Paging Healing Power of Sport.
What’s been said: The Wolves haven’t made any official statements on their desire to return. Some teams in locations that have relaxed stay-at-home measures have reopened practice facilities for individual workouts, but the Wolves haven’t yet in compliance with Gov. Tim Walz’s order. The Wolves are working with local health officials on the best path moving forward, a spokesperson said.
Where is everyone? Most Wolves players remained in Minnesota at the outset of the pandemic.
Biggest obstacles: Testing. The NBA received criticism shortly after postponing the season because multiple teams were testing players while testing nationwide was in short supply. To resume play, the league would need to frequently test asymptomatic players, coaches and staff members. That’s thousands of tests. The league doesn’t want to procure those tests unless the nationwide demand is met.
The league also would need an action plan for when/if players test positive. According to ESPN, Commissioner Adam Silver said on a recent call with the Board of Governors that players and teams would have to get comfortable with the idea that someone may test positive, or else the league shouldn’t go down the road of resuming the season.
Reasons for optimism: There’s only about a month’s worth of regular-season games to plan for, and the league seems OK delaying the start of next season to December or January in order to finish this year.
The bottom line: The odds seem better than they were a month ago that an NBA champion will be crowned for 2019-20. If testing capacity nationwide increases, that will be a given.
What if the revival never happens?
If that confident style of play never returns, it’s of course not a sure thing that the Raptors make the Finals at all. Leonard’s injury would knock his numbers off a bit for the rest of the series, making it even more important that Toronto got the types of performances they did in Game 4 — 48 points combined from Powell, VanVleet, and Serge Ibaka to prop up the starters.
For me, though, this change of mindset goes beyond just the 2019 playoffs run. Coming out of the Sixers series, the Raptors were bruised, barely scraping by a physical team in seven games before taking on the best the East had to offer. By not only turning around the ship and winning, but winning four straight games to get to the Finals — it had to create an intrinsic confidence above what they were feeling before.
It helped create belief against the Warriors. It also helped that belief manifest after Kawhi Leonard walked in free agency. You could see it on the court in this 2019-20 rendition of the team — incredible confidence and comfort in the team’s own skin, knowing the identity of defense-first and precise execution as a way of overcoming any talent gaps.
It also helped bolster individual careers. Fred VanVleet finding his shot allowed him to reach those big moments of guarding Steph Curry and making huge threes in the Finals, undoubtedly earning him a metric tonne of cash this off-season.
The plan to put German soccer back on the field this weekend hinged on more moving parts than a Volkswagen. Clubs had to conduct more than 2,000 coronavirus tests. Chancellor Angela Merkel needed to give her blessing. The Bundesliga drew up a protocol to disinfect balls mid-game.
There was only one hitch. Its name was Dynamo Dresden.
When two players tested positive for the virus last week, the whole squad was forced into quarantine. Local authorities in Dresden exercised their authority to sideline the team. The last-place team in the second tier suddenly became a threat to the entire German soccer project.
With suspended sports leagues around the world watching, officials decided to plow ahead anyway. After a two-month hiatus, the league’s two divisions are scheduled to play this weekend while Dresden waits till May 23.
“It’s not a reason to call the entire season into question,” league chief executive Christian Seifert told German broadcaster ZDF about Dynamo Dresden. “It was always clear to me that this could happen. We’re at the very beginning of the restart.”
That still puts the Bundesliga several weeks, if not months, ahead of virtually every other major sport on the planet. Other European leagues have just begun taking their first tentative steps back to practice. The top American organizations can barely agree on how their seasons will look.
Not so secretly, German soccer hopes that the coming weeks can be a showcase for a championship that is often eclipsed by glitzier leagues in England and Spain. Though it won’t have its signature packed stands and rowdy fans. For the first time since its inception in 1963, the Bundesliga has the sports world’s undivided attention—unless you’re more focused on Belarusian soccer or Korean baseball.
“Of course, it’s nice to be the first after this big, big crisis,” said the CEO of league-leading Bayern Munich, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. “We can be a good example for other leagues to restart.”
Spain’s La Liga and the English Premier League are both eyeing dates in June. Italy hopes to resume full-team training on May 18 with games to follow this summer. The tacit understanding for all of them, however, is that everything needs to go perfectly every week. A single mishap could derail the entire enterprise.
