The NBA’s plan to resume the 2019-20 season is underway, but the shape the league takes this summer is far from settled. We’re tracking all of the updates to the ongoing negotiations to bring back basketball. Check back often for the latest.
Eric Gordon’s Injury Creates a Tall Order for the Small-Ball Rockets
Wednesday, June 29, 12:40 p.m. PT
Zach Kram: The Rockets’ already narrow road to the title tightened a bit more Tuesday night when Eric Gordon injured his ankle, which will keep him out for at least one to two weeks, ESPN reported. X-rays on the ankle came back negative, but Gordon needed help walking off the court after twisting his ankle on an awkward pass.
The veteran guard had struggled this season. He missed more than a month after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery in November, and his normally trusty jump shot abandoned him for the first time in his four-year Rockets tenure. The Rockets were 3.3 points worse with him on the court this season—Houston’s only rotation player with a worse on/off figure was Clint Capela, whom the team traded at the deadline.
But even amid his struggles, Gordon remained an important player for the Rockets’ future (and not just because of the four-year extension he signed in September). Gordon had just entered the starting lineup in these pre-restart scrimmages, and in a backcourt with James Harden and Russell Westbrook, he brings the strongest defensive chops; during the past two postseasons, per NBA Advanced Stats, he’s spent the most time on the team guarding Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Donovan Mitchell. And in the Rockets’ new super-small structure, Gordon was set to occupy an important role this postseason—especially if he’d rediscovered his shot during the league’s shutdown. As Jonathan Tjarks observed about Gordon and the Rockets recently, “Houston is going nowhere without him.”
Gordon’s injury doesn’t preclude that possibility, of course, because an absence of only one to two weeks would allow him to return for the entire postseason. But he might be compromised if he returns then—and Houston’s seeding games matter now too. The shorthanded Rockets open the restart with a matchup against the Mavericks, whom they lead by 1.5 games in the Western Conference standings, and then face the Bucks, resurgent Trail Blazers, and Lakers all in the span of a week.
If the Rockets fall to the no. 7 seed—a real possibility given their current position and schedule—they’d likely be forced into an undesirable matchup with the Clippers in the first round. At that point, their quest for a title might end before it really even has a chance to begin.
The NBA Bubble Continues to Hold As the Restart Looms
Wednesday, July 29, 10:54 a.m. PT
Dan Devine: One day before the resumption of the 2019-20 season, the NBA and National Basketball Players Association shared some hopeful news: None of the 344 players inside the bubble has tested positive for COVID-19 since July 20. The news comes on the heels of last Monday’s announcement that none of the 346 players tested since July 13 had returned a positive, marking two straight weeks without a confirmed case among the player population in Orlando.
As my Ringer colleague Paolo Uggetti noted last week, the NBA-NBPA report covers only player results; the testing status of the many other people on the campus—coaches, members of teams’ traveling parties, league staffers, Disney employees, et al.—remains unclear. Circumstances can change quickly; the whole saga surrounding Lou Williams’s decision to risk it all for Magic City wings, which earned him a 10-day quarantine upon his return to Orlando, reinforced just how precarious this entire endeavor is. But as the games that count are about to start, it appears, for now, that the NBA’s not-quite-a-bubble is holding—no small feat, given the state of affairs in the nation as a whole and in Florida in particular in the lead-up to this experiment.
Lou Will Is Back in Quarantine—and the NBA’s Bubble Is Back on Notice
Monday, July 27, 12:18 p.m. PT
Haley O’Shaughnessy: Alone again. Clippers guard Lou Williams will be quarantining for 10 days in Disney World after returning from an excused absence to attend a funeral, the NBA announced on Sunday. The league’s typical return isolation period is four days; that policy, however, probably doesn’t include being at a strip club with a rapper.
On Thursday, Williams had a hankering for wings—specifically lemon pepper—from his favorite spot, Magic City, a strip club in Atlanta. He loves the wings there so much that they named a flavor—you guessed it, of the lemon pepper variety—after him. He was (according to his story, which we’ll get to in a minute) ordering takeout. There’s no reason to be in a strip club otherwise right now, especially if, like Williams, you were on approved leave from the NBA bubble at Disney World to attend a funeral in town, knowing full well that the bubble’s integrity and safety depends on its inhabitants adhering to strict social distancing rules.
Louisville rapper Jack Harlow didn’t know that. Nor did he anticipate the publicity disaster that would ensue following the picture he posted to his IG story on Thursday. Him and Lou Will, masks on, mood lighting. Harlow’s holding up a rose-colored drink in a plastic cup with a straw. The caption reads, “A location U would never guess” with an emoji of a wizard.
At first, you might think he was making a play on Disney World with that emoji; though Harry Potter is not Disney, it all falls under the magical character realm. In actuality it was insinuating Magic City. My one speculation here—the aforementioned drink acting as a plot device—is that they weren’t ordering to go, as Williams would suggest afterward.
The aftermath was swift. Harlow quickly deleted the picture and claimed it was a throwback. “That was an old pic of me and Lou,” he wrote in a since-deleted tweet. “I was just reminiscing cuz I miss him.” Though it should not be quickly passed over that Harlow is willing to lie to the world to protect a friend, Williams immediately fessed up. Still, he insisted, he was only at Magic City to pick up food.
The NBA elected to order the 10-day quarantine to Williams after reviewing his case. Though Williams was tested each day he was gone (or so we can assume, per NBA protocol), there is physical proof that he was in close proximity to someone he shouldn’t have been. Being near others seems like an obvious outcome for players leaving the bubble, excused or not, which is surely why the outside testing and mandatory return quarantine periods exist. The 10-day requirement seems more penal for Williams than anything else; the picture did put the legitimacy of the bubble at risk just days after the league announced no inside positive tests.
Making an example of Williams will hurt the Clippers. He’ll miss their first two games of the restart. They have no chance of reaching the top seed in the West, but they could drop to third. Denver is only 1.5 games back. Patrick Beverley and Montrezl Harrell, who also were excused to leave the bubble last week, have since returned. (Inside the bubble, Kristaps Porzingis was forced to quarantine for a day after missing one test, which further speaks to how strict the NBA is handling things and how horrified it must’ve been to see Williams at Magic City. What Porzingis was doing in a place where there’s so little to do other than play basketball and be tested is still in question.)
The point of the bubble was to avoid the fallout MLB is experiencing right now, after 11 players and two coaches on the Miami Marlins tested positive for the coronavirus. Optics are one thing, but putting participants in danger is another; with a deadly virus, the two should be conflated. Though it’s hard to fathom NBA players leaving once the playoffs begin due to the time it takes to re-quarantine, Williams’s situation could serve as a flare to the rest of the people in the bubble that the world is watching, and the NBA knows it.
Friday, July 24, 5:04 p.m. PT
Zion Williamson returned to the NBA campus in Orlando this evening, the team announced.— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) July 24, 2020
He was tested daily for COVID-19 while away from the team and produced negative results for all of them. Williamson is required to quarantine immediately, per NBA protocol. pic.twitter.com/5Olbwo1YvV
Even If the Pacers Get Victor Oladipo Back, They Might Be Without Domantas Sabonis
Friday, July 24, 3 p.m. PT
Justin Verrier: As the Pacers await a verdict on the status of their one All-Star from last season, it appears they’ve lost their one All-Star from this season. Domantas Sabonis suffered a “significant foot injury,” according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, and will leave the Orlando bubble before games begin. Sabonis has been bothered by plantar fasciitis since returning to Indiana for training camp weeks ago. He sat out the Pacers’ first scrimmage in Orlando, and on Wednesday, he told reporters that he hadn’t touched a basketball in almost a week.
In years past, a silver lining to Indy losing one of its promising young bigs would be a bit more rotational clarity: Sabonis and Myles Turner are two of Indy’s most talented players, but their clashing styles made it tough to play them at the same time. But this season has been different: Turner has settled into life as a stretch 5, which has opened routes for Sabonis to rim-run; together, the duo has a plus-2.1 net rating in over 1,000 minutes. While it was hard to envision Indy making a title run even with all of Sabonis, Turner, and Victor Oladipo on the floor, it would have at least given the franchise an extended look at the trio ahead of this offseason, when Sabonis’s $75 million extension begins and Oladipo enters the final year of his current deal. Instead, it seems the front office will get only 217 minutes, most of which featured an Oladipo still trying to get his court legs back.
Bol Bol and Really Tall Ball Highlight the NBA’s Strange Return to Action
Wednesday, July 22, 6:30 p.m. PT
O’Shaughnessy: Let’s just get it out of the way. Bol Bol is not his father. One scrimmage settled that. In some ways, he’s less. Shorter. Manute stood at 7-foot-7 with an 8-foot-6 wingspan, the longest the world’s ever seen, while his son is 7-foot-2 with a 7-foot-8 wingspan—not even the longest in the league. In other ways, the Denver Nuggets’ 20-year-old rookie is similar to his father. He shot eight 3s and made two against the Wizards on Wednesday during the first slate of scrimmages inside the Disney bubble. When Manute was moved to the Warriors in 1998, encouraged by coach Don Nelson’s naked adoration for 3s, he became the tallest player in history to play on the perimeter. Now Nellie Ball is just normal NBA basketball, and that’s where their careers will differ: Bol Bol has a head start on shooting, is naturally more mobile, and shows real potential as a ball handler.
Bol missed the earlier portion of his rookie season recovering from foot surgery, and even his professional midseason debut was unofficial. He finished the scrimmage with 16 points, 10 rebounds, and six blocks in 32 minutes, which was enough to wonder if he could be Denver’s X-factor in the restart. With Bol at small forward (and Nikola Jokic at point, along with Jerami Grant, Paul Millsap, and Mason Plumlee), the Nuggets became the lengthiest team in the league (for at least one night).
The lineup was supersized—I’m pushing for Really Tall Ball as the counter to small ball—with some success and an avalanche of salt. The scrimmage was against the Washington Wizards, a team without Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans, and one I’m fairly certain most people forgot was invited. Regular starters Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, and Will Barton didn’t play. If they had and if the game mattered, Michael Malone wouldn’t have benched the Nuggets’ second- and third-leading scorers (Murray and Barton) for an ambitious architecture project.
