By TIM REYNOLDS, AP Basketball Writer
Portland guard Damian Lillard has told USA Basketball officials that he will play for the national team in this summer’s Tokyo Olympics, a person with knowledge of the decision said Wednesday.
The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the roster has not yet been publicly revealed. USA Basketball plans on selecting its team in the coming weeks, then bringing the group to Las Vegas for a training camp that begins July 6.
Lillard has not previously played in the Olympics.
He averaged 28.8 points this season, and is one of only two players — LeBron James is the other — to average at least 25 points per game in each of the last six seasons. James said when the Los Angeles Lakers’ season ended that he was not playing in the Olympics this summer, partly because his film “Space Jam: A New Legacy” is coming out next month.
The hope for USA Basketball has been to finalize its men’s roster around the end of June. San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich will coach the team, assisted by Golden State coach Steve Kerr, Villanova coach Jay Wright and former Atlanta coach Lloyd Pierce.
The U.S. men are seeking a fourth consecutive gold medal. USA Basketball announced a pool of 57 candidates earlier this year; many of them have said in recent weeks they are weighing their options.
Miami’s Jimmy Butler, a 2016 gold medalist, has decided not to play this summer. Golden State’s Draymond Green, who was on that team, has said for two years that he is strongly interested in playing, and 2019 U.S. World Cup team veteran Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics is also leaning toward participating this summer.
It appears that if Serbia makes the Olympics, the reigning NBA MVP — Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets — will not be with them in Tokyo.
Jokic has decided to not join the Serbian team for the Olympic qualifying tournament that starts later this month; the Serbians must win that six-team event to grab one of the four remaining spots in the field for the Tokyo Games.
“I am not able to play,” said Jokic, citing a need for rest after two grueling back-to-back NBA seasons in which he didn’t miss a game.
In Tampa, Florida, Canada opened its camp in preparation for the Olympic qualifying tournament that it will play host to in Victoria, British Columbia later this month.
That event begins June 29, like the three other qualifying tournaments — and the Canadians are still hoping to have at least some fans in attendance.
“If at all possible, to safely have fans in Victoria, that would just be great,” Canada Basketball general manager Rowan Barrett said. “I know there’s some decisions being made about that, but if we can get that home-court advantage, get the wind at your back in the big game, and help put some pressure on the the other team … I mean, it’s what we face constantly when we go to play. To have that for us this year would be tremendous.”
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