“If someone within a club tests positive for Covid-19, then there will be a quarantine for everyone and the league will stop,” Sandra Zampa, Undersecretary of the Italian Health Ministry, told national radio this week.
As some states begin to loosen the reins on stay-at-home orders, professional sports leagues are also clamoring to return to work. They are multibillion-dollar enterprises, after all, with huge commitments, including television contracts and payrolls for hundreds of thousands of workers, not just millionaire players.
Americans in general have expressed mixed feelings about the prospect of sports’ returning. An ESPN survey of people who identified themselves as sports fans found that just over half missed watching live competition on TV, and many said games should come back even if — as generally proposed by leagues seeking to play again — fans are forbidden to attend. Yet in a Seton Hall poll conducted last month, 70 percent of respondents said that if social distancing continued in the fall, the N.F.L. should protect the health of its players by not starting the season.
But political leaders and sports figures, particularly in baseball, aren’t sticking to practical arguments in favor of playing. They have repeatedly turned to the nostalgia-infused rhetoric used after past tragedies — sometimes making direct connections. A sampling:
“America needs baseball,” Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, said he told M.L.B. Commissioner Rob Manfred recently. “It’s a sign of getting back to normal.” President Trump and Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York have expressed similar sentiments.
“Our players will be back, and we will be part of the recovery, the healing in this country,” Manfred said in late March.
Yankees President Randy Levine called his players “patriots” for wanting to return to help the country. He added later: “Baseball has stepped up in troubled times to be a leader. We’re used to it.”
Scott Boras, a baseball agent, portrayed the sport as a savior in an op-ed in The New York Times last week. “Time and time again, baseball has helped our country heal,” he wrote, citing its role after the strike on Pearl Harbor, the 1989 earthquake in Northern California, the Boston Marathon bombing and the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
1. Kyle Lowry, Norman Powell and a 1st round pick for Victor Oladipo and T.J. Warren
Analysis: Prior to Oladipo’s knee injury in 2019, this would have been a trade the Raptors probably would have jumped at. Oladipo was in the midst of his second of two all-star level seasons and just 26 years old. Then came the injury against the Raptors and Oladipo hasn’t quite been the same. If Toronto felt like Oladipo could return to his pre-injury form, this would be a very interesting trade for the Raptors, especially since Warren is probably an upgrade from Powell.
2. Pascal Siakam and two 1sts for Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis
Analysis: What was said previously about Oladipo still holds true here. It all comes down to health for the now 28-year-old Oladipo. Like Siakam, Sabonis is going to enter the first year of a contract extension next season worth nearly $75 million over four years. This trade seems pretty unfathomable considering the Raptors just locked up Siakam, but most advanced analytics really like the 24-year-old Sabonis who grades out better than Siakam in FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR stat and nearly as good in Jacob Goldstein’s Wins Added statistic.
Prior to the Toronto Raptors’ title-winning 2018-19 season, first-year NBA head coach Nick Nurse traveled to northern Montana for what would become a three-day stay with legendary former coach Phil Jackson.
“I get there, we go have a cup of coffee and he says ‘Hop in my truck’ and we drive around the lake for a couple hours,” Nurse told Sportsnet’s Michael Grange. “I’m just kind of sitting there with the windows down going, ‘Wow.’”
Raptors vice president of player health and performance Alex McKechnie brokered the meeting after previously working for the Los Angeles Lakers during Jackson’s tenure with the club in the 2000s.
In his 20s, Nurse studied VHS tapes of Jackson’s vaunted 1990s Chicago Bulls dynasty, dissecting the team’s famous triangle offense and applying what he learned to the squads he coached in the far-flung British Basketball League.
The tenets of Jackson’s Triangle, such as spacing and movement away from the ball, can still be found in the philosophy Nurse uses today for the reigning champions – though the 52-year-old says the Raptors’ offense more closely resembles a different shape.
“You’ve heard a lot of those guys in ‘The Last Dance’ talk about it, I think that, again, five guys being integral parts of the offense like we like to run it now – ours is less of a triangle and more of a big, spaced-out square – but it got better over the year and then they’re in a situation where now there’s more opportunities for them,” Nurse said.