New plan: Hire Phil Jackson as special consultant.
“It’s been great to have 'The Last Dance' on – I feel like I’m reliving my life in the 90’s again.” @Raptors head coach Nick Nurse spoke about studying the @chicagobulls and idolizing Phil Jackson’s coaching.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) May 9, 2020
“We have been assured we are not taking any tests from health care workers, first responders or anyone, whether they are experiencing symptoms or asymptomatic,” a Magic spokesman said.
Some players, such as Portland’s CJ McCollum, have made it clear that a willingness to return to N.B.A. practice facilities now is not universal. But McCollum, a players association vice president, told Yahoo Sports this week that he planned to go to the Blazers’ practice facility on Saturday.
“I am worried like the rest of the world, but I like that it is optional and I’m pleased with the caution, structure and measures the Blazers organization has put in place to ensure the safest environment possible for all parties involved,” McCollum said.
Nance, of the Cavaliers, submitted to a temperature and symptoms check before his workout Friday; league rules say anyone with a temperature above 99.1 degrees must be denied entry.
Nance’s return was notable because he has Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease that is typically treated with immunosuppressive medication. This can make people with Crohn’s more vulnerable to infections, but Nance said he was confident about his medication.
“They did a really good job of making sure we all felt great about being there,” Nance said of the Cavaliers. “They could make it at 4 in the morning and I would be there.”
Basketball hasn’t been played in two months and the league, the teams and the players still seem to have a universal desire to get back to work, finish this season and crown a champion. But, perhaps mindful of challenges other leagues have faced in their efforts to resume play amid a coronavirus pandemic that has shut down the sports world, the NBA seems to be moving with extreme caution.
“The biggest goal is to have the confidence of the players and the staff that they can enter the facility safely,” Utah general manager Dennis Lindsey said.
Simultaneously, everybody wants to play, and everybody wonders if it’s safe to play. It’s like all parties involved know that a major misstep now could doom any realistic chance of playing anytime in the next few months.
“Our task force at the league is studying how do we get back to playing basketball again, following the data, looking at every possible model,” Magic CEO Alex Martins said this week while addressing an Orlando-area economic forum.
And opening the practice courts is only Phase One.
Phase Two, who knows when that will come. It’s not imminent.
Games are not close. Getting players back into facilities is not a precursor to games being played, it’s more about keeping them out of public gyms and playgrounds that are starting to reopen. Positive tests during individual training or practices could delay or destroy plans for games.
There are some reasons for hope. The NBA is still working toward a plan to test players if the season resumes. It has exchanged data with leagues across the world, and there have been some success stories. Baseball is being played again in South Korea. MLS teams returned to fields Wednesday for workouts with restrictions. Germany’s top soccer league has allowed players to return to training facilities, even though some staff and players have tested positive.
It’s the NBA’s turn to start seeing where it stands.
“There’s been this unprecedented collaboration and communication among scientists across the world right now,” said Dr. John DiFiori, the NBA’s Director of Sports Medicine. “What’s going on sports medicine sort of parallels that at a much different level of course. But there is an awful lot of that going on across the world right now. It’s at least daily communication in one way, shape or another with colleagues across the world in all these different leagues, because we’re all learning from each other.”
Starting the season two months later means the Finals would take place in August, when most of the viewing public plans for vacations and children are out of school with not much going on.
The NBA apparently views that as an opportunity. Believing your league is important enough to change the natural habits of the general public trends a bit on the arrogant side, and until there’s a better metric to determine viewership besides Nielsen boxes, it doesn’t present much upside.
You want to maximize the eyeballs on your product for when it matters most: the playoffs — April, May and June. Our collective muscles are tuned to that, and although it’s not impossible, it feels like a natural transition to go from March Madness to the NBA playoffs.
Even the NFL has fan fatigue, with Monday and Thursday football not being able to capture the glory of a Sunday afternoon and evening.
And it’s sure to upset the regional sports networks, who are used to having NBA programming in the middle of the fall before leading into the winter, as opposed to the unenviable task of balancing the tail end of the NBA schedule with Major League Baseball.
Such change would actually have to be embraced by the players, and there seems to be no indication they’ll go for that. They want their summers and guess who else does? Their wives and families and kids — especially as we see summer basketball become more prevalent for the children of NBA players.
The prominent shoe companies use summers for overseas trips to increase the profile of their players, their brands and the league at large — because those kids are out of school, too. There’s also the Olympics to think about. In trying to serve one master, the NBA risks losing the organic momentum it’s been building for years, especially internationally, which has been a priority for decades.
