In this brief period between the NBA draft and free agency the league dies down for a moment and everyone takes a breath. Unless of course your country has yet to qualify for the 2016 Olympics and is making one last attempt to get there via the Olympic Qualifying Tournament process, then you are engaing in several international friendlies to prepare. For the Denver Nuggets, three players from their current roster find themselves in this situation: Danilo Gallinari with Italy, Joffrey Lauvergne with France and Nikola Jokic with Serbia. Each team failed to qualify when they were unsuccessful in winning the 2014 World Cup of Basketball and also failed to place first or second in the 2015 Eurobasket. However, there are three qualifying tournaments that start next week which will give each of the three Nuggets a chance to still go to Rio.
As luck would have it, Serbia, France and Italy all ended up in different qualifying tournaments meaning all three potentially could qualify and earn a trip to the Olympics. Both the Italians and Serbians will benefit from being the host country of their respective tournaments whereas France will have to travel to the Phillipines to take on an upstart Canada team (along with a couple others who don't stand much of a chance). Nonetheless, France should be heavy favorites to emerge from their tournament as should Serbia. Italy however isn't on the same level talent wise and despite being the home team they are not considered favorites to win their tournament. Let's breakdown each team's chances to make it to the Olympics and how it will affect the Nuggets.
Nikola Jokic - Serbia
As stated, the Serbians will enjoy playing this tournament from the comfort of their capital city of Belgrade. Additionally, Serbia is a far better team than anyone they will face during qualifying, with Angola being the next highest ranked team in the world at 15. The team is flush with talent though most of it is homegrown in Europe so outside of Denver's Jokic and the Sacramento King's Bogdan Bogdanovic there isn't much in the way of NBA players. Still, Serbia isn't the 6th ranked team in the world for nothing and they nearly made the Olympics outright in Eurobasket 2015 but a blown layup by Bogdanovic in the waning seconds of the semi-finals against Lithuania sealed their fate.
Nuggets fans should expect Jokic to get in a full workload over the summer, possibly making him prone to a sophomore slump in the upcoming NBA season. If the friendly matches Serbia is playing to warm up for the qualifiers is any indication, Jokic shouldn't get a ton of minutes, but he's still a key part of the rotation and will play plenty. Further compounding the issue is the fact that not only should they be able to get through this qualifying tournament, but Serbia will likely have a long run in the actual Olympics as well. They've shown the ability to play with the world's elite and its hard to fathom a situation that doesn't get them out of the group stage and a shot at earning a medal in Rio.
Joffrey Lauvergne - France
Similar to Serbia, France is the heavy favorite to emerge from their qualifying tournament. Their most talented opponent would be Turkey who features a pair of NBA talents in Omer Asik and Furkan Korkmaz and is the 8th ranked team in the world. Canada likewise has several NBA players and has the look of a team who will be an international force for years to come. However, they are missing arguably their best player in Andrew Wiggins (who declined to play in order to focus on his upcoming third NBA season) though they do have new NBA champion Tristan Thompson anchoring them down low. It is yet to be known if newest Nugget Jamal Murray will play for Canada as he will have obligations with the NBA summer league at the same time, though he is listed on the Canadian roster.
Regardless of all this, the French team is still the team to beat in the Phillipines. They most recently lost an overtime friendly with Serbia that saw heavy minutes for Lauvergne as well as Nando de Colo, a player the Nuggets have been linked to in the past. Like Serbia, expect Lauvergne and the French team to get a heavy workload this Summer. Provided they emerge from the qualifiers as they should, France also has a shot to go deep in the actual Olympic tournament and should be looking to medal. While they currently rely on Boris Diaw fairly heavily, look for the French to play Lauvergne a good chunk of minutes over the summer as well.
Danilo Gallinari - Italy
Despite being the home team, the Italians are the lowest ranked of any team in their tournament, making it seem unlikely they will be able to earn a bid to Rio. Make no mistake though, if Italy does pull it off, it will be on the back of Gallinari who is by far the most talented player on the team and he is joined by Italian team regulars/NBA players Andrea Bargnani and Marco Bellinelli. Unfortunately for Italy, Greece looks like a far superior team, with Giannis Antetokounmpo leading the way. Italy also has to deal with a talented Croatian team and sneaky good teams Mexico and Iran. Hard to see the home court advantage overcoming all of that.
Perhaps its for the best that Italy is likely to meet a quick exit. Gallinari isn't exactly the picture of health in the NBA and the Italians rely on him so heavily that extended play over the summer is probably not in the best interest of the Nuggets. Best case scenario for all parties would be a gallant effort by Italy that leads them to the final of the qualifying tournament where Gallinari has a big game but ultimately the team falls short and is defeated by either Greece or Croatia. This way Gallo is still the National hero playing in his home country, but also will get plenty of rest before the open of the 2016-2017 NBA season.
So plenty to be on the look out for in the next couple of weeks as some of Denver's international talent tries to make good in the largest international basketball tournament there is. This is probably not a good thing for the Nuggets, all things considered, but it's hard to talk a guy out of playing for his home country, especially in Europe where the national teams are a much bigger deal than they are here in the States. The best that Nuggets fans should hope for is maybe a medal for one or two of their guys (two would be tough because Spain and Lithuania loom large) and most importantly that all of them return to Colorado with a clean bill of health.