Tall Blacks coach Paul Henare suspects the lure of a big NBA deal beyond this season played a role in Steven Adams' decision to make himself unavailable for the national team's Olympic qualifying campaign.
Basketball New Zealand today announced the Kiwi NBA star had ruled himself out of the Rio Olympic Games qualifying tournament in July, citing his commitments with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
"I will not be participating in the Olympic competitions with the Tall Blacks this summer," Adams said in a statement. "This was a very difficult decision as I take tremendous pride in being a New Zealander. The Tall Blacks organisation has been extremely supportive and we felt it was best to make an announcement now as preparations have already begun for the qualifying tournament and the Games."
Henare said Adams didn't offer much explanation for his decision to turn down a chance to represent the Tall Blacks other than "NBA scheduling and the unknown of the playoffs and how far they'll go". But given the NBA finals wrap up on June 19 at the very latest - several weeks before the Olympic qualifying tournament - and the Thunder at this point are considered only an outside chance of making it deep into the playoffs, Adams' withdrawal has left some Kiwi basketball fans scratching their heads.
His lack of enthusiasm for the black singlet appears all the more curious when the like of San Antonio Spurs star Tony Parker has already declared himself available for the French side - one of the teams the Tall Blacks have to get past at the July tournament.
But unlike Parker, a veteran of 13 seasons in the NBA, Adams isn't as well-established and doesn't have the luxury of being able to dictate terms to his employers. The 2.13m centre has one more year left on his rookie deal with the Thunder and would become a restricted free agent, and Henare speculated the lure of a $10m-plus annual contract may be on Adams' mind this year.
"I'd imagine [contracts] might have something to do with it. When you're on the cusp of signing a multi-million dollar contract from your rookie contract, you want to do everything possible to make sure you get what you've earned. But that is obviously only speculation that that would come into his decision-making."
While disappointed to miss out on Adams' services once more, Henare does not believe it is a death knell for the Tall Blacks' chances of qualifying for Rio.
"You're always hopeful but he hasn't put the black singlet on yet, so it was one of those scenarios where if he plays great, if not, we've got a group of guys that have been through the trenches and will do so again."
The Tall Blacks will have one last shot at qualifying for Rio at a six-team qualifying tournament in Manila from July 4-10, with only the winning team earning a spot at the Olympics.