Tristan Thompson is unlikely to play for Canada in the Olympic qualifying tournament this summer, in a Dec. 16, 2019 story. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Thompson’s contract status likely to keep him out of Olympic qualifying

TORONTO — Nick Nurse says Tristan Thompson would “look good” playing for Canada’s men’s basketball team this summer.

It might take getting to the Tokyo Olympics, however, for that to happen.

Thompson has been a mainstay of the national men’s team for the past several years, but his NBA contract status will likely keep the Cleveland Cavaliers forward from playing in the Olympic qualifying tournament this summer.

“We hope he plays,” Nurse said before his Toronto Raptors tipped off against Cleveland. ”It’s a little difficult for me to comment on that kind of stuff sometimes. But as with any of them, we hope he plays, he’s one of the best rebounding bigs in the world, playing on the world stage. He’d look good on our team.”

The 28-year-old from Brampton, Ont., becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1, three days after the Canada’s last-chance qualifier in Victoria ends.

Thompson was hesitant to talk about this summer at Monday morning’s shootaround, saying: “I’m just thinking about tonight, playing against the Raptors at home at 7:30 at Scotiabank Arena. So that’s where my mindset is at. I’m happy Nick Nurse is the coach.”

But it’s unlikely Thompson or Miami Heat centre Kelly Olynyk — who would also be without a contract if he opts out of his deal — will play in the June 23-28 tournament, which Canada must win to earn its first Olympic berth in the 20 years.

Both Thompson and Olynyk could join the Canadian team for the Tokyo Games.

Thompson has yet to play for Nurse, who was hired by Canada Basketball shortly after the Raptors’ historic NBA championship run, but he’s pleased with the choice.

“We’ve got a good relationship and he’s a great guy,” Thompson said. “For him to take time out of his summer, especially after winning a championship, to coach the national team (at the World Cup in China last August) says a lot about his character and how much he cares about Canada Basketball.”

Thompson has stepped up numerous times when Canada has come calling. He played in Canada’s last-chance qualifier for the Rio Olympics in the Philippines, in which Canada lost to France in the final to narrowly miss an Olympic berth. He also played in a handful of Canada’s qualifying games for the 2019 World Cup, among other tournaments.

Last month saw a groundswell of Canadian players enthusiastically declare their intention to play for Canada this summer.

Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray, who hasn’t worn the red and white since the 2015 Pan American Games, got the ball rolling, tweeting: “I want to play my part to help push our team into the Olympics and compete at the highest world stage.”

RJ Barrett, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Melvin Ejim, Kyle Wiltjer and Trey Lyles all quickly followed suit.

“It’s good that guys are finding times in their schedules to play for the national team,” Thompson said. “We’ve got a lot of pros and we’ve got more coming every year, so the fact that guys are stepping up and making themselves available to play is huge, and it’s great for Canada Basketball.”

Thompson, who won an NBA championship with Cleveland in 2016, said he was happy to see his hometown Raptors win.

“It was huge for the city, huge for the country … Toronto basketball’s on the rise,” he said. “It was great with Kawhi (Leonard) and it especially was huge for Kyle (Lowry), just because I know how many times we’d beat up on him in the playoffs.”

The Raptors were eliminated by Cleveland in the three previous post-seasons, winning just two of a combined 14 games.

“I’m happy for them, they deserved it and now we’re gonna try to get a win tonight,” Thompson said.

Thompson is having a strong season averaging 13.1 points and 9.8 rebounds. He had 18 points and eight rebounds in Monday night’s 133-113 rout by Toronto.

“Tristan’s always going to be right up there at the top of the best reboundng bigs in the league. Gosh, and he’s sure had some amazing games in this building,” Nurse said. ”I hope he doesn’t have one of them tonight, because he’s really been a handful in this building a few times. I think there were a couple 18-rebounder nights in there.”

Cleveland, however, hasn’t been enjoying much success. The Cavs (6-21) have lost 10 of their last 11 games.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 16, 2019.

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