FIBA schedule could leave NBA out
LJUBLJANA, Slovenia -- If the United States and its chief international rivals want a place at the 2019 FIBA World Cup, then they'll need to make their way through a qualification round. The looming problem? The revamped global calendar for the sport will see games scheduled during the NBA season, likely ensuring that the top tier of players will be unavailable for their national teams.
Faced with ongoing criticism over wear and tear, in addition to an objective to mirror soccer by providing each country with competitive games on home soil, FIBA's new competition system for senior men will see the biennial continental championships -- including EuroBasket -- moved to a four-year cycle in 2017. The subsequent summer would be free of obligations, followed by the 32-team World Cup in September 2019, and the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Currently, most international competitions -- including qualifiers -- are held in the summer, during the offseason for most leagues. FIBA has mapped out four annual windows when such contests would take place: in November, February, June and September, with provisionally two games, one each at home and on the road, in each period.
However it is understood that the NBA, despite initial discussions with FIBA, has not tabled any proposals to accommodate the move, with a league source confirming to ESPN.com that there is no plan to alter the current schedule. The Euroleague, which has an October-to-May calendar, also has yet to give the concept its support, although it will hold further talks during the forthcoming season.
That won't stop FIBA from proceeding with the move, even though it could mean the USA bringing in players from the D-League and overseas, and leave the likes of Spain and France without much of their first-choice roster.
"The format and calendar of competitions was identified as being one of FIBA's main priorities and has been intensively worked on over the last two years," a statement issued by FIBA confirmed. "The process to look into ways of improving the format and calendar of competitions started in March 2011. Since then, a number of workshops with selected National Federations from each FIBA Zone have taken place.
"Furthermore, the following was carried out: A study of the economic parameters carried out by external experts. Information was shared and consultations took place with our National Federation members and our FIBA Zones. Three different formats were proposed with one selected to be further analyzed and developed."
The chosen one, incorporating midseason qualifiers, will also apply to future continental championships, like EuroBasket and FIBA Americas, which will become stand-alone tournaments without any direct qualification for the Olympics or World Cup, as they have currently.
The USA does not generally participate in the Americas Championships, whose 2013 edition was won earlier this month by Mexico. But there are fears that EuroBasket, whose final will be held Sunday in the Slovene capital Ljubljana, could be devalued by the move.
An official of one leading European federation, who requested anonymity, said: "It will just become a glorified under-20 tournament. You will get even less guys wanting to come than now."
Even if the NBA did extend the annual All-Star break to create a brief window for players to pull on a national jersey, the sheer logistics may turn many off, given the extended travel and a lack of preparation time.
"I don't see that happening," says Phoenix Suns guard Goran Dragic, who will be on duty again for Slovenia at next summer's World Cup in Spain. "It's a tough season. You have 82 games. Even at All-Star break, we have only five days off. Especially for me, coming from Phoenix. I have to switch planes three times and it takes 22 hours to get back to my home country.
"I lose one day and then to play a game, then go back to the United States to play, that's too much and a lot of NBA players won't do it. But you never know. Let's say that everything is possible. Hopefully they can find a solution that everybody can bring their best players from around the world."
FIBA officials confirmed that a review of the international competition schedule for women is currently in progress. The results of its consultation are expected ahead of next year's FIBA world championship for women, to be held in Turkey.
USA Basketball could not be reached for comment.