If the Nuggets remain shorthanded, Bol could be given crucial minutes. While some analytics heads are already dismissing him because of Wednesday’s imperfect shooting—6-for-14, not ideal for a big man, but just fine for a big man who took eight 3s in a scrimmage that didn’t count for anything—and five turnovers. Turnovers are a rite of passage for young players, and handling the ball at Bol’s height will always present a degree of risk. But that’s worth the cost of seeing this:
Which we’ll hopefully see more of as the season restarts, along with the rest of the Really Tall Ball lineup. These games will already be unconventional no matter how normal the league wants them to appear; on the broadcast, you could hear sneakers squeak and coaches call plays like it was an early-morning AAU game tipping off an hour before the parents arrive. Watching Bol shoot from deep and swipe shots like his father, then dribble rim to rim with a smoothness all his own just falls in line with the rest of the peculiarity.
The Plot Thickens in the West’s Race for the No. 8 Seed As Absences Pile Up
Wednesday, July 22, 8:07 a.m. PT
Jonathan Tjarks: The race for the no. 8 seed in the West was scrambled before NBA teams even arrived at the Orlando bubble. Now three teams inside it have lost a significant player in the last two weeks. Zion Williamson left the bubble due to a family emergency with no timetable for his return, while Justise Winslow (hip) and Marvin Bagley III (foot) have been ruled out for the rest of the season.
Zion’s absence looms above the rest. The rookie sensation has been one of the best players in the NBA since making his debut in mid-January, averaging 23.6 points per game on 58.9 percent shooting. His presence transformed the Pelicans, taking them from an 18-27 team without him to a 10-9 team with him.
New Orleans still has plenty of talent. Its new starting lineup of Jrue Holiday, Lonzo Ball, J.J. Redick, Brandon Ingram, and Derrick Favors is a well-rounded group that can match up with the NBA’s best teams on both ends of the floor. The problem comes when the Pelicans go to their bench. Zion is their only competent backup center behind Favors. Filling the position with an unwieldy platoon of rookie Jaxson Hayes, Nicolò Melli, and Jahlil Okafor is why they got off to such a miserable start without their top two big men earlier this season.
When both are available, Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry has kept one of Favors or Williamson on the floor for most of the game. Things fall apart quickly when both are out. The lineup splits since Zion’s return are glaring:
Pelicans Frontcourt Lineups
|Pelicans frontcourt||Minutes||Net Rating|
|Pelicans frontcourt||Minutes||Net Rating|
|Zion + Favors||311||plus-17.0|
|Zion + no Favors||253||plus-2.3|
|Favors + no Zion||173||plus-7.3|
|No Zion + no Favors||228||minus-11.9|
Losing Zion for any amount of time would make it difficult for New Orleans to make up 3.5 games on Memphis in the race for the no. 8 seed (or force a play-in series) while holding off four other teams. The key until he can return again will be finding some way to stay afloat when Favors is resting. There are no obvious answers beyond hoping that Hayes, the no. 8 overall pick in this year’s draft, has gotten stronger and adjusted to the speed and physicality of the NBA game during the four-month layoff.
Winslow is more of a theoretical loss for the Grizzlies. The fifth-year swingman has not played for the team since they acquired him in a three-team trade with Miami at the deadline. The question is how the Grizz will replace Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill, the two veteran wings who combined to average 48.2 minutes per game this season before being dealt for Winslow.
Memphis has gone 6-8 with a net rating of plus-0.5 since the trade. But it’s hard to read too much into those numbers given that star big man Jaren Jackson Jr. played in only five of those games while recovering from a knee injury. Jackson should be near 100 percent healthy in Orlando.
The Grizzlies need to find a fifth starter on the wing next to Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Jackson, and Jonas Valanciunas. They will likely choose between veteran Kyle Anderson, who gives them size (6-foot-9 and 230 pounds) and playmaking, and second-year guard De’Anthony Melton, who has been one of the best reserves in the league this season. The concern is that neither is as prolific of a 3-point shooter as Crowder, whose ability to space the floor created room for Morant to get to the rim. Grayson Allen, who is healthy after missing the last two months of the season with a hip issue, is the team’s best shooter off the bench, but lacks Crowder’s size and defensive versatility.
The wild card is Josh Jackson, the no. 4 pick in the 2017 draft who spent most of the season in the G League. He’s averaging 10.4 points on 43.9 percent shooting in 18 games with the Grizzlies, while shooting a lot of 3s (4.0) and making just enough (31.9 percent) to be respectable. Jackson will be a free agent at the end of the season. This could be his chance to show the NBA that he’s worth keeping around.
Bagley, like Winslow, is also a theoretical loss for the Kings even though he has been with them all season. The no. 2 pick in the 2018 draft played in only 13 games while struggling with a variety of injuries. And Sacramento was better without him when he was active this year.
The Kings will likely use a platoon of Richaun Holmes, an athletic rim runner who has been one of this season’s most pleasant surprises, and stretch big man Nemanja Bjelica at center, while sprinkling in minutes from Alex Len (if he’s able to return from a positive coronavirus test) and Harry Giles III. While none have Bagley’s combination of size, athleticism, and scoring ability, the injured big man still hasn’t figured out how to fit his talents into an NBA system.
Zion is the only one of the three whose loss will significantly impact the playoff race. The Grizzlies and Kings have been fine without Winslow and Bagley this season. Their injuries are more of a long-term issue for their teams. They need to know what they have in both players and how they fit with their teammates. Now they go into next season with as many questions as before.
Patrick Beverley’s Exit Leaves the Shorthanded Clippers Even Shorter
Wednesday, July 22, 5:43 a.m. PT
Matt Dollinger: With the NBA’s restart just days away, the Los Angeles Clippers are getting perilously thin.
Starting point guard Patrick Beverley left the NBA’s bubble in Orlando on Tuesday night to “address an emergency personal matter,” according to ESPN’s Malika Andrews. Beverley is expected to return, but it’s unclear when. If he continues to follow the NBA’s coronavirus testing protocols while outside the bubble (and test negative), he may have to quarantine for only four days upon return. But if something goes awry, he may be forced to stay in his Disney hotel room for up to two weeks.
The same goes for reserve forward Montrezl Harrell, who left the NBA’s campus late last week to attend to a family emergency of his own.
Praying for my dawg @patbev21 seems like rain just won’t let up but praying for you my guy— Montrezl Harrell (@MONSTATREZZ) July 22, 2020
In addition to Beverley and Harrell, the Clippers are also dealing with other key absences. Veteran forward Marcus Morris appeared at practice inside the bubble for the first time Tuesday, and there’s still no word on when starting center Ivica Zubac and reserve guard Landry Shamet will join the team. Neither traveled with the Clippers two weeks ago when they arrived in Orlando, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Without Beverley, Harrell, Zubac, and Shamet, the Clippers are currently down four of their top nine scorers. And head coach Doc Rivers indicated that the team might be even more shorthanded for its first scrimmage on Wednesday.
The Clippers will be without Patrick Beverley and Montrezl Harrell in tomorrow’s scrimmage vs. Orlando, and possibly Landry Shamet and Ivica Zubac as well. Doc Rivers also hinted that the team might sit certain players. So expect to see a shell of a Clippers team vs. the Magic.— Jovan Buha (@jovanbuha) July 22, 2020
The silver lining is that there’s no immediate sense of urgency for the Clippers. With eight seeding games to play, Los Angeles (44-20, no. 2 in the West) can’t drastically alter its fate in a good or bad way. The Lakers (5.5 games) are too far ahead to chase down. And while the third-seeded Nuggets are just 1.5 games back, the West’s nos. 4 through 7 seeds are so tightly bunched it’s hard to know whether the Clippers would get a more difficult opponent by falling back.
And unlike in years past when locking up the no. 2 seed could pay dividends deep in the playoffs, there’s no real home-court advantage inside the bubble. Maybe there will be some sort of discernible edge that the NBA has yet to reveal, but for now, all home-court advantage does is decide jersey colors and team benches.
If Beverley were to miss any seeding games, reserve guard Reggie Jackson, who was picked up off the buyout market in February, is likely to step into his spot in the starting lineup. And if Harrell and Zubac remain sidelined, we could see a lot more of Joakim Noah than we expected in 2020.
The Clippers play their first scrimmage against the Magic on Wednesday at 3 p.m. ET.
The NBA Announces Zero of 346 Players Test Positive Inside the Bubble
Monday, July 20, 3:16 p.m. PT
Paolo Uggetti: The NBA is starting its second full week in Orlando with some good news. The league and the NBPA announced Monday that of the 346 players tested for COVID-19 since the last update on July 13, zero have tested positive. The previous report revealed two players had tested positive while in quarantine, on top of the 19 who had tested positive since July 1 but had not yet joined their teams.
It’s important to note that this new result does not include coaches, team staffers, league staffers, or the Disney employees working on the ground. It also does not include those who have left due to a family emergency like Zion Williamson and Montrezl Harrell, or those who have yet to arrive, like Bucks forward Pat Connaughton, who told ESPN that he tested positive and has yet to travel to the bubble. However, this is an important benchmark that’s unequivocally positive for a league hoping to conduct sports in a safe environment.
News like this certainly helps ease nerves for players who were uncertain about heading to Orlando. In the lead-up to the restart, many players expressed hesitancy about the unknowns in this unprecedented situation. As the Pelicans’ Derrick Favors put it: “It’s a lot of uncertainty, so we’re just hoping for the best in a tough situation.”
Now it’s up to the NBA and its players to keep the environment safe. Some players are still making their way there for the restart (Russell Westbrook arrived Monday afternoon), family will arrive eventually, and the league is planning on allowing more executives to enter at some point. And as Blazers star Damian Lillard said before heading to Orlando, there is doubt that every player can stick to the rules for one, let alone three months. We’ve already seen one player have to re-enter a 10-day quarantine after unintentionally breaking the rules.
Eric Bledsoe Tests Positive for the Coronavirus Outside the NBA’s Bubble
Thursday, July 17, 6:15 a.m. PT
Dollinger: Bucks guard Eric Bledsoe has tested positive for the coronavirus and has yet to join his team in Orlando, according to ESPN’s Malika Andrews.
Bledsoe said he’s asymptomatic and feeling fine and plans to participate in the NBA’s restart once he clears the league’s safety and health protocols. Earlier this week, Rockets guard Russell Westbrook made a similar announcement, revealing he had also tested positive for COVID-19 outside of the bubble but plans to join his team as soon as it is allowed.
Bledsoe posted to Instagram on Thursday, reminding followers to “mask up and stay safe.”
