Jordi Fernández open to looking around NBA to fill out Canada’s Olympic team



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TORONTO — Mere moments after Jordi Fernández finished speaking about the most exciting summer for the Canadian men’s national team in about two decades, Jay Triano was walking down a hall about 50 feet from where his fellow coach had been talking. Life is funny like that.

Triano, an assistant coach with the Sacramento Kings, was the coach of the Canadian team twice, including at the start of the recent run that coincided with the country’s talent flooding the NBA. Fernández is now the coach, after replacing Nick Nurse, who replaced Triano. Nurse is not in charge only because he couldn’t find a way to manage switching professional jobs while keeping the gig with Canada last summer. Canada Basketball hired Fernández to replace him. Fernández and Triano are on Mike Brown’s staff with the Kings. Again, eerie stuff, even if the basketball world is smaller than you think.

Somewhere in the back of Triano’s mind, he must be thinking that it would have been nice to be able to speak as confidently — with truth — when he was the head coach as Fernández is now.

“We believe we can get to No. 1 in the rankings. And not just get there but sustain it,” Fernández said before his Kings eviscerated what’s left of the Toronto Raptors 123-89 on Wednesday.

It’s amazing what one bronze medal at the World Cup and the first spot in the Olympics for the men in the past six cycles will do. There is a reason for Canada to be excited. Tuesday, Fernández learned his team will be in a group with fifth-ranked Australia and the winners of the last-chance qualifying tournaments in Spain and Greece. The hosts and Slovenia are the two favourites to come out of the latter tournament, and Spain — Fernández’s home country and his FIBA touchstone — is strongly favoured to get out of the tournament it will host.

These are the Olympics, so there is no such thing as an easy draw. Still, Fernández can afford to be optimistic.

“I think the group of players that (general manager) Rowan (Barrett) put together was amazing. At the end of the day, that’s what you need. You need the horses, and we do have that,” Fernández said. “Moving forward, we’re going to have the opportunity to improve the team.”

That will be the focus of the next few months, leading up to training camp in Toronto about a week after the NBA Finals is scheduled to end. Barring injuries or other unexpected developments, seven no-doubters will be in France for Canada: MVP candidate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Luguentz Dort, RJ Barrett, Kelly Olynyk, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Dwight Powell and Dillon Brooks. If Jamal Murray is healthy and Canada can come up with a plan to get him enough rest after what promises to be yet another long playoff run, he will be there. International stalwart Melvin Ejim is another likely member of the squad.

After that, it’s anybody’s guess. Three summers ago, the program asked for a three-summer commitment from its players to build the chemistry that has been absent from some of the most recent Canadian teams, but Barrett and his team have already had to go beyond that original list of 14. As Fernández referenced, there are certain players not among that group who could really help.

Canada could certainly use a mobile centre with size to deal with Victor Wembanyama, Giannis Antetokounmpo (if Greece makes it), Nikola Jokić and whoever the United States has up front, but that sort of player does not exist. Andrew Nembhard of the Indiana Pacers, however, would help as the type of backup guard who was lacking on last summer’s team. A switchable wing defender such as Andrew Wiggins, if his personal issues are manageable, would always be helpful, even if this hasn’t been his best season. The Portland Trail Blazers’ Shaedon Sharpe hasn’t played since early January because of a core injury for which he had surgery in early February, but anybody who is that athletically gifted, with that type of jumper, has to be considered if he is available.

“Every single player … that played (last year) is excited to play again,” Fernández said. “And the players that didn’t have the opportunity to play, they expressed their excitement to play and willingness to play. It’s been great.”

That is an easy thing to say in March and, historically, a tough thing to prove true come June and July. Thankfully, Fernández is managing the type of depth Triano could only dream of a decade ago.

Notes

• After Wednesday’s game, Fernández was wearing an Arkells T-shirt. Its status as the unofficial band of Canada Basketball outlasts coaches, apparently.

• Multiple members of the women’s national team were at Wednesday’s game, too. Canada will be in a group with third-ranked Australia, fifth-ranked France and 12th-ranked Nigeria in what is likely the toughest group in the tournament.

• With Immanuel Quickley missing the game for personal reasons, the Raptors were without four starters (and their four most important players), as well as Chris Boucher and D.J. Carton. Jontay Porter left the game with an illness, allowing us to arrive at the part of the season when Jalen McDaniels, listed at 190 pounds, was playing at centre. (Or, if you prefer, 6-foot-5 Ochai Agbaji was at centre.) All of which is to say this is not a real NBA team at the moment, and games like Wednesday’s will continue to pile up. Realistically, the Raptors are playing with three qualified rotation players and a host of others trying to lock down a spot in the league. Raptors coach Darko Rajaković said there was no timetable for the return of Quickley, who is dealing with a family issue.

• Agbaji caught an alley-oop pass from Kelly Olynyk with one hand and dunked it home. It was impressive. Not as impressive as when Vince Carter did it, which is on the short list of the best highlights by a Raptors player ever.

• Gradey Dick made a few nice reads early. His dribble and dish to Bruce Brown didn’t pay off, but Gary Trent Jr. was able to connect when the rookie hooked him up in transition. Dick also was solid on defence, even if his opponents made some tough shots over him. His shot looks flat, which is a sign of fatigue, but this was a better performance than either of his games against the Orlando Magic.

• Jahmi’us Ramsey is still out there doing cool things defensively, although turning over basic entry passes is not ideal. He is not a natural point guard, but he has to be able to make the easy passes.

• Hey now, Jordan Nwora.

• Mouhamadou Gueye blocked Domantas Sabonis, so that is cool.

(Photo: Sergio Estrada / USA Today)





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