Heat's Olynyk says changes in schedule could conflict with Tokyo qualifying

MIAMI — Kelly Olynyk believes changes to the NBA schedule around COVID-19 could keep players out of next summer's Tokyo Olympic qualifying.

That would be bad news for Canada's men's basketball team, which must win its last-chance tournament June 29-July 4, 2021 in Victoria to earn a spot in the Tokyo Games.

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The 2021 season is set to tip off in December, with the finals running into June — pushed back due to the novel coronavirus that shut down this season on March 11. The delayed season will leave little break for NBA players on teams in next year's playoffs.

"It might be tough," Olynyk said on a conference call Friday. "That'll be really, really tough.

"It'll probably line up with guys who don't make the playoffs. Obviously, you don't want to be on one of those teams. I didn't even think of that until now, but it'll be really tough for guys to play in that, especially if you start in December. And who knows — it might not even be December."

The Miami Heat forward had expected free agency to likely throw a wrench into his availability for qualifying had it happened this year.

"Often the reason why guys can't play is because they don't have a contract," the 29-year-old from Kamloops, B.C., said when Miami was in Toronto this season. "It's not easy to walk into one of those things and 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."

Olynyk said free agency will similarly impact players' availability next year, as qualifying falls before the free agency period.

"You've got to look at your career and your livelihood and your earning potential or your earning window or whatever you want to call it," Olynyk said Friday. "Those are definitely factors. You need that security in your life.

"As much as playing for your country is a super prideful thing and guys take that really to heart. . ."

Canada was expecting to have much of its NBA talent for qualifying after a groundswell of commitment a few months ago. Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray was the first start to announce his plans to play for Canada. He was quickly followed by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Dillon Brooks, Dwight Powell, RJ Barrett and Khem Birch.

The Canadian men haven't made an Olympic appearance since the 2000 Sydney Games.

The Canadian women already clinched their berth for the Tokyo Games.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 3, 2020.

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