Bledsoe, 30, is the starting point guard for the top-seeded Bucks, who own a 6.5-game lead on the Raptors heading into the eight seeding games (Milwaukee’s first game back is July 31 against the Celtics). Both the team’s offense and defense are better when Bledsoe, a primary ball handler and lead perimeter defender, is on the floor. He’s averaging 15.4 points, 5.4 assists, and 4.6 rebounds per game this season.
While Bledsoe’s absence would certainly hurt, the Bucks have the benefit of one of the deepest rosters in the league, and a more-than-serviceable backup in George Hill. Hill has provided a steady hand off Milwaukee’s bench this year, averaging 9.6 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 2.9 assists per game while shooting an NBA-best 48 percent from 3-point range on 2.9 attempts per game. And while Bledsoe’s playoff struggles are well-documented, Hill has played well in different postseasons for the Spurs, Pacers, Jazz, Cavs, and Bucks.
If Bledsoe were to miss time, the Bucks also have another pretty good option in their back pocket. Hint: he’s 7 feet tall, the NBA’s apex predator, and about to win back-to-back MVPs. No, not Matthew Dellavedova—the other transcendent talent in the East.
“Giannis has the speed to defend point guards, the strength to defend centers, and the length to bother anyone in between,” The Ringer’s Jonathan Tjarks wrote back in March. “It’s almost impossible to score on him. He’s in the 99th percentile of players leaguewide this season when defending isolations.”
Granted, the idea of Giannis chasing opposing point guards all game probably isn’t wise, but it provides some insurance in case Bledsoe’s return is delayed. Once he comes back, the Bucks can add the 2019 first-team All-Defense selection back into their starting lineup and restore order to the team that so thoroughly dominated the regular season.
Zion Williamson Leaves the NBA Bubble Due to a Family Emergency
Thursday, July 16, 9:18 a.m. PT
Dollinger: Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson has left the NBA’s bubble in Orlando “to attend to an urgent family medical matter,” per a team release. Williamson is expected to return for the NBA’s restart at a later date.
Zion Williamson update: pic.twitter.com/eShAPl1gB2— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) July 16, 2020
Williamson will have to quarantine again upon reentry to the campus, according to the NBA’s health and safety protocols for the resumption of the season. While family emergencies are an excused absence, Williamson will have to quarantine for four days and test negative for COVID-19 each day before he’s allowed to return to the team. New Orleans’s first seeding game is on July 30 against the Jazz, which gives the star rookie a little less than two weeks to leave the bubble, come back, and then quarantine before the league’s restart.
Without complications, that could be enough time for Williamson to be cleared. But the tight window also shows just how delicate the NBA’s plans have been all along. The league elected to go with a 22-team restart, which seemed like a very convenient way to include the 2019 no. 1 pick. Then it put the Pelicans on national TV in the league’s first game back. Now it faces the possibility of Williamson missing that game—and even more—as he deals with an emergency.
The Pelicans are 3.5 games back of the no. 8 seed Grizzlies with just eight games to make up ground. But the team can force a play-in tournament as the no. 9 seed if it can fend off the Blazers (also 3.5 games back), Kings (3.5), Spurs (4.0), and Suns (6.0) and stay within four games of Memphis. If Williamson were to miss any time—due to a delayed return or a positive test inside the bubble—the Pelicans’ odds of pulling that off would decrease dramatically. New Orleans will play three games in five days once the season restarts, leaving its margins even slimmer.
The Nuggets’ Jerami Grant Keeps the Focus on Breonna Taylor
Thursday, July 16, 10:41 a.m. PT
Devine: After Wednesday practice, Nuggets forward Jerami Grant stood up to field questions from reporters on a video conference call. They asked about how Grant and his teammates have been passing time between workouts, about how the team celebrated the birthday of reserve swingman Troy Daniels, and about welcoming back All-NBA center Nikola Jokic after he finally made his way to Orlando after his positive coronavirus test and ensuing quarantine in Serbia, among other topics.
With every answer, the sixth-year veteran steered the conversation back to a pressing concern: that the Louisville police officers who shot and killed Breonna Taylor in March have not yet been arrested. One, Brett Hankison, has been fired; he is appealing the firing. The others, Jonathan Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove, remain on administrative assignment pending the conclusion of an investigation into the incident.
I think it’s great to be here with my teammates,” Grant said. “It’s great to be back playing basketball. For me personally, and I think a lot of the players, I think it’s imperative that we focus on what’s really important in the world. One thing, for me, is Breonna Taylor’s killers still are roaming around free. I think I just want to focus on that with these interviews.”
The Nuggets’ official team Twitter account later posted a portion of Grant’s media session with the caption “Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor.”
As the NBA planned its return amid uprisings against police brutality and racial injustice across the nation, many observers—including a number of players—raised concerns that resuming the 2019-20 season would serve as a distraction from the goals of the Movement for Black Lives that has blossomed this summer. To assuage those concerns, the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association issued a statement in late June saying that one goal of the restart would be “taking collective action to combat systemic racism and promote social justice” and finding “tangible and sustainable ways to address racial inequality across the country.”
One aspect of those efforts is allowing players to replace their last names on the backs of their jerseys with a league- and union-approved social-justice-themed message. Most players have reportedly selected “Equality” or “Black Lives Matter.” Some—including stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis—have chosen not to wear one of the preapproved messages, for a variety of reasons.
Grant will join the latter group, telling reporters Wednesday that he would “rather [make his statements] through words” than on the back of his uniform.
“[There’s] a lot going on in the world right now with police brutality and racism and things like that, and I want to keep the focus on that,” he said. “It’s tough times. It has been this way for a long time. Basketball is something I love and something everybody loves, but at the same time we got to focus on what is important.”
Nuggets coach Michael Malone said he respects Grant for seizing the opportunity to speak up in his press session.
“It’s a big point of emphasis from the league, from the coaches, the NBPA, coming down here,” Malone told reporters. “Making sure that we continue the conversation and keeping the spotlight where it needs to be. For Jerami to dedicate his press conference to the memory of the life of Breonna Taylor is outstanding, so I applaud him for that.”
Will Victor Oladipo Reverse Course and Play in the NBA’s Restart?
Tuesday, July 14, 9:15 a.m. PT
Devine: Remember how Victor Oladipo had chosen not to play for the Indiana Pacers during the NBA’s planned restart? So, about that:
There is growing belief Pacers star Victor Oladipo will attempt to play in the NBA’s restarted season after multiple strong team practices in Orlando, sources inside the bubble tell @TheAthleticNBA @Stadium.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) July 13, 2020
Oladipo has been fully participating in five-on-five scrimmages in Orlando, and there’s now optimism around his playing status, sources say. https://t.co/bJ8OLRjmIA— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) July 13, 2020
The apparent about-face is the latest eyebrow-raising inflection point in a quietly curious story surrounding the signature star of the East’s no. 5 seed.
On July 1, Oladipo told reporters during a Zoom conference call that he was “feeling stronger in general, stronger than ever in my mind” after spending his four-month hiatus rehabilitating from the ruptured quadriceps tendon that put him on the shelf for more than a year. Oladipo returned from the injury on January 29, averaging 13.8 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 3.0 assists in 25.9 minutes over 13 games. While he showed flashes of his All-Star form—most notably during Indiana’s pre-shutdown finale against the Celtics—Oladipo largely struggled to find his rhythm, lift, and confidence before the suspension of the season.
“I think the quarantine was a blessing in disguise for me,” he said, according to Bob Kravitz of The Athletic. “It did more for me internally than it did externally. My mind is as strong and sharp as it’s ever been in my entire life, which is scary for others.”
Two days later, though, the two-time All-Star told Kravitz’s Athletic colleague Shams Charania that, given “all the variables”—including “the increased risk of a soft tissue injury which could delay my rehab” and the uncertainty surrounding life on the NBA’s Disney World campus—he couldn’t get himself “fully comfortable in playing” in Orlando. The 28-year-old guard would travel with the team to continue his rehab, but he told Charania—evidently before telling coach Nate McMillan, which sounds like the way things have been going throughout his rehab process—that he had decided instead to focus on “getting fully healthy for the 2020-21 season.”
It’s hard to fault Oladipo’s logic. Next season will be the last one on the four-year, $84 million extension he signed with Oklahoma City back in 2016, and you’d understand a player coming off such a major injury being leery of risking a setback that could jeopardize his chance to ink a lucrative new long-term deal in the 2021 offseason. ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported in February that the Pacers and Oladipo “very briefly broached the subject of a contract extension before the season, but the sides concluded it was best to revisit later.” That might have been because, according to SNY’s Ian Begley, the deal the Pacers were floating was for four years and “around $80 million”—essentially status-quo for a player who grew into an All-NBA performer in Indianapolis.
Sitting out the restart would cost Oladipo some $3 million in salary. But a healthy Oladipo hitting the open market at age 29 would more than make that up in unrestricted free agency, whether from the Pacers (who are reportedly open to giving him a max contract) or another interested suitor. Alas, Oladipo’s running through practices and thinking he might give it a go … which, weirdly enough, seemed like it was the organization’s plan all along.
If Oladipo plays, he should provide an offensive boost for a team fighting to get out of the first round of the postseason for the first time since 2014, and will also give the Pacers as much intel as possible on its no. 1 star heading into the last year of his contract. If he doesn’t, Indy will hope reserves like T.J. McConnell, Aaron Holiday, and Edmond Sumner can pick up the slack and keep the Pacers afloat.
What choice Oladipo will make remains unclear. The Pacers’ first seeding game isn’t until August 1, and as the recent twists and turns here have shown, a lot can happen in a couple of weeks.
Two NBA Players Break Quarantine, Resulting in More Quarantine
Monday, July 13, 3 p.m. PT
O’Shaughnessy: There will be no bass fishing this week for Bruno Caboclo, who “inadvertently” broke quarantine inside the NBA’s Disney bubble over the weekend, and will have to stay in his room for an additional eight days before he can rejoin the Rockets. Per ESPN:
Rockets forward Bruno Caboclo inadvertently broke quarantine and must quarantine in his room for another eight days before resuming team activities, sources told @ZachLowe_NBA, @malika_andrews, @TimBontemps and me.— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) July 13, 2020
Not a week in, the Orlando experience has brought more surprises for 2020: J.R. Smith’s “astute analysis” on IG Live, JJ Redick multitasking, reports that sound like grown NBA players are grounded, and the word “inadvertently” suddenly becoming too vague for the moment.
