Over the last week or so, there’s been an influx in reporting related to the coronavirus’ impact on the NBA world.
Here’s a layman’s attempt at a summary of the findings and speculations, what they mean and what you should be reading to stay informed:
Recent developments are a mixed bag
The most recent bit of hard news related to the NBA’s schedule was the postponement of the draft lottery and combine, both of which were previously scheduled to take place in Chicago in May (the lottery on May 19, the combine from May 21-24).
With those dates rapidly approaching, a delay seemed all but a foregone conclusion. Now, the focus shifts to the draft itself, which is currently scheduled for June 25. Recent reporting from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski highlighted a league-wide push for rescheduling that date until at least Aug. 1, and indeed, it feels unlikely the NBA would hold its draft with games (hypothetically) left to be played.
The league also moved to reopen team facilities in states rolling back stay at home orders on a limited basis. At first, guidelines which would have opened the doors of said facilities were set to be enacted on May 1. But that was pushed back to May 8, and according to Wojnarowski, that date could be subject to further delay if virus-related factors dictate.
Still, even if the May 8 reopening goes off without a hitch, 15 of the NBA’s 30 teams — and seven of 16 currently slated as playoff teams — wouldn’t have access to their facilities based on current shelter in place mandates across the country, according to a report in The Athletic by Sam Amick and Joe Vardon (with contributions from Shams Charania, Bill Oram and Kelsey Russo), which explores the potential competitive advantages embedded in that fact.
Whatever access the teams with open facilities do end up having will also be severely regulated. According to The Athletic report, only individual workouts will be allowed (with one team staff member per player permitted, distanced 12 feet apart from each other), and heavy testing and sanitation protocol will be required. No scrimmaging, no group work, no observation or involvement by head or assistant coaches, or executives. But it’s something.
Meanwhile, the NBA Board of Governors continued discussing officially delaying the start of the 2020-21 season to December in a conference call Friday, according to Wojnarowski. This, like the draft-related delays, feels like an inevitable discussion. And if the league does find a way to resume the 2019-20 season, it will feel an inevitable outcome, too. Wojnarowski cited a desire amongst top NBA brass to “buy more time to get fans back into arenas” as a primary impetus for those discussions — it is widely accepted that if or when the NBA returns to action, it will be without spectators, to start.
That all amounts to a mixed bag. Even a limited un-shuttering of facilities is a step in a forward-moving direction, but the more events and dates get pushed back, the more uncertain the status of anything schedule-related feels. All in all, there doesn’t appear to be any tangible progress towards a resumption of play, but wheels are spinning.
The “Bubble” concept is taking shape
ESPN’s Brian Windhort and Tim Bontemps recently released, without question, the most detailed report to date on how the NBA’s bubble site concept could work, in practice.
Ultimately, the report estimates that 1,500 people would be deemed “essential” to the league resuming play, and that about three months in a bubble would be required to finish the NBA regular season and playoffs in their entirety (with that time frame subject to change if the league decides to condense its remaining schedule, or cut select teams out of the picture entirely by nixing the regular season).
Per ESPN, Las Vegas, which plays host to the NBA Summer League each year at the MGM Grand, and Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla. are the two play sites with the most current momentum. Both boast ample basketball facilities and housing accomodation.
So, the cluster city idea is tangible, and might even be feasible. But, read the full scope of the aforementioned ESPN report, and it’s clear that it would require dizzyingly unprecedented resources and efforts by the league to enact. From team officials, to game operations staff, to television crews to essential hospitality and healthcare workers, there are uncountable variables that go into such a scheme.
Further, accessible testing remains the NBA’s biggest obstacle in its quest to resume. Wojnarowski recently reported the NBA expects to need 15,000 tests to resume action, but a logistical and moral question persists as to when the United States’ response to the pandemic will reach an advanced enough stage to justify investing significant healthcare resources into sports. In that vein, the league recently circulated a memo to teams instructing them not to arrange testing for asymptomatic players or staff, according to Bontemps.
Other questions, raised in various ESPN reports: the precariousness of false positives or negatives in testing and some team officials (e.g. senior head coaches) being susceptible to the virus. The list goes on, there.
League-wide optimism on resuming season appears to be present
Still, every surge in reporting underscores that the league is exploring every avenue for a safe resumption. LeBron James, for one, is not content with talk of cancellation, and it’s been noted by Wojnarowski that the NBA-NBAPA relationship will be an essential one in working through the obstacles standing between the league and its return.
Saw some reports about execs and agents wanting to cancel season??? That’s absolutely not true. Nobody I know saying anything like that. As soon as it’s safe we would like to finish our season. I’m ready and our team is ready. Nobody should be canceling anything. 👑
— LeBron James (@KingJames) April 30, 2020
Add to James’ voice: Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban recently told ESPN he is “cautiously optimistic” about the NBA returning on television, albeit without fans; Milwaukee Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry pondered a return in July or August in an interview with CNBC; Spurs CEO R.C. Buford recently told reporters the league has “every intention” to return to play; NBA commissioner Adam Silver, per Wojnarowski, “has repeatedly told teams he remains determined for the season to culminate with a champion.”
The looming and all-important question is whether or not the league can pursue that end safely, and Silver appears to have taken that question seriously at every turn. Aforementioned health and sanitation guidelines released (by the league, in a memo to teams) in conjunction with the reopening of facilities are extensive. Silver has said publicly that “health and safety have to come before any commercial interests” and that science will dictate resumption efforts.
But given that the NBA led the way in the American sports world’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it wouldn’t be surprising if they lead the bid for resumption, as well. That’s a point Silver has also returned to frequently.
Here is a sampling of some of the most informative ‘coronavirus in the NBA’ related writing and reporting. Some are linked above, but all (and more) are essential to wrapping one’s head around the full scope of where the league stands.