Why can’t the NBA embrace the natural build-up of its calendar? Player movement and free agency has made it a 12-month league, and the only true shutdown happens in August and early September, following summer league.
The league is undergoing a market correction of sorts, as one can attribute dwindling ratings to start the season with knowing the league will be there for the coming weeks and months. And the lack of roster continuity from year to year is creating a disconnect for fans.
All the while, the CBA’s most famous, productive, and well-paid players—a list that includes former NBAers like Jeremy Lin, Ty Lawson and Lance Stephenson—have been stuck in the middle of the chaos. Some, like Mayo, are content to stay in China, collect a paycheck, and hold tight until July. Others have been stateside since February, either unable to travel or refusing to take the risk. Still more have been caught in between: fleeing to their home countries during the initial suspension, rushing to China and quarantining for the mid-April restart, and finally flying home again when the latest delay came down.
“It’s just a big disaster,” says one U.S. player, a high-scoring CBA veteran who requested to remain anonymous to avoid reprisal. “They called us back for nothing.”
Another player who answered the summons was Shanghai Sharks guard Ray McCallum Jr., a second-round pick to Sacramento who played 154 NBA games before heading overseas. After two weeks of hotel-room isolation, where meals were dropped outside his door and his only human contact came in the form of government health officials in hazmat suits administering twice-daily temperature checks, McCallum was released in early April.
To his pleasant surprise, he found that the city was creeping back to life sooner than he expected: For instance, when McCallum practiced with the Sharks for the first time again on April 2, he walked into the gym and began lacing up his sneakers while still wearing a medical face mask.
“My teammates were stretching, getting ready, and they had no mask on,” McCallum says. “They just laughed at me, like, ‘It’s O.K., Ray, everybody’s safe in here, it’s all good.’”
And things really did seem that way. “I was a little nervous,” says McCallum, who had been waiting out the hiatus with his father, a Tulane assistant coach, in New Orleans. “I was thinking, ‘Basketball is a contact sport, how are these practices going to go?’ But once we got playing, that went out the door.” Since then, the Sharks have been holding normal workouts at their facility, often twice a day and at a pace so furious that it reminds McCallum of training camp, minus the water breaks that now double as handwashing sessions, and the temperature scans that are mandatory before stepping onto the court.
“I’m here, I’m back,” McCallum says. “My main focus is to finish this thing out.”
If the 2019-20 season resumes, no fans are expected. And that could be the case as long as there is no vaccine.
40 percent of the league’s revenue comes from fans.
A decision on the season can go into June.
If/when NBA is able to return, Adam Silver told players it is safer in one or two locations — such as Walt Disney World in Orlando and Las Vegas — than it would be flying around to cities and facilities.
The NBA is sifting through “a lot of bad options,” meaning whatever route the resumption could take place is less than ideal.
The NBA is projecting a one-year timetable on a coronavirus vaccine. Silver emphasized that the league collectively will have to deal with the coronavirus issue for the foreseeable future — and that “no decision will be risk-free.”
Silver admitted the NBA “couldn’t start now even if we wanted to.”
NBA teams will be told again that it is voluntary for players to work out and pressure should not be applied. NBPA President Chris Paul and Vice President Kyrie Irving told Silver that some players have been feeling pressure from teams to return to facilities and that should not be the case, to which Silver agreed and stated any other concerns should be made to the league and NBPA.
Silver admitted there would be a significant impact for the league financially if there is no season and then no fans attending games in 2020-21.
According to Silver, the league would look into other interactive ways to get fans engaged.
When asked about a potential second wave of the virus in the fall, Silver said that is why a delayed start to 2020-21 makes sense. Silver referenced a Christmas Day start. Sources said a Dec. 25 start to the 2020-21 season is gaining momentum.
The ever-elusive question across pro sports is this: What happens if a player tests positive again? Silver responded that he hopes the NBA will be able to administer daily testing at that point, have no stoppage of play, and isolate the player(s) in quarantine. Silver cited a potential two-day break, as well. Silver stated any decision would need to be worked out with the NBPA and he has spoken to MLB commissioner Rob Manfred about a protocol.
A 3-to-6 week ramp-up period is expected should the NBA be able to resume the season — and the NBA prefers to have a full four-round, seven-game per series postseason.