And how does one inadvertently break quarantine? It sounds like Caboclo fell out of an imaginary bounds, or caught a Skittle thrown across the room from someone else’s bag, or threw Ben Simmons’s second fish back into the water to save Simmons from himself. The truth is that Caboclo just left his room, which he wasn’t aware was a rule, even though it’s been well publicized and the NBA has instructed every player on the immediate protocol. Staying alone for an extended period is unhealthy, even when it’s necessary, and all fans’ sympathies should be with Caboclo over the next eight days.
Not so inadvertent was Kings center Richaun Holmes’s breaking the league’s quarantine rules under bad advice from Kelly Oubre Jr.:
a quarantine mishap in two parts ☹️☹️ pic.twitter.com/hLWdoFQ8pE— NBA Bubble Life (@NBABubbleLife) July 13, 2020
Holmes ordered delivery (we don’t know for sure that it was Postmates), crossed the Disney “line” to pick it up, and will now have to quarantine for an additional eight days. After Holmes was reprimanded, Oubre tweeted “Nevermind lol.” As far as apologies go, it had everything: sincerity, regret, admission of wrongdoing (albeit a little indirectly), and humor, “lol.” I hope Holmes at least was able to eat whatever he ordered, and I hope it was some unlikely order combination of steak, ice cream, and lobster that will last him eight days.
The Rockets’ Russell Westbrook Tests Positive for the Coronavirus
Monday, July 13, 11:13 a.m. PT
O’Shaughnessy: Russell Westbrook announced Monday on Twitter that he has tested positive for the coronavirus.
It’s unclear when Westbrook will be cleared to join the Rockets in Orlando. On July 9, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported that Westbrook and James Harden didn’t travel to the bubble with the rest of the team. The Rockets previously declined to give a reason for the players’ absence.
Houston is slated to play its first game in Disney World on July 31 against Dallas. That’s over two weeks from now, which could potentially leave enough time for Westbrook to return—he’s quarantined and “feeling well.” But plenty of uncertainty remains, with teams around the league worried about the long-term effects of the virus.
Rajon Rondo’s Injury Means Waiters Island Is Coming to the Bubble
Monday, July 13, 6:37 a.m. PT
Tjarks: The Lakers guard rotation keeps taking on water. Rajon Rondo is out six to eight weeks after fracturing his right thumb in practice on Sunday, just a few weeks after Avery Bradley announced that he would be sitting out the NBA restart in Orlando.
But the two absences are not the same. Bradley was thriving as a 3-and-D combo guard next to LeBron James in the starting lineup. Rondo, who was averaging 7.1 points on 41.8 percent shooting and 5.0 assists in 20.5 minutes per game this season, was disappointing as the backup point guard.
The problem with Rondo goes beyond his individual numbers. There’s a reason that he’s on his sixth team in seven seasons. He’s not a dynamic enough scorer to initiate the offense, doesn’t space the floor well enough to be a secondary option, and isn’t the defender he was in his prime. He has the worst net rating (plus-1.4 in 984 minutes) of any player in the Lakers rotation.
Rondo was signed to stabilize the offense when LeBron isn’t in the game. That hasn’t happened. He has a net rating of minus-5.0 in 357 minutes this season with Anthony Davis on the floor and LeBron off it.
His limitations are why the Lakers signed Dion Waiters right before the NBA shut down on March 11. Waiters is more of a scorer than Rondo, but he has the ability to make plays out of the pick-and-roll, especially when paired with a roll man as dominant as Davis. To be sure, there is no guarantee that Waiters will work out for Los Angeles. He washed out of Miami this season after falling out of its rotation and has been in the news for all the wrong reasons.
Waiters just has more upside than Rondo. He’s a 28-year-old who should be in the prime of his career. He averaged 12.0 points on 41.4 percent shooting and 2.8 assists per game last season for the Heat.
The other player who has to step up in Rondo’s absence is Davis. He doesn’t need his guards to set him up. He’s a good enough passer to run the offense himself when LeBron is resting. His assist average (3.1 per game) has dipped from a career-high 3.9 in New Orleans last season. That number needs to go in the other direction. The good news is that Davis will now have a more willing outside shooter on the second unit to pass to in Waiters.
The Lakers have a runway in the eight seeding games before the playoffs to see how their team performs without Rondo. It would have been hard for coach Frank Vogel to sit an established veteran like him, but their new-look bench could provide a needed boost.
The bigger concern is that the team is becoming dangerously thin on the perimeter. The Lakers should be able to survive the losses of Bradley and Rondo, but only if there aren’t more injuries. If Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, or Alex Caruso go down, the only guards left on their roster would be Quinn Cook and J.R. Smith, a bigger long shot than Waiters to turn his career around.
For now, though, Rondo’s injury moves Waiters into the spotlight. At the very least, it should be entertaining.
The Reviews Are In—and NBA Players Haven’t Exactly Fallen in Love With the Bubble
Monday, July 10, 11:55 a.m. PT
O’Shaughnessy: Judging from players’ reactions on social media, initial impressions of the Disney bubble were negative overall. Accepting the possibility of being away from home for three months is difficult, especially when the first 48 hours are filled with underwhelming food options. (Unless you’re DeMarre Carroll, who had no complaints.) Living out of a hotel isn’t exactly ideal, though players and team affiliates are used to it, and Disney has offered up its top-tier lodging. There were mixed reviews: The Magic’s Terrence Ross called the player’s lounge “elite,” but Lakers guard Rajon Rondo was displeased with his room. He likened the luxury hotel to a “Motel 6,” adding a middle finger emoji to the picture. The comparison was more an indictment of Rondo than of the league or the Gran Destino Hotel, a 15-story, 545-room tower, and Disney’s newest hotel. I’m curious what would’ve changed his mind: different decor? A larger suite? (Probably reserved for the LeBrons and Anthony Davises.) Bigger bed? (Again, probably reserved for someone above 6-foot-1.)
Some of the reactions gave vibes of arriving at your first college dorm and realizing the fridge is broken and the bed is tiny and wait what is that stain on the floor?, except if you were a millionaire with millionaire standards as a freshman in college (and, again, as a year-old luxury hotel, the fridge is not broken and the bed is not tiny and there are no stains). The Clippers’ much lower-maintenance Patrick Beverley was right at home. He set up sage by the window (hotel windows do not open), a gaming setup, an enormous stack of white T-shirts that he was surprisingly enthusiastic about. “The bubble’s what you make it, man,” Beverley said.
Of all players to enter the bubble so far, J.R. Smith gave the most exhaustive review. A last-minute addition to the Lakers’ backcourt, Smith has done more for bored NBA fans in a short IG Live walk-through than all the other Disney-goers combined. A collection of his first-night impressions, from IG Live:
- On the accommodations overall: “This shit is ass.”
- After rattling off players’ salaries and turning the camera to a collection of snacks, including Doritos, Skittles, Starburst, Twix, Chex Mix, white-chocolate-dipped pretzels, Snickers, and Swedish Fish on his bed: “You think they want to eat this shit?”
- [Holds microwavable Velveeta bowl to the camera and says nothing.]
- On the nutrition being detrimental to player health: “You want a motherfucking Ferrari to run like a Ferrari ’cause you paid for it like a Ferrari, but you keep gassing it up … with Chrysler shit.”
- “They give you a motherfucking his and hers”—two sinks—“but they don’t let anybody else come though. A his-and-hers sink. Who else coming to the sink? Just me.”
- Reading [I’m assuming; it’s off camera] the room service pamphlet: “Oh, 5 to 2 a.m. daily? OK. Lobster bisque? OK. New York strip steak? Oh. Braised beef short ribs? Damn. What else we got … shrimp and grits. Fuck with me.”
"Aw man, they mad at me bro. I'm gone. Just got the text. Exposing too much s**t. My bad."— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) July 10, 2020
JR Smith's hilarious tour of the NBA bubble gets shut down: https://t.co/NK3NrFEAwB pic.twitter.com/1VBqaHCYI2
Eventually, someone asked Smith to stop, presumably an NBA or team representative, and Anthony Davis told him to go to bed. “Aw, man, they mad at me, bro. I’m gone. Just got the text. Exposing too much shit. Gotta go. My bad.”
Bubble Housekeeping: The Food Situation, Jersey Updates, and More
Thursday, July 9, 11:59 a.m. PT
Uggetti: As NBA players begin to arrive in Orlando, we’re starting to get glimpses of life inside the Disney World bubble. The Nuggets were among the first wave of teams to settle into Orlando, and the pictures that some players shared immediately raised eyebrows—especially when it came to food.
Troy Daniels’ dinner on Night 1 inside the NBA Bubble. pic.twitter.com/cVYfuwSzxQ— Harrison Wind (@HarrisonWind) July 8, 2020
Apparently, that wasn’t actually dinner, but this was:
Chris Chiozza with significantly better dinner vibes than Troy Daniels! pic.twitter.com/otiyO3RfJb— Fred Katz (@FredKatz) July 8, 2020
Does it look like airplane food? Yes. Would it also look a hundred times better if it were plated on something other than those sand-colored containers? Certainly. The fact checking came quickly after the photos were posted, as The New York Times’ Marc Stein reported that the players’ food is supposed to improve once they’ve ended their initial 48-hour quarantine period. The reason the food has looked the way it has is because the league is trying to eliminate as much contact between players and other people as possible before the players get the results of their first Orlando COVID tests.
Some other news:
- The Nets, who are down another player after Taurean Prince tested positive for COVID-19 and was ruled out, signed 40-year-old Jamal Crawford to a deal on Wednesday. The team is also reportedly looking to add Michael Beasley. I am suddenly intrigued to watch how many points each of those guys can score in a meaningless seeding game.
- On Wednesday, the Spurs’ Patty Mills announced that he would be donating his salary from the rest of the season to organizations that are fighting racism.
- Players have also started to reveal which league-approved social justice messages they will be wearing on the backs of their jerseys. CJ McCollum told reporters this week that he’s putting “Education Reform” on the back of his, while Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports reported a slew of other players’ choices, including Damian Lillard’s “How Many More?” message.
- The Undefeated’s Marc Spears reported Thursday that 285 of the 350 players playing in Orlando have picked jersey messages. The Mavericks decided to go the team route and are reportedly all wearing “Equality,” though with a wrinkle: Luka Doncic, Kristaps Porzingis, Boban Marjanovic, J.J. Barea, and Maxi Kleber will have the word in their native languages.
