The NBA's best players are dropping out of the first Olympics qualifying event at an alarming rate
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- Several star NBA players have dropped out of the 2019 FIBA World Cup, which is the first qualifying event for the 2020 Olympics.
- The U.S. will be looking for replacements, as the roster now has only four players who made an All-Star team last season.
- While the U.S. is still favored to win the tournament and to qualify for the Olympics, if stars continue to drop out, arguments to change the World Cup format may increase, as could the competition.
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Team USA is losing players for its 2019 FIBA World Cup squad at an alarming rate.
The international tournament, which helps determine the qualification for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, takes place from August 31-September 15.
It's not unusual for some top NBA players to skip the competition, but this year, more and more players are dropping out, leaving the team to find replacements, many of whom will not be of the usual All-Star caliber.
In recent days, James Harden, Anthony Davis, Bradley Beal, C.J. McCollum, Tobias Harris, Eric Gordon, and Zion Williamson have all dropped out of the tournament. That leaves Damian Lillard, Kemba Walker, Kyle Lowry, and Khris Middleton as the only players on the roster who made an All-Star team last season.
Lowry underwent thumb surgery this offseason and though he is hopeful to remain in the tournament, it's possible he could be forced to miss it as well.
Here is the current roster, which will have new additions because of the dropouts:
- Guards: Lillard, Walker, Lowry, Donovan Mitchell
- Wings: Middleton, Jayson Tatum, Harrison Barnes, P.J. Tucker
- Bigs: Kevin Love, Andre Drummond, Myles Turner, Kyle Kuzma, Paul Millsap, Brook Lopez
The Athletic's Joe Vardon reported that D'Angelo Russell, Mike Conley, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Thaddeus Young, and Julius Randle are being considered as possible replacements.
No other countries will feel bad for the U.S. or first-time national coach Gregg Popovich, who is succeeding Mike Krzyzewski as head coach. The U.S. still boasts the best roster and has advantages over some of the other best countries.
FIBA made a change to its schedule in recent years. Two-thirds of the qualifying tournaments for the World Cup take place during the NBA season. Unlike in soccer with FIFA, national team players don't get exemptions from their professional teams to play in international tournaments.
While the U.S. qualified for the World Cup with a team led by non-NBA players, countries like Slovenia, the winners of 2017 EuroBasket, did not have stars in Luka Doncic and Goran Dragic for the World Cup qualifiers. They did not make the World Cup as a result and will have to qualify for the Olympics through four wild-card tournaments in 2020.
According to FIBA's site, seven teams from the World Cup qualify directly to the Olympics. There is little chance the U.S. will not qualify for Tokyo.
However, it is worth asking about the future of NBA players' involvement in the World Cup, with so many top players dropping out. As The New York Times' Marc Stein noted in December, the new FIBA set-up essentially means there are two US teams - the team that qualified without NBA stars and the team with NBA stars who get to play in the World Cup.
If star players continue to drop out (or miss the tournament), arguments for amateur players to play in the tournaments will grow. It is also possible that down the road, the U.S. will encounter true challenges in the World Cup, as other nations improve.