French NBA stars opt out of Olympic qualifier, could ease Canada's route to Rio
Commitments of Canadian stars also unknown
The Canadian men's basketball team's path to the Olympics isn't an easy one, but it got a little more manageable last week.
Many of France's top NBA stars have announced they will not play for the country in July's Olympic qualifying tournament in Manila, Philippines.
Nicolas Batum, Evan Fournier, and Ian Mahinmi all said -- through their agent Bouna Ndiaye -- they will not play in the tournament, which is being contested by teams to secure a last-chance spot at the upcoming Rio Olympics.
All three are free agents this off-season and will be looking for new contracts. The qualifying tournament begins on July 5, but free agents won't be eligible to sign new contracts until July 7. Playing could jeopardize their chances at a big payday, likely a reason behind their decisions to sit out.
France's roster holes are good news for the Canadian team, which is also playing in the last-ditch qualification tournament. Other teams involved are New Zealand, Turkey, Senegal, and host the Philippines.
The tournament is one of three happening this summer to fill out the Rio Olympics tournament. The respective winners in each will book their tickets to Rio. France is the top-ranked team in the world that has not yet qualified for the Olympics.
NBA teams also often like to minimize their players' international appearances.
Rudy Gobert, a French player with the Utah Jazz, will also skip the tournament. Utah wants him to stay in Salt Lake City to rehab from a bad ankle sprain which ended his season early.
"Yeah, I won't play in Manila at OQT," Gobert told Sportando earlier this month. "This season I had several injuries, so the Jazz want me to stay in Salt Lake in June to work on my body. But I've already said to [French coach Vincent] Collet that I'll be able to play in Rio, if we reach the qualification."
Canada also unsure of summer roster
With six summer exhibition games approaching, Team Canada also stands unsure of its roster for the summer.
Andrew Wiggins said in April about his participation in the qualification tournament that he'll "cross that bridge when [I get] to it."
Tristan Thompson, who did not play in the Pan Am Games or last summer's Olympic qualification tournament, has not committed to playing. An NBA playoff run with the Cleveland Cavaliers stretching late into the spring seems unlikely to improve Canada's chances of having him on the roster.
Jamal Murray is expected to be picked early in the 2016 NBA draft. It won't be known until after the draft if Murray's new team would allow him to play.
The qualification tournament runs from July 5-10.