Adam Silver Discusses the NBA’s Potential for a “Hole in Our Bubble”
Tuesday, July 7, 4:23 p.m. PT
Dan Devine: Adam Silver said Tuesday that the NBA expects “to get some additional positive tests” among those heading to Orlando for the planned resumption of the 2019-20 season, “based on what we’ve seen in the last few weeks.” But as NBA teams begin traveling to the league’s “campus environment,” the commissioner said that his primary worry is not what’s already transpired—that nearly a third of the league has had to shut down its practice facilities due to positive coronavirus tests—it’s the prospect of another spate once everybody’s on campus.
“What would be most concerning is, once players enter this campus and then go through our quarantine period, then if they were to test positive or if we were to have any positive tests, we would know we would have an issue,” Silver said during a brief video interview as part of the Fortune Brainstorm Health conference.
The start of testing over the past couple of weeks “caught a fair amount of players who are positive, and they are quarantining back in their markets now and won’t be brought to Orlando until they’re healthy,” Silver said. “So it would be concerning if, once they sit through our quarantine period, and then were to test positive, we would know that there is, in essence, a hole in our bubble, or in our quarantine—that our campus is not working, in some way. So that would be very concerning.”
Silver clarified in his interview that the league is trying to move from “bubble” to “campus” terminology in referencing the Disney excursion, “because ‘bubble’ creates this sense that it’s hermetically sealed”—which it’s not. As has been noted on multiple occasions, by Silver and a number of observers, while the Disney campus will feature a variety of security measures aimed at keeping players, staff, and league personnel as safe as possible, it will still be porous, with Disney staff members and others coming in and out on a daily basis.
“There are different levels of protection within our campus,” he told Fortune. “The people who are most protected are our players because, again, they’re taking off their masks and breathing each other’s air when they play. There will be an opportunity for some people to move on to the campus, having first been tested, but remaining very far away from the protected people who are playing in the games—referees, coaches, players, and some other people.”
Silver maintained confidence that the plan the NBA has devised will ensure that “it will be safer on this campus than off this campus, in part because we’re going to be doing daily testing.” Even so, he’s leery about making definitive statements about just how safe the league can keep all those under its watch.
“It’s a very protected environment, but again, this virus has humbled many,” he said. “So I’m not going to express any higher level of confidence than [that] we’re following the protocols and we hope it works as we designed it.”
The major question remains: What if it doesn’t?
“Honestly, it’s the right question, and I’m not sure yet,” Silver said Tuesday. “We are in the process of defining it now. We realize that we need to draw some lines for ourselves, so we don’t get caught up in it once the games begin.”
Bradley Beal to Sit Out NBA Restart, Further Depleting the East
Tuesday, July 7, 11:12 a.m. PT
Devine: When the Washington Wizards resume play for the NBA’s planned restart later this month, they’ll do so without their no. 1 option. The team announced Tuesday morning that All-Star shooting guard Bradley Beal won’t participate in the remainder of the season due to a lingering right rotator cuff injury.
According to the Wizards, Beal has been hurt since early in the 2019-20 campaign, but his shoulder began to bother him more after the season was suspended on March 11. Beal has spent the hiatus rehabbing in hopes of getting back on the court at Walt Disney World, “but after closely monitoring his individual workouts we came to the conclusion that it was best for him to sit out the upcoming games in Orlando and avoid the risk of further injury,” Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard said in the team’s statement.
Even with a balky right shoulder, Beal still carried the offensive load for the Wizards, averaging 30.5 points—second in the NBA, behind only Rockets star James Harden—and 6.1 assists per game, both career highs. Washington’s attack fell off a cliff whenever the 27-year-old hit the bench: The Wizards scored at a clip commensurate with the NBA’s second-best offense with Beal on the court, and like its second-worst unit with him off it, according to Cleaning the Glass. Which is to say: The Wizards, who were already entering Orlando without sharpshooting reserve Davis Bertans and All-Star point guard John Wall (who has missed all season), will now in all likelihood be drawing dead in its pursuit of a playoff berth.
Washington sits at 24-40, 5.5 games behind the Orlando Magic for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. The introduction of “seeding games” and the mass instability surrounding resumption of play after a four-month layoff afforded the Wiz at least an outside shot of forcing their way into a play-in tournament, provided they could get within four games of the no. 8 spot. But winning two more games than either the Magic or the seventh-seeded Brooklyn Nets was already a tall order for a Bertans-less squad; my Ringer colleague Zach Kram’s projections gave Washington only a 12 percent chance of forcing the play-in, and virtually no shot of beating whichever team it would face two times to make the final bracket. Losing Beal all but certainly dooms the Wizards, who will now take a significantly longer look at young players like Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown Jr., Thomas Bryant, Jerome Robinson, Isaac Bonga, and Moe Wagner.
The absence of Beal is good news for the two teams ahead of the Wizards in the standings. But even silver linings for the Nets seem to come attached to gray clouds these days: Shortly after the Wizards confirmed Beal’s shutdown, Brooklyn guard Spencer Dinwiddie announced that, after a second positive coronavirus test, he will not suit up in Orlando.
Brooklyn will enter the planned restart just a half-game ahead of the Magic, who on Tuesday became the first team to enter the NBA’s campus environment; at this point, given all the dropouts, injuries, and illnesses, it seems likely that the only drama at the bottom of the Eastern bracket will surround whether Nikola Vucevic and Co. can avoid opening the playoffs against the Milwaukee Bucks and climb into a 2-7 meeting with the Toronto Raptors, a rematch of last spring’s first-round clash, which the Raptors won 4-1 on their way to the NBA title.
Lakers’ Dwight Howard Opts to Play in Orlando After Voicing Concerns
Monday, July 7, 9:41 a.m. PT
Devine: After several weeks of uncertainty over whether he’d choose to participate in the NBA’s planned restart, Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard announced Monday that he intends to join his team in Orlando, providing an important boost to the rotation of the West’s no. 1 seed as it prepares for a title run.
Howard made his announcement during an appearance on CNN Tonight with Don Lemon:
Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard tells CNN's @DonLemon that he will be playing when the NBA resumes its regular season.— CNN Tonight (@CNNTonight) July 7, 2020
"Yes, I will be joining my team in Orlando," he says. pic.twitter.com/kk7LkvaEHt
Last month, Howard joined Laker teammate Avery Bradley and Nets star Kyrie Irving in leading a coalition of players who raised concerns about the NBA’s plan to resume play at Walt Disney World. In addition to fears about entering Florida, and specifically Orange County, where the number of coronavirus cases continues to spike, and about the restrictions to which players would be subject upon entering the NBA’s campus environment, Howard and the rest of the coalition worried that a return to play would serve as an ill-timed distraction from ongoing national protests against police brutality and institutional racism as part of the broader Movement for Black Lives. He has also been taking care of his 6-year-old son, David, after David’s mother, Melissa Rios, died following an epileptic seizure in her California home on March 27.
With teams scheduled to arrive in Orlando this week and enter the bubble, though, Howard—who has stayed at his Atlanta home and “been satisfying the NBA’s home quarantine and testing protocol required of all players who will participate in Orlando,” according to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin—has ultimately chosen to play.
“I have a contractual obligation to my teammates, to my fans, to the Lakers, the organization, to everyone,” Howard told Lemon. “But at the same time, I also have an obligation to my family and my community. So, yes, I will be joining my team in Orlando. But during that time, we will be getting a lot of work done here in Atlanta and around the nation as far as making sure people don’t forget about us and what’s going on in our communities.”
The 34-year-old told Lemon that he plans to donate the balance of his salary for the 2019-20 season to Breathe Again, a charitable effort that he had started through his foundation in 2015 which aims to “promote total awareness of our environment in order to move forward in true resolution as a society,” according to the project’s now-inactive website. He’ll be donating an estimated $700,000, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks.
The decision will bring Howard back to Orlando, where the Magic drafted him with the first overall pick in the 2004 NBA draft and he went on to win three Defensive Player of the Year awards. Howard has played a vital role for the West-leading Lakers this season, averaging 7.5 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks in 19.2 minutes per game as a high-efficiency shot-blocking and rim-running reserve center. His return ensures that L.A. will continue to field one of the most imposing interior defenses in the league as LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Co. make their championship push.
The Seventh NBA Team Shuts Down Its Practice Facility Due to COVID-19
Monday, July 6, 11:29 a.m. PT
O’Shaughnessy: On Sunday, the Sacramento Kings became the seventh team to shut down its practice facility ahead of the Orlando restart, joining the Bucks, Clippers, Heat, Nuggets, Nets, and Suns. Like the others, Sacramento received a positive coronavirus test “within the team’s traveling party,” causing it to close just days before the teams are expected to report to Disney.
Milwaukee and Phoenix had announced multiple positives among its 35 players, coaches, and staff headed to Orlando. The Clippers had just one, presumably Landry Shamet, who contracted the virus last week, per The Athletic’s Shams Charania. Denver was forced to shut down last week after three unidentified members of its party tested positive. In Brooklyn, DeAndre Jordan and Spencer Dinwiddie tested positive, and in Miami, it was an unnamed Heat player that led to the shutdown.
As teams’ statements trickle in, it’s hard not to be cynical about the league’s July 30 restart. But positive results aren’t shocking. The United States has had more than 2.93 million confirmed cases, the most in the world; on July 2, before a weekend of nationwide Fourth of July celebrations, confirmed cases were rising in 40 of the 50 states. Even the NBA expected an influx of positive tests, which is why it put guidelines in its protocol for pre-Disney testing. Before traveling with their team to Orlando, players must have tested negative since leaguewide testing began or, if they’ve tested positive, have cleared the criteria for return. The league is actually better off if bubble-goers test positive now, rather than at Disney. (It’s still undetermined whether immunity from COVID-19 after contracting the disease is absolute, but the optics of contracting at Disney are much worse.) Having a number of positive tests now, before the bubble, won’t determine whether there’s a season or not.
Commissioner Adam Silver says he believes it’ll be safer for players to live in the bubble than outside of it. “If we had a lot of cases, we’re going to stop,” Silver said last week in a Time100 Talk, but didn’t specify how many “a lot” might be. Major League Soccer, which is also attempting to resume safely in Orlando, made that difficult call for one team last weekend. At least six players for FC Dallas contracted the virus, so the team’s entire traveling party has entered quarantine. The team is expected to resume play July 15. A break that large would significantly set the NBA’s tight schedule back.