Will non-playoff teams play again this season? The Warriors are eliminated from postseason contention. The Cavaliers and Hawks are close, as are many other teams, like the Timberwolves and Pistons. There is a belief around the league that their seasons are over. Some players want to get back on the court. “I’m excited to get some reps,” Cavs big man Larry Nance Jr. said. “I want the year to come back. I’m not gonna act like I know if we will, but I just really hope we do.” But one front office executive on a Western Conference lottery team said that while the NBA isn’t messaging that their seasons are finished, the thought is that the league won’t have the time or resources to bring all 30 teams to one location and play out the regular season. “We want to get it over with as soon as possible. If we are back to playing games, we’ll use it toward preparing for next season,” said an Eastern Conference assistant coach. “Our players have an itch to get back on the court, but the organization prefers they not return and risk injury when we are already looking ahead to next season.”
If regular-season games can be played, however, they will be. The NBA has contracts with regional sports networks (RSNs) for regular-season games. Once most teams hit 70 games, the league retains 100 percent of the revenue from those RSNs—except for a handful of teams such as the Lakers, who have a per-game contract with Spectrum SportsNet, according to a league source.
The NBA could first settle on a set amount of time at a neutral site over which it’ll schedule games—let’s say it’s six weeks. It’ll then need to figure out how to maximize those six weeks, factoring in what is safest and what is most financially beneficial. Would it be better for all 30 teams to play regular-season games to earn closer to 100 percent of the revenue they receive from RSN contracts, and shorten the postseason? Or is it better to scrap the season and play as many playoff games as possible to fulfill the contracts with national networks like ESPN and Turner Sports?
Friday’s move could be the signal for NHLers and NBAers now waiting out the pandemic in the United States and Europe to make plans to return. They’ll just have to follow isolation procedures.
“(Athletes) who aren’t in the country right now, if they do come back they’re going to have to be quarantined like everyone else for two weeks,” Premier Doug Ford said in his daily media briefing. “I know the players want to protect themselves. They’re going to be be playing in empty stadiums when that comes. Everyone wants to see a little bit of sports. But those rules will apply for all those teams. There isn’t going to be an exception.”
A statement by the Raptors assured “strict protocols” will be in place when OVO opens Monday, the thrust of their access plan meant to encourage drills such as shooting that can’t be done at home. Symptoms and temperature checks will also be conducted on personnel who come in.
“With approval from public health and our own doctors, internal resources (and) infectious disease experts, this is where we came out that we felt comfortable,” General Manager Bobby Webster said on a conference call.
Players and staff must also wear masks when not practicing and only team training and medical staff will be allowed to work with the Raptors.
“We thought it allowed our guys to start moving and getting out of their apartment a little bit and at least, maybe more for mental health, for them to start shooting and doing things like that,” Webster said.
For the first time since closing its doors on March 11 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Toronto’s OVO Athletic Centre will be open to players on a limited basis for voluntary individual workouts starting next week.
While the NBA has permitted teams to allow up to four players in their gyms at any given time, the Raptors – working closely with local and provincial governments, infectious disease experts and public health officials – have capped it at one.
Only one player, accompanied by one coach, will be able to access the building at a time, with no overlap between groups. It’s a decision the team feels comfortable with under the circumstances – a protocol that will allow players to get back on the court in a safe and healthy way.
“I think this goes all the way back to the start of when this all began in mid-March,” Raptors general manager Bobby Webster said on a Friday conference call. “I think we’ve all tried to be as thoughtful and thorough as we can with every decision that we’ve made. So in consultation with and approval from public health and our own doctors and internal resources – we’ve talked to some of the infectious disease experts – I think this is where we kinda came out that we felt comfortable.
“We thought this was reasonable. We thought it allowed our guys to start moving and getting out of their apartment a little bit, and maybe more for mental health, for them to start shooting and doing things like that. I don’t think it was necessarily compared to the NBA rule. I think it was more something that we developed internally.”
The league’s initial plan was to start this process at the beginning of May, but they received some pushback from teams situated in cities, states or municipalities still under a stay-at-home mandate that wouldn’t facilitate the return to work, even in a limited capacity.
One concern that came up around the association was the idea of competitive imbalance if some teams were able to open their facilities while others weren’t. However, with segments of the United States starting to loosen restrictions, the league’s worry was that players were going to flock towards unsanctioned gyms. Reopening NBA facilities would ensure players – even if it’s only some players for now – have a controlled and safe environment to workout.