The more we hear about the NBA’s developing plan to return this summer, the harder it sounds to pull off.
When last we covered the growing optimism around the resumption of the 2019-20 season, we outlined the league’s shift from abject safety to reduced risk in the face of a stark financial landscape. The NBA is still developing its plan for what basketball may look like amid the coronavirus pandemic, but momentum continues toward crowning a champion. Yet, each wave of new information only elicits more questions about the sensibility of playing a contact sport under threat of a highly contagious and deadly virus.
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe, NBA commissioner Adam Silver is expected to set guidelines “around June 1” for teams to begin recalling players from around the globe as an initial step toward resuming the season “sometime before the end of July,” likely in Las Vegas and Orlando. That could reportedly include assistance from the federal government in recalling players from overseas.
That process will reportedly include a two-week quarantine period for players arriving from other markets, followed by one- or two-week individual workout sessions and a two- or three-week team training camp. A regular-season slate is still on the table, but the NBA would at least like to complete a full playoff schedule, per multiple reports. If the league is still unwilling to extend the current season much later than Labor Day, that leaves roughly six to eight weeks to award the Larry O’Brien trophy.
It is possible, as we outlined in a two-month proposal that required abbreviated playoff series leading up to a seven-game Finals, but the clock is ticking, and it could stop again at any time. June 1 falls a week from Monday, and teams are currently unaware when, where and how they can prepare for high-stakes basketball made more pressure-filled by the possibility that COVID-19 could ravage rosters and families.
Even if the league schedules every playoff game back to back, that requires four weeks. That is not happening. Injury risk during a hastened schedule is well documented and surely worse so soon after an extended layoff. In the absence of travel, teams no longer need two or more days between playoff games, but for an optimal product, as few back-to-backs as possible is still preferable, if not mandatory.
That extends the playoffs closer to eating the entire window between July and September, assuming all goes according to plan. Bad news both for fulfilling the NBA’s 70-game obligation to regional sports networks and the few Western Conference teams still chasing the Memphis Grizzlies for the eighth seed.
This all assumes a second wave of the virus either internally or externally does not force the NBA to hit the pause button on the 2019-20 campaign again, which brings us to another obstacle facing the league.
In a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, Los Angeles Lakers veteran Jared Dudley lifted the veil on some planned guidelines moving forward. He confirmed players would be “allowed to leave” the campus-like environments created under a return-to-action scenario. In one breath, Dudley said “every team’s got a [Dennis] Rodman” who would socialize outside the proverbial NBA bubble, and in another he added, “There would be added pressure not to potentially leave so you don’t get the COVID-19.”
Dudley suggested the Lakers would require LeBron James and Anthony Davis to stay on the NBA campus, for fear of losing either to a two-week quarantine during the playoffs, and that other teams would likely follow suit with star players. This ignores the fact that any player who socializes elsewhere can spread the virus to teammates and opponents, regardless of the expected frequency in testing.
Not to mention the fact that James, his Lakers teammates and members of the Los Angeles Clippers are apparently already in violation of league and government mandates for adhering to safety guidelines.
The likelihood of another positive coronavirus test in the NBA increases the more we learn about a potential return to the season, and with that comes an increased likelihood of its spread both inside and outside NBA circles, including families of players and the communities in which they socialize.
One of those communities will likely be Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Players will reportedly be confined mostly to hotels, gymnasiums and dining areas at a designated location inside the resort, but the expectation is that the amusement park could also reopen at 20 percent capacity in the near future.
That creates two high-risk environments in a county that, according to The New York Times, already features the fourth-highest total of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state with the 11th-most deaths — amid concerns that Florida’s coronavirus data may have been manipulated to expedite its reopening.
It is almost impossible to return on a timeline that does not also negatively impact next season, much less to do so without serious safety concerns, which makes you wonder if it should be possible at all.
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