The NBA Is Working on a Plan to Print Social Justice Slogans on Courts and Jerseys
Tuesday, June 30, 1:04 p.m. PT
Devine: Earlier this month, NBA commissioner Adam Silver framed the league’s planned July 30 restart in part as an opportunity for players “to draw attention to the issues” that matter most to them—chiefly, in the midst of a summer of nationwide protests following the killings of multiple Black people by police officers, the ongoing scourge of police brutality and systemic racism—“because the world’s attention will be on the NBA in Orlando if we’re able to pull this off.
“What should this league, that may have a unique opportunity as compared to almost any other organization in the world, be doing in response to George Floyd’s death, to endemic racial issues in society?” Silver asked. The answer may reportedly include movement-related messages appearing on players’ uniforms and the surface on which they’ll play.
Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated reported Saturday that the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association are working on a plan to allow players to replace their own names on the backs of their jerseys “with personalized social justice, social cause or charity messages”—such as “Black Lives Matter,” “I Can’t Breathe,” or the names of Black people killed by police, such as George Floyd or Breonna Taylor—when the 2019-20 season resumes in Orlando. During a talk with Time magazine on Tuesday, Silver termed the jersey idea “intriguing,” but said that the league has not yet approved a plan. ESPN’s Zach Lowe and Ramona Shelburne reported Monday that the league and union also plan to have the phrase “Black Lives Matter” painted on the court inside both sidelines in all three arenas that the league will use for games in Walt Disney World. Both proposals were floated by WNBA players, who will begin a shortened 2020 season on July 24 in Florida.
Oklahoma City Thunder star and NBPA president Chris Paul told Spears that the inclusion of such messages is meant to ensure that as players leave their home markets—where many have participated in protests against police brutality as part of the Movement for Black Lives—to go play, the push for social justice “doesn’t go away.” That was a concern raised by a number of players as the league finalized its return plan—that making the choice to enter the not-quite-a-bubble and go back to work would serve as a distraction from the aims of the broader protest movement.
“In six weeks, the world may need some healing. They may need us to be on the floor,” Clippers guard Lou Williams said earlier this month. “But if more Black kids or Black adults or any adults that’s dealing with police brutality are getting killed, and we are still outraged, I don’t know if it is in our best interest to suit up. Because it looks like that we don’t care. If we do suit up—and we are having conversations behind closed doors—how much of this platform can we really use? Can we get a Black Lives Matter patch on our jersey? Can our jerseys say Black Lives Matter? Can the court say Black Lives Matter? So we can use that platform to the best of our abilities.”
The NBA and players union agreed in principle last week that “the goal of the season restart in Orlando will be to take collective action to combat systemic racism and promote social justice”—an especially important consideration for a league in which nearly 75 percent of the players last season were Black.
“We all know the right thing to do is to not play, to take a stand. Morally, yes, that makes sense,” Raptors guard Fred VanVleet told reporters on Monday. “But life goes on. We’re all young, Black guys. None of us want to give any money [from their salaries] back. I don’t think that we should. I think that money can be used in a number of different ways. This is not going to end this summer regardless, or over the next couple of months. This issue, racial injustice, social injustice, police brutality, all these things are not ending anytime soon. Our fight is long term. That was part of my decision.”
VanVleet said that if more players had banded together to say they weren’t going to play, he would’ve joined them—“I wouldn’t have even fought it”—but that most players landed on the decision to play and to try to leverage all the attention that would come with a restarted season to inject new life into efforts to meaningfully contribute to the cause of social justice. It’s a tricky needle to thread. But the league and its players are going to try.
“This is going to be truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” NBPA executive director Michele Roberts said during a conference call last week. “And to the extent this horrific virus and these awful killings have a silver lining, I think this is it.”
The Nuggets Shut Down Their Facility, Further Complicating the NBA’s Return
Tuesday, June 30, 10:05 a.m. PT
Devine: The Denver Nuggets have shut down their practice facility “for several days” after members of the team’s traveling party to Orlando for the NBA’s planned restart tested positive for COVID-19, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Tuesday. Two members of the Nuggets’ party tested positive before the shutdown, according to Mike Singer of The Denver Post; there’s been at least one more positive test since Saturday, according to Wojnarowski.
Teams’ traveling parties can consist of a variety of personnel: coaches, executives, basketball operations staff, medical staff, athletic trainers, strength-and-conditioning coaches, equipment managers, security officials, et al. The NBA’s health-and-safety protocols permit up to 35 people from each team to enter the “campus environment” at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World. Players will account for between 13 and 17 of those slots.
Two prominent members of the Nuggets had already tested positive for the coronavirus before teams returned to their home markets for testing and workouts. All-Star center Nikola Jokic tested positive last week in his native Serbia, and head coach Michael Malone said earlier this month that an antibody test revealed he had contracted the virus during the league’s hiatus.
All 22 teams slated to participate in the resumption of the season were preparing to enter Phase 3 of the league’s restart plan on Wednesday, which will reportedly consist of mandatory individual workouts for all players at their teams’ facilities, with no more than eight players permitted in the facility at one time. (The Toronto Raptors, who have already traveled to Florida, are currently working out at Florida Gulf Coast University in Naples.) For the Nuggets, however, that apparently won’t be an option.
Denver’s facility has been closed to players and staff since Saturday, according to Wojnarowski, and testing over the next few days will determine when the team can safely reopen it; the earliest would be Friday, according to Singer. The team is scheduled to leave Colorado to fly to Orlando on July 7. Given how little wiggle room there is in the calendar governing the league’s planned resumption—for travel, for quarantining, for training camp, for the start of play, and for the full schedule starting July 30 and ending in mid-October—every potential delay looms large for the league’s chances of successfully pulling off its plan.
News of the Nuggets’ positive tests comes on the heels of two members of the Brooklyn Nets—guard Spencer Dinwiddie and center DeAndre Jordan—announcing that they had tested positive for the novel coronavirus upon returning to New York for preparatory workouts. Jordan will not travel to Orlando for the restart; Dinwiddie still hopes to. The Nets, who had closed their facility for several days, reopened it on Tuesday ahead of the July 1 move to Phase 3.
The NBA Releases Its Restart Schedule, and Zion’s Path to the Play-in Game Looks Pretty Easy
Friday, June 27, 5 p.m. PT
Verrier: The NBA will restart the 2019-20 season in the same way it intended to begin it back in October: With Zion Williamson serving as an opening act for the battle of Los Angeles. As positive tests for COVID-19 surge in Orlando and the NBA grinds away to finalize the logistics of its return-to-play plan at Disney World, the league announced the eight-game “seeding” schedules for the 22 teams still in contention. Opening night on July 30 will showcase the Jazz vs. Zion and the Pelicans, followed by Clippers vs. Lakers. The second night will feature three games: Grizzlies vs. Trail Blazers, Celtics vs. Bucks, and Rockets vs. Mavericks.
Each night thereafter will have at least five games scheduled, and a maximum of seven, until the last night of this opening phase, on August 14. Any possible play-in games would happen on August 15 and 16, and the playoffs will begin on August 17.
According to a release from the NBA, the seeding-game schedule was created based on the original regular-season schedules each team was supposed to play after March 11 (the day the season was suspended) minus the eight teams being left out of the bubble and “matchup balancing.” A few teams play the same team twice, but, notably, not the Grizzlies, who hold at least a 3.5-game lead over the five bottom participating teams in the West and were slated to face a healthy, surging Pelicans team twice before the league stoppage.
New Orleans, meanwhile, is the only team whose slate has a cumulative winning percentage under .500, and even that may be underselling how cakey their road to the play-in game is—after starting with the Jazz, Clips, and Griz, they play the Kings twice, two bottom-feeding East teams in the Magic and Wizards, and a Spurs team now without LaMarcus Aldridge.
Adam Silver Says the NBA Must Learn to Live With the Coronavirus
Friday, June 26, 4:09 p.m. PT
Devine: The NBA and NBPA announced on Friday that they had finalized their “comprehensive plan” to restart the 2019-20 NBA season next month. In a conference call with reporters this afternoon, NBA commissioner Adam Silver called the league’s long-gestating restart plan “far from an ideal way to finish our season,” which has been suspended due to the coronavirus since March 11, and said that the effort “will require tremendous sacrifice from all involved.”
A sharp spike in positive tests for the novel coronavirus in Central Florida has led to questions about the overall safety of the league’s planned restart; Orange County, where the Disney campus is located, has seen a recent surge in positive tests, according to the Associated Press. But Silver told reporters that the state of the pandemic left the league with the belief that “no options are risk-free right now,” and “with no choice but to learn to live with this virus.”
“My ultimate conclusion is that we can’t outrun the virus, and that this is what we’re gonna be living with for the foreseeable future—which is why we designed the campus the way we did,” Silver said.
Considering the ongoing breakout of the coronavirus—not only in Orange County, but across the United States, which has set records for new COVID-19 cases in each of the last three days, according to The Washington Post—Silver said that the league ultimately believes “it will be safer on our campus than outside it.”
“It’s a closed network,” said Silver, who acknowledged that his concern has risen as Florida’s caseload has, but who projected confidence in the league’s plan. “And while it’s not impermeable, we are in essence protected from cases around us. At least, that’s the model. So for those reasons, we’re still very comfortable being in Orlando.”
How tightly closed the network is remains a matter of contention—and, considering Florida saw a new record of nearly 9,000 new positive tests on Friday, and that the league’s initial protocols did not include provisions for Disney staffers who will be alongside NBA personnel (who will be tested daily), an exceedingly pressing concern. Silver said that the league is continuing to work with Disney to provide testing of “at least a subset of their employees that could potentially be in the same room as our players.”
“We are satisfied once we work through those additional matters with Disney, we will have a safe setting with which to resume our season,” he said.
The league and union announced earlier Friday that 16 of the 302 players tested Tuesday had tested positive for COVID-19. Both Silver and NBPA executive director Michele Roberts expressed relief that the initial number wasn’t higher. Silver reiterated that positive tests for individual players, “whether that player was an All-Star or a journeyman,” would not prompt a shutdown, as it did when Gobert tested positive back on March 11. Instead, that player would go into quarantine while the league worked to trace and test all who came in contact with them.
“But then we would continue,” Silver said. “That team would be down a man, and we would treat that positive test as we would an injury during the season. And so we would not delay the continuation of the playoffs.”
