James Harden, Russell Westbrook Await Olympic Return in 2021

Michael Shapiro

Rockets guards James Harden and Russell Westbrook both expressed their interest in playing in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in October, but those goals will be delayed until 2021 due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The International Olympic Committee announced on Tuesday it is officially delaying the Tokyo Olympics until the summer of 2021 following a conference call between the IOC and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe. Yet despite the one-year postponement, USA Basketball managing director Bryan Colangelo said "all systems are go," for the United States to enter the 2021 Olympics with a fully-stocked roster.

Colangelo's statement may not hold true as we approach the 2021 Tokyo Games. The NBA's calendar could be shifted permanently due to the current suspension, and veteran players may opt to skip the 2021 Olympics if nearly one-and-a-half seasons are packed into a 15-month span. Players who appear in the postseason in August 2020 and June 2021 could be too physically and emotionally spent to commit to an Olympics two months later. With a lack of clarity on the NBA's upcoming schedule, there is little the Team USA staff can do but wait and see.

"We're all kind of sitting here wondering what's going to happen, and so is the rest of the world," Warriors coach and USA Basketball assistant Steve Kerr told Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix. "We're just going to plan as if [delayed Olympics] is going to happen, and we're going to try and put together a roster, and that's all we can do.” 

Harden and Westbrook both earned their first Olympic gold medals on Team USA in 2012. Both players skipped the 2016 Rio Games due to rest and injury rehab. 2021 will mark Harden and Westbrook's next chance at becoming two-time Olympic gold medalists at 30 and 31-years-old, respectively.