as some have proposed. Also, there’s the possibility that the Olympics could take place next spring, which would thin the group of players even further because the schedule would conflict with the NBA and NCAA seasons.

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“Here’s my attitude: I’m not going to speculate on what we’d do publicly if any of those things take place,” Colangelo said. “What we need to do is, internally, just look at those options and be prepared when the time comes.”

For now, just like before the postponement, Team USA is forced to wait.

Once the NBA and, more importantly, the Olympics reset their schedules, Colangelo and his team can start to rebuild the infrastructure required to compete — setting schedules, finding places to train and, ultimately, getting players on board to play.

“As soon as we get the dates for the Olympics next summer we can then go into action, because we have a lot of work to do,” Colangelo said.

The good news for Team USA is that Colangelo said he hasn’t heard a lot from players who are wavering in their commitment to the program. Last summer’s seventh-place finish at the World Cup — the first time the men’s basketball team didn’t at least medal since a fifth-place finish in the 1978 world championships — had bolstered interest in playing in the Tokyo Olympics this summer.

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“For many,” Colangelo said, “it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

And just like those stars, he’s going to have to wait too.

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