The commissioner did not have an answer for the NBA’s biggest “what if”: What if there’s a spread that infects a large swath of the player population? In that case, he suggested a shutdown might be possible, but stopped short of saying there was a plan in place for such a contingency:
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver: "If we were to have significant spread of coronavirus through our community, that ultimately might lead us to stop it." Says the line on when to pull plug "hasn’t been precisely designed."— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) June 26, 2020
“We’re not saying, ‘Full steam ahead, no matter what happens,’” he added. “But we feel very comfortable right now with where we are.”
The NBA Reveals Its First Round of COVID-19 Testing Results
Friday, June 26, 10:07 a.m. PT
Dollinger: The NBA’s first round of leaguewide coronavirus testing on Tuesday yielded 16 positives from its 302 players, according to a joint statement released by the NBA and NBPA on Friday.
NBA and NBPA Announce Covid-19 Test Results pic.twitter.com/DuMxsp8rB1— NBPA (@TheNBPA) June 26, 2020
As of yesterday, 12 positive tests had been reported around the league: four for “one Western Conference playoff team”; two more for players on the Phoenix Suns; and individual positives for Denver Nuggets All-Star center Nikola Jokic; Indiana Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon; Sacramento Kings players Buddy Hield, Alex Len, and Jabari Parker; and Miami Heat forward Derrick Jones Jr.
The league’s positivity test rate (5.2 percent) is still lower than the national average in the United States (6.4 percent in the last seven days, according to the CDC). The NBA hopes that strict testing procedures and the protocols within the league’s 113-page health and safety guidelines will keep players safer inside the Walt Disney World bubble than they would be in their home markets.
Meanwhile, cases continue to explode in Florida. On Friday, 8,942 additional new cases were reported, shattering the state’s single-day record once again. While some of that may be attributed to increased testing, the climbing positivity test rate is most worrisome. On Thursday, Florida’s positivity test rate was 8.7 percent. On Friday, that number soared to 13.5 percent. That’s particularly troubling for the NBA, considering that Disney employees working inside the “bubble” will be coming and going each day.
Due to the nature of the ongoing pandemic, the league expected several of its players to test positive, which is why it built time into its restart calendar to allow them to quarantine before returning to the court. Every player who has tested positive so far has said they fully expect to play in Orlando next month.
The NBA and NBPA also announced on Friday that they’ve finalized their comprehensive plan for the July 30 restart.
The NBA Reveals Its Security Plan to Protect (and Enforce) the Bubble
Thursday, June 25, 3:55 p.m. PT
Devine: A week after the NBA unveiled 113 pages worth of health and safety protocols intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19 during its planned restart next month, the league shared with players the “comprehensive security plan” it will use to attempt to enforce them, according to Tim Bontemps of ESPN.
As has been widely discussed, Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex won’t be a true “bubble”; it will instead operate as a permeable “campus environment” that one high-ranking league executive has described as more of a “a mesh hat.” The league’s protocols do include several provisions “meant to minimize and even eliminate contact between Disney staffers and NBA personnel,” according to ESPN’s Zach Lowe and Baxter Holmes, but there still will be people coming in and out of the campus each day. Walt Disney World’s theme parks are set to reopen to the public in mid-July, and a number of people could theoretically gain access to the NBA personnel staying at Disney’s hotels, which could present a risk to the people the league wants to keep safe. Ergo: security.
In addition to standard things like secure checkpoints and credential checks—the NBA and Disney will also be bringing in “local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, as well as experienced venue and contracted security professionals and team security staffs” to provide services like “roving [...] inside and outside the perimeter of every location in use.” That could include locations outside the Disney campus where league security would be joined by “former special operations forces personnel in order to ‘provide a scalable safety bubble’” for any personnel leaving the campus environment.
What constitutes “scalable safety” for players heading out into a region that has emerged as one of the country’s most dangerous coronavirus hotbeds remains unclear. Also unclear: how a predominantly Black player population will respond to law enforcement’s role in maintaining the campus’s sanctity and safety, especially given the ongoing national protests against police brutality against Black people that a number of players have participated in themselves.
Back in May, when the league was still drawing up its plan for a restart of the season, NBPA executive director Michele Roberts said she and her constituents initially recoiled at the concept of a strict bubble due in part to the idea that everyone inside would have to submit to an unclear level of surveillance and monitoring. (One other aspect of the security plan, according to Bontemps: the Department of Homeland Security, Disney security, and the NBA’s Global Security Operations Center “will monitor networks for social media threats.”) The hypothetical she posed to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne: “Are we going to arm guards around the hotel? That sounds like incarceration to me.”
It’s possible that attitudes have shifted in the months since; the players union has agreed to a revised collective bargaining agreement, signaling interest in moving forward with the season restart under the framework the league has laid out, and local law enforcement and private contractors have often provided security for teams in their home arenas. But things are quite a bit different now, in a lot of respects; the league has a lot of tricky obstacles to navigate, and some awfully interesting conversations ahead.
The NBA’s First Orlando Deadline Passes. Will July 1 Bring More Absences?
Thursday, June 25, 11:40 a.m. PT
Devine: The NBA’s deadline for players to inform teams that they’d prefer not to travel to Orlando for next month’s planned restart came and went Wednesday, without the addition of any new names sitting out. As of Wednesday, the only players who had availed themselves of the option to skip the restart—and, with it, the paychecks they’d receive for playing in Central Florida—are Washington Wizards forward Davis Bertans, Portland Trail Blazers forward Trevor Ariza, and Los Angeles Lakers guard Avery Bradley.
That doesn’t mean that they’ll be the only ones passing on the trip to ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex, though. Case in point: Shams Charania of The Athletic reported Thursday that Dallas Mavericks center Willie Cauley-Stein—whose partner is expecting a baby next month, and who carries the sickle cell trait, which could predispose him to poor outcomes in case of COVID-19 infection—had decided to sit out the rest of the season.
As it turns out, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the initial Wednesday deadline was more of “a soft target date for players to opt out of Orlando—unless they want to enter [the] process to be placed on [the] excused/protected list to keep salary.” The league’s health and safety protocols identify “protected” players as those whose teams believe them to be at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19, while “excused” players are ones designated by a “panel of three medical experts” as higher-risk candidates. Players who receive either designation won’t see their salaries reduced.
For players not seeking a spot on the “protected” or “excused” list, according to Wojnarowski, teams are “largely treating July 1”—the date when they must submit their roster of players eligible to compete in the restart to the league office—as the hard-and-firm deadline. That gives players a bit more time to consider their options. One notable name in the process of doing just that: Los Angeles Clippers guard Lou Williams.
Williams, the third-leading scorer and top assist man on a Clippers team with championship aspirations, said last week that he is “50-50” on the prospect, citing concerns that returning to play would serve as a detrimental distraction from the nationwide racial justice movement that has risen in protest of the police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville.
In addition to considerations of how the NBA’s planned restart may affect national attention on the ongoing movement and protests, players must also decide their comfort level with the league’s safety protocols, and whether they feel at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 in their home cities or within the NBA’s “campus environment.” As of press time, the NBA’s first round of pre-bubble screening has reportedly turned up at least 12 positive tests: four for “one Western Conference playoff team”; two more for players on the Phoenix Suns; and individual positives for Denver Nuggets All-Star center Nikola Jokic; Indiana Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon; Sacramento Kings players Buddy Hield, Alex Len, and Jabari Parker; and Miami Heat forward Derrick Jones Jr.
Lakers’ Avery Bradley Is Out for the Orlando Restart. Is J.R. Smith In?
Wednesday, June 24, 6:38 a.m. PT
Dollinger: The list of players electing to opt out of Orlando continues to grow. On Tuesday, Lakers guard Avery Bradley told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that he will sit out of the NBA’s restart next month in order to remain with his family and protect the well-being of his oldest son, who has struggled with respiratory issues in the past.
“As committed to my Lakers teammates and the organization as I am, I ultimately play basketball for my family,” Bradley told ESPN. “And so, at a time like this, I can’t imagine making any decision that might put my family’s health and well-being at even the slightest risk.”
According to the ESPN report, Bradley’s son likely would not have been medically cleared to enter the Orlando bubble with his family due to previous health complications.
The Lakers’ veteran has been outspoken about his concerns about the NBA’s return to play. In addition to voicing health concerns, Bradley is the coleader of a players coalition that’s been pressing the league to implement a plan to support the racial justice movement before the restart. Among the group’s priorities: improved hiring practices for Black front-office and coaching candidates, more diversity in the league’s management, donations to organizations serving Black communities, and partnerships with Black-owned businesses.
“We don’t need to say more. We need to find a way to achieve more,” Bradley previously told ESPN. “Protesting during an anthem, wearing T-shirts is great, but we need to see real actions being put in to the works.”
Bradley is one of several NBA players, including the Blazers’ Trevor Ariza and Wizards’ Davis Bertans, to bow out of the Orlando restart this week, with more expected to come. Wednesday was originally reported to be the deadline for players to inform teams whether they were going to play or not, but according to Wojnarowski players actually have until July 1 to make that decision.
Wednesday is turning out to be a soft target date for players to opt-out of Orlando – unless they want to enter process to be placed on excused/protected list to keep salary. Teams are largely treating July 1 as deadline, which is when rosters of eligible players are due to NBA.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 23, 2020
Woj also reported that the Lakers have already targeted Bradley’s replacement: J.R. Smith. Smith hasn’t played in the NBA since 2018 with the Cavaliers, but he’s a long-time friend and former teammate of LeBron James. With Kentavious Caldwell-Pope likely sliding into Bradley’s spot in the starting lineup, Smith would join Alex Caruso, Rajon Rondo, and Dion Waiters (yes, Dion Waiters) as the main guards off L.A.’s bench.
Nikola Jokic Is Diagnosed With COVID-19 in Serbia
Tuesday, June 23, 2:58 p.m. PT
Uggetti: As players around the league return to team practice facilities and begin getting tested for COVID-19, Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets has reportedly been diagnosed with the virus while still in Serbia. According to an ESPN report Tuesday, Jokic has been asymptomatic, but the diagnosis is delaying his return to Colorado. He’s expected to be cleared for travel within a week.
On June 11, Jokic attended a basketball game in Belgrade where he sat next to tennis star Novak Djokovic, who also tested positive for the virus on Tuesday. At that game, Jokic embraced not just Djokovic but many of the players who were set to play in the game.
