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USA Basketball has flexibility to replace Olympic players if need be

Devin Booker, Khris Middleton

PHOENIX, ARIZONA - FEBRUARY 10: Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns handles the ball against Khris Middleton #22 of the Milwaukee Bucks during the NBA game at Phoenix Suns Arena on February 10, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Bucks 125-124. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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USA Basketball has more leeway to replace any of its 12 Olympic men’s players -- should the albeit unlikely situation arise -- given the unprecedented circumstances of the Tokyo Games.

“There’s much more flexibility this time around than ever in the past,” U.S. men’s national team managing director Jerry Colangelo said after the roster was announced Monday. “In the past, you had to have your roster in by particular date, and once that happened, you had no ability to replace players. Fortunately, all of the powers that be, and I’m referring to the International Olympic Committee, FIBA, etcetera, they understood, because of COVID, because of the compact-fullness of the two seasons, because of injuries, we needed flexibility. I won’t be specific on the date that is the drop-dead date, but there’s much more flexibility to replace someone.”

The NBA season will end closer to the start of the Olympics than ever before. The Olympics open in three weeks, and the playoffs are still in the conference finals stage. If the Finals extend to six or seven games, they will run into the week leading up to the Opening Ceremony on July 23.

Three of the 12 players on the U.S. men’s roster -- Devin Booker, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton -- are still playing in the conference finals.

The IOC said earlier this month that USA Basketball has been granted an exception, after a petition, to enter the names of its Olympic male and female basketball players up to one week after the overall sport entries deadline of July 5.

All nations can replace basketball players from a list of 24 players per gender up until the day before the start of the men’s and women’s Olympic tournaments, according to FIBA, which said that its overall regulations have not been changed for these Games. The list of 24 must be submitted by July 18 for the men and July 19 for the women.

“I guess one option is we’re going to have nine players for the first game against France,” on July 25, Colangelo said Monday. “That’s the worst-case scenario. Second-case scenario is we have a couple of replacement players. Number three, that those three players [Booker, Holiday and Middleton] are going to be there, whether it’s 24 or 48 hours before game one, they’ll be there in uniform ready to play. My guess is all three of these guys are going to want to play, and they’re going to do everything they can to make that happen.”

USA Basketball will hold a male player training camp and exhibition games from July 6-18 in Las Vegas. Colangelo said Monday that other players can “fill in” at training camp, which Booker, Holiday and Middleton might all have to miss.

“Some of them are players who are playing elsewhere around the world, who have the availability to participate if we need help,” Colangelo said.

He also noted that there will be a U.S. Select Team, which for past Games has been younger players brought in to train with the national team.

USA Basketball has known for months that some players might face a tight transition from the playoffs to the Olympics. It has planned for the scenario. The players who committed have, too.

Colangelo noted Booker, who called him a month ago and said he would be on a plane the day after the NBA Finals if need be. Holiday and Middleton feel the same way, Colangelo said.

“We’re going to have enough players to make it all work,” Colangelo said.

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