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Dream Team to D-League: New FIBA schedule puts U.S. hoops in bind

LILLE, France -- The U.S. men's basketball team could go from Dream Team to D-League when it comes to qualifying for the 2019 Basketball World Cup.

With a new qualifying schedule that will feature two of the four windows of play occurring during the NBA season, it is possible the men's national team could be comprised of D-Leaguers.

It is an issue that will have to be resolved by 2017 when FIBA's revamped international schedule goes into effect, with the path to future World Cups -- and via those, the Olympics -- running through a series of games to be held during calendar windows, similar to the system employed by FIFA in soccer.

Two will be in late June and early September, theoretically allowing NBA players of all nationalities to represent their country in the offseason. The other two will be in November and February. And while most leagues around the world will simply shut down for a 10-day period to accommodate FIBA play, that concept has been deemed a non-starter in the NBA -- with an early idea of allowing an out to go on national duty during All-Star Weekend taken off the table.

Utilizing a single squad drafted in from the D-League, rather than dipping into the NCAA or bringing back U.S. exports from overseas, is now seen as the most viable alternative solution.

"The whole concept was developed in very close cooperation with the NBA and USA Basketball," FIBA's sports and competitions director Predrag Bogosavljev told ESPN.com.

"They have difficulties in getting NBA players for qualification but they have certain depth. They are discussing different opportunities together. One of them is using the D-League. But there are also some other options. But they will participate and find the best way to do it."

Of course, even the USA's backup roster should still be comfortably able to land one of the seven World Cup spots from the Americas before bringing back the big names for the showpiece itself -- which, in turn, will offer at least two Olympic berths for countries from the continent. Even if the U.S. were to win gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics, the team would still have to go through qualifying to reach the 2019 World Cup.

But amid a relative consensus over reducing the offseason workloads of NBA stars, it has become about finding a suitable compromise to keep everyone on board.

"By making the change in the system, it is a choice between having the best NBA players at our final tournaments or not," Bogosavljev, a former Yugoslavia international, admitted.

"The NBA was close to killing this possibility for all the players. This is a solution that has been developed with their support - with the NBA deputy commissioner [Mark Tatum] sitting on the FIBA board. And we hope this cooperation will continue."

The twin-team option is likely to be a lot simpler for the United States than for other foreign powers like France and Canada, who are more reliant on their NBA contingents. Although FIBA believes the revamp will help to grow basketball by providing national teams with extra exposure and generating additional revenues, the idea of fielding a less-than-full-strength roster was met with a mixed reception at its unveiling at EuroBasket in France on Tuesday.

It also impacts the availability of potential coaching staffs. It seems improbable Mike Krzyzewski would take time out from Duke with March Madness on the horizon. And countries currently employing American coaches from within NBA and NCAA benches would have to hire elsewhere.

On the court, Spain coach Sergio Scariolo admitted it will have pluses and minuses.

"It's going to be very unusual, of course," he said. "But from one side, we have opportunities for young players to play and start being with the national team ... no matter how much talent you have, you have to grow, and those games will help them to grow."

Despite a certain level of support from owners, notably Mark Cuban of the Dallas Mavericks, the idea of turning the Olympics into an under-22 tournament with a minimal number of NBA players appears to have been ruled out of bounds until at least the 2026 Games.

Although senior NBA sources insist the league remains supportive of its stars turning out in FIBA play, it is a debate that has continued since Paul George's injury last summer. But, for now, the proposal has been put on ice.

"We have had different talks," confirmed FIBA executive Patrick Koller. "The reality is today if you ask Lionel Messi what he would like to win with Argentina, he will tell you the World Cup. If you ask LeBron James what he wants to win with the USA, he will tell you the Olympics. That is the reality.

"The idea is to move the basketball World Cup to the next level. We have had a lot of discussion about what we do with the Olympics, but we still believe the Olympics is really positive for basketball and it would be wrong to downgrade the Olympics. So we will keep the Olympics as it is."

"We are reviewing whatever other options exist, including NBA D-League players," a USA Basketball spokesperson said.