The NBA teams’ depth charts have fluctuated as erratically as the stock market.Amid positive coronavirus tests and subsequent contract tracing, the
The NBA teams’ depth charts have fluctuated as erratically as the stock market.
Amid positive coronavirus tests and subsequent contract tracing, the NBA has postponed six games only three weeks into the season. And with the NBA trying to play games around the country in the middle of a pandemic, it seems inevitable more games will become postponed and more rosters will become diminished.
As sobering as it might be for NBA teams to navigate those challenges while trying to avoid becoming infected with the virus, there are two other alternatives that appear more startling.
That the NBA would try to resume its season on a quarantined campus just as it did last summer.
“You continue to give me PTSD every time you ask me about the bubble,” Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James playfully told a reporter. “I start shaking and thinking about 96 straight nights in the place.”
Or that the NBA would stop the season temporarily or completely in hopes that helps players, coaches and staff members stay out of harm’s way.
“Before we go ahead and stop the season and pause the season, let’s see if we can try to be a little bit more disciplined and get greater commitment to those protocols,” Denver Nuggets coach Mike Malone said. “None of us want to see the season stopped.”
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The reasons the NBA and its participants would not want to cancel or postpone the season seems obvious. The NBA, its owners and players would lose more money because of lost television revenue and punting on the possibility of having at least some fans in the stands during the playoffs.
The reasons the NBA would not want to resume in a bubble seems more complex. Surely, money also talks with both the logistical setup and the potential loss in revenue with not hosting any games with fans at any point this season.
Though James conceded the “bubble was a success obviously from a performance standpoint” with both zero positive COVID-19 cases and reduced travel, the prolonged stay took a significant mental toll on players, coaches and staff members. They stayed away from family for an extended period of time. They felt disconnected from a country dealing with political and racial strife. And they lacked a healthy work-life balance.
“The bubble had its drawbacks, but it also had its positives. But I wouldn’t look forward being away from my family,” Malone said. “I understand this is a business and the games must continue. I would understand where the league would be coming from. But it would be tough to saying goodbye to my family once again.”
That explains why the NBA and its players finalized various tweaks to its protocols. The league already formulated a comprehensive 158-page document backed by health experts that called for enforcement of daily testing, mask-wearing and staying away from large gatherings. With the virus still finding cracks in that game plan, however, the NBA determined to implement a quarantine for at least the next two weeks in hopes positive tests decrease once cases stemming from the holiday season dissipate.
Players, coaches and staff members have to stay at their home or in their hotel between practices and games. They cannot host any outside guests. And meetings have to take place in larger settings with shorter times. That might seem restrictive to some participants, but it hardly compares to what they faced on the quarantined campus.
“We just have to be more vigilant when we’re away from arenas and practice facilities,” Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers said. “I think that’s the safest place you can be. It’s when you walk outside where the real world comes into our bubble.”
That is when Houston Rockets guard James Harden attended a friend’s party at a club without wearing a mask. Or when Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving appeared to attend his sister’s birthday party without wearing a mask, either. The NBA already fined Harden $50,000 for that and would have suspended him for a game had the Rockets had enough healthy players to play in their next one. The NBA has started investigating Irving’s behavior, and surely won’t hesitate disciplining Irving following that investigation.
Those incidents aside, though, the NBA only has had 15 positive cases since Dec. 2. No one should take any positive case lightly. Considering the state of the rest of the country, those numbers could be a lot worse. But they are not partly because the NBA has conducted contact tracing and has isolated any player that might have been exposed to someone infected with the virus, regardless of whether that person tested positive or negative. Though that has resulted in six postponed games thus far, the NBA has prevented the virus from becoming widespread.
“Our league has always been receptive to the players and receptive to the franchises and everything that’s going on,” James said. “Obviously, with the pandemic and the COVID issues still going on, we want to be receptive. So I think we’re going to be in a really good place. We continue to always work for the best and hope for the best.”
Not everything has gone perfectly. The NBA started the season in December partly because it knew it would salvage some of its television revenue by beginning before Christmas Day, which traditionally showcases the league’s marquee games. Yet, the NBA has mostly leaned on its health experts than its accountants.
In the short term, it also appears much easier for the NBA to enforce these stricter protocols than it would be to bring the teams on a quarantined campus again anyway. Sure, the NBA could better monitor teams’ behavior there as they did last summer. But it would first require the league to oversee multiple testing periods just so teams could travel to that quarantined site. Who’s to say those numbers would decrease just because the NBA paused the season?
“This definitely beats a bubble. The fact that you can sleep in your own bed and be with your family at home, that’s a huge deal,” Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “The way we have to approach it is be thankful that we’re working and playing and be thankful that we’re home instead of a bubble and try to be as careful and safe as possible.”
That approach might have not been enough for the NBA to have a strong opening act. But by making quick in-game adjustments, the league signaled that it will do what it can to further mitigate risk? If that is not enough? Then, the NBA can further brainstorm on if it needs to completely overhaul its season. Right now, however, it appears too early in the game to determine the final outcome.
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