Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum shows optimism in international NBA players playing at Olympics

When the NBA announced its return on Dec. 22, the fear amongst many international NBA fans was that they wouldn't be able to see their favourite NBA players suit up for their respective national teams at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

The league, FIBA and the IOC (International Olympic Committee) worked closely together to come up with a plan to ensure that the window of opportunity would be open to as many NBA players to suit up for their National Teams on the world stage should they choose to.

The NBA regular season is scheduled to end May 16, 2021 - barring any major restructuring due to the pandemic - and FIBA announced their four remaining Olympic Qualifying Tournaments will be held from June 29-July 4, 2021.

Speaking on a media call Tuesday, Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum seemed optimistic with the outcome given the circumstances.

"(FIBA Secretary-General) Andreas (ZAGKLIS) and I have had weekly conversations for the last eight or nine months or so since the pandemic," Tatum said. "We've been in very close touch with each other, we've talked with the IOC as well - but Andreas representing the Basketball Federation has again (had) weekly calls with him and his team to come up with a great solution, I think, to have our international players be able to participate in the Olympics.

"As you know, our season ends before the Olympics and FIBA actually pushed back the Olympic Qualifying Tournament with the cooperation of the IOC by about a week because of coordination with us in terms of thinking about our schedule and giving us more of an opportunity to allow more players - to make more players available to participate with their national teams in those Olympic Qualifying Tournaments.

"As you know, our regular season will end in May, and, by definition, nearly half of our teams, 14 teams, their season will be over by May, which will free up those players to go participate for their National Teams in those Olympic Qualifying Tournaments."

Even with the NBA Play-In Tournament, which will be held from May 18-21, 2021, players on non-playoff teams should have about a month to decide whether or not to play in the OQTs. Those who have already qualified for the Olympics would have even more time between the end of the NBA campaign and the start of National Team training camps to commit.

But there are going to be a number of players who will be knee-deep in a chase for an NBA title that just won't be available. Tatum acknowledged that it will be unfortunate for some of the countries that will be affected but that the number of teams that will be left at that time of year will be small.

"Now, there will be some players unfortunately that are going to be playing for their NBA teams, but it's a handful - it will be about four teams that will still be playing during the Olympic Qualifying Tournament," Tatum said. "Again, this is an unusual and extraordinary year.

"And we've worked very, very closely together with FIFA with the IOC to put together a schedule that would be the best possible schedule for everybody involved."

While the schedule is in place and already set up for potential delays should they arise, if there's anything 2020 has taught us it's that nothing is guaranteed. Questions on the call came up around the potential of a lengthy delay in the NBA season forcing dates to be pushed back.

The Deputy Commissioner maintained that the league's plan is built to be completed by the planned dates and that they'll remain flexible throughout to stay on schedule.

"Our plan is to, as you mentioned, is to finish up our season before the Olympics," Tatum stated.

"We have built flexibility into our schedule to allow us to - if games need to be postponed or rescheduled, that we can do that in the second half of our season. So that is certainly our plan. We will remain flexible with that plan. But again right now our plan is to complete the season by July 22."

2020-21 NBA Key Dates
Dec. 1-5: Individual player workouts
Dec. 1-5: Media "Week"
Dec. 6: Group player workouts begin
Dec. 11-19: Preseason games
Dec. 21: Rosters set for NBA Opening Day (11 p.m. ET)
Dec. 22, 2020 - March 4, 2021: First Half of regular season
Feb. 23: 10-Day contracts may now be signed
Feb. 27: Standard NBA contracts guaranteed for the remainder of season
March 5-10: NBA All-Star break
March 11- May 16: Second Half of regular season
March 25: NBA Trade Deadline
May 13-15: Class of 2020 Hall of Fame Enshrinement
May 18-21: Play-In Tournament
May 22 - July 22: 2021 NBA Playoffs

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