Jokic isn’t the first player to be diagnosed with COVID-19 in the NBA’s new wave of testing (four players from a Western Conference playoff team reportedly tested positive in the past few weeks), and he won’t be the last. The league remains undeterred in its plan to return to play and has said it’s preparing for a number of players to test positive this week as they return to their facilities, where they will stay for at least 14 days before traveling to Orlando. However, it remains unclear just how many positive tests the league is anticipating—and what lasting impacts the virus could have on players who contract it.
The League and Players Union Agree to a Revised CBA
Tuesday, June 23, 10:02 a.m. PT
Uggetti: Despite a tumultuous last couple of weeks within the player ranks and rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in Florida, the NBA is proceeding with its plan to restart the season in Orlando. The latest item crossed off the checklist is a crucial one: The league and the players union reportedly agreed to a revised collective bargaining agreement on Tuesday.
This CBA includes dates for the 2020 draft and free agency periods (as well as player options for contracts), which will have to be squeezed in between October and December. As ESPN’s Bobby Marks pointed out, a clear example of this hurried timeline is that Anthony Davis will have to decide whether to pick up his $28.8 million option one day after what is scheduled to be Game 7 of the NBA Finals. The agreement also reportedly includes an insurance policy that would cover career-ending injuries (related to COVID-19 or not) for players for up to millions of dollars. Players like Donovan Mitchell, De’Aaron Fox, Kyle Kuzma, Bam Adebayo, and Jayson Tatum (guys with upcoming extensions) advocated for this on a players’ call nearly two weeks ago.
A week-long transaction window opened today at noon Eastern that allows teams to sign players ahead of the Orlando restart. Just this week, it was reported that the Grizzlies were in an agreement to add Anthony Tolliver, who played with them on a 10-day contract prior to the season’s suspension, to the roster. This means you’re likely to see the names JR Smith and Jamal Crawford start popping up again soon.
One change for use to replacement players in Orlando, per league memo to teams: Replacing a player with Covid-19 must occur no later than 7 days following confirmed positive player resumes training.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 23, 2020
Teams in Orlando are being allowed expanded rosters (15 standard contracts, two two-way deals), a necessary tweak given that some players have already bowed out of returning to play. Washington’s Davis Bertans is skipping the bubble as a preventative measure, Trevor Ariza is sitting out due to family matters, and the Mavericks’ Courtney Lee is out after undergoing surgery on his calf. The deadline for players to opt out of going to Orlando is Wednesday.
The First NBA Player Pulls Out of the Orlando Restart
Monday, June 22, 10:35 a.m. PT
O’Shaughnessy: Davis Bertans won’t be joining the Wizards when they travel to Orlando next month for the NBA’s restart, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Tim Bontemps. He’s decided to sit out for the rest of the season without explicitly saying why (yet, or that the internet knows of), but we can guess:
Reporting with @TimBontemps: Washington Wizards F Davis Bertans has decided to sit out the Orlando restart, sources tell ESPN. Bertans is entering free agency off of his most productive NBA season – with two ACL injuries in his past.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 22, 2020
1a. Bertans will enter free agency this summer. The 2019-20 season wasn’t good to the Wizards, but it was great to him: He averaged 15.4 points on 42.4 percent 3-point shooting, 4.5 rebounds, and 1.7 assists in 29.3 minutes. He’d have an outside shot to win Most Improved Player if Brandon Ingram, Bam Adebayo, Devonte’ Graham, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander didn’t exist.
1b. Washington (24-40) is not close to making the playoffs. As the current no. 9 seed, they’d have to force a play-in game with Brooklyn (30-34) or Orlando (30-35). (Because of the uneven number of games played, winning percentage will determine final standings.) Schedules haven’t been formally announced yet, but based on an adjusted continuation of their normal regular-season schedule, the Wizards would face the Celtics, Thunder, 76ers, Nets, Bucks, Celtics, Suns, and Bucks for their final eight games. There aren’t many easy wins there.
1c. Bertans has had two ACL injuries. Let’s pretend he’s a running back in college and not a 6-foot-10 NBA forward. His team didn’t make the College Football Playoffs; they’re scheduled to play at the Walmart Brand Gummy Worm Bowl. Many NFL teams see Bertans as a potential first-rounder. He doesn’t want to get hurt in a meaningless bowl game, where there are no stakes beyond a flimsy, multicolored, worm-shaped trophy. So he sits out to protect his future. Ahead of free agency and coming off a career season, this is no different.
2. Hates Disney
The deadline to opt out of playing the rest of the season is Wednesday. Because of the anomalous nature of the Disney plan, it’s unclear whether more players will follow Bertans’s lead.
The Coaches Union Speaks Up
Thursday, June 18, 11:47 a.m. PT
Uggetti: A faction of players isn’t the only entity that’s questioning the NBA’s plan to restart the season in Orlando. The NBA Coaches Association, led by Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, is also reportedly concerned that some of the league’s older coaches—like Gregg Popovich (71), Mike D’Antoni (69), and Alvin Gentry (65)— could be hindered by the league’s safety guidelines both now and in the future.
Those coaches who are 65 and older are considered “high-risk” if they were to contract COVID-19, according to CDC guidelines, and the coaches union fears that this designation may keep some of them from coaching in Orlando—and may even lead to their being overlooked for potential jobs after this season. Popovich has long been a mainstay in San Antonio, but depending on how the rest of this season goes, both Gentry and D’Antoni could be seeking new jobs this offseason.
While the league has said that no coach will be excluded from coaching this season because of age, there is concern about what an older coach may be able to do inside the bubble. Just a few weeks ago, commissioner Adam Silver wondered aloud whether older coaches should sit on the bench during games, which immediately prompted a response from Carlisle that age could not exclude a coach from doing his job. In a not-so-thinly veiled statement to ESPN, Warren LeGarie, the agent who represents Gentry and D’Antoni, said he hoped that this could be resolved with a basketball solution “rather than a legal one.”
“Adam [Silver] and the NBA have created a situation in Orlando that is likely far safer than in our coaches’ home markets,” the NBCA said in a statement. “Absent a significant threat, we believe a coach should be able to understand and assume their individual risks, waive liability, and coach in Orlando.”
It’s an interesting point. For as many questions as there have been about the plausibility of keeping everyone safe in Orlando, it’s evident that some places around the country might be more dangerous to players and coaches than the Orlando bubble. Then again, the players will be playing five-on-five basketball; the coaches won’t.
Five Takeaways From the NBA’s Wide-Ranging Return-to-Play Memo
Wednesday, June 17, 9:45 a.m. PT
Kram: On Tuesday, the NBA sent players a 113-page “Health and Safety Protocols” memo outlining in detail what life at the Disney World campus will look like when the season resumes next month. Topics ranged from COVID-19 testing procedures to postgame shower protocol to free-time entertainment options. Here are five key takeaways from the reporting on the memo, as detailed by ESPN, The Athletic, and others.
1. The NBA’s main safety plan is prevention.
The most important question for the league as it seeks to resume play in a time of increasing COVID-19 cases—particularly in Florida, which set a new state record for most single-day confirmed cases Tuesday—is how it will prevent the novel coronavirus from wreaking havoc once hundreds of players and team personnel descend on the league’s campus. The answer seems to be by taking as many preventative measures as possible.
For instance, although the bubble is not airtight and players are not strictly forbidden from leaving (the league cites “extenuating circumstances”), they are effectively prevented from doing so, as a way to keep everyone contained in one hopefully virus-free area. Players who leave the campus for a non-approved reason will be required to quarantine for at least 10 days upon returning—which would render travel during a playoff series impossible if the player wishes to continue appearing in games.
Quarantine procedures are also in place during the lead-up to the season, with five phases of progressively relaxed restrictions spanning the six weeks between now and July 30. According to The Athletic’s Shams Charania: “Players who are currently outside of the United States should have returned to their team’s home market by June 15 and all other players must return to their team’s home market by June 22 for mandatory testing beginning on June 23.” The one exception is for the Raptors, who will travel directly to Florida instead of their home city.
Day-to-day life on the Disney campus will include plenty of careful monitoring as well. Players and staff won’t be able to go into each other’s hotel rooms, and for the first few weeks, they will be prevented from interacting with players staying at other hotels—the 22 teams will be spread among three resorts—to limit any potential outbreaks. And once games resume, players must dress for games and shower at their hotels rather than the arenas.
2. The league still doesn’t have a great answer for potential outbreaks.
Even with all those protocols in place, the league seems to acknowledge that some level of positive tests is inevitable, and will have attendees tested “regularly” for the duration of the season. If someone tests positive, they will be isolated and retested in case of a false positive; if the diagnosis is confirmed, the player must sit out for at least 14 days—even if they show negative tests in the meantime. “Doctors with whom the NBA consulted are concerned about potential cardiovascular risks that come along with having the virus,” ESPN’s Brian Windhorst and Tim Bontemps report. “Players will be restricted from exercise and will have to pass cardiac tests before a return to basketball is even considered.”
The broader question is what would happen in the case of multiple positive tests within a single team, or an even larger outbreak across teams—and the response to this worst-case hypothetical still seems unclear. According to the league’s memo, “The occurrence of a small or otherwise expected number of COVID-19 cases will not require a decision to suspend or cancel the resumption” of the season. However, it does not define how many cases would go beyond the “small or otherwise expected number.” Would 20 positive cases be sufficient to resuspend the season? Fifty? One hundred?
3. Players might have more amenities in the Disney bubble than at home.
With players effectively stuck in the same place for months, the league is assuring them of various entertainment options throughout the duration. Among the perks:
- A chef and 24-hour food room for each team, as well as room service
- Barbers and manicurists available by appointment
- Pools, trails, and golf courses for outdoor recreation
- A lounge with video games, card tables, movie screenings, ping pong tables, and more for indoor recreation
- Mental health services, either via in-person professionals or telehealth options
- Guest rooms for player families after the first round of the playoffs, to be paid for by the players
- The option for a limited number of players to attend other games as spectators
4. Even the amenities are subject to coronavirus complications, however.
It will be impossible for players within the bubble to escape constant reminders of the strangeness of their environment. For instance, they cannot share balls or clubs while golfing; they cannot play doubles matches in ping pong; and they cannot reuse card decks during free time. Families traveling to Orlando after the first round of the playoffs must first undergo quarantine and testing procedures, as well.
5. Further questions arise about privacy and messaging during bubble life.
There seem to be inevitable clashes between concerns over player safety and privacy, and Tuesday’s reporting only added to those worries. ESPN’s Zach Lowe reports that attendees “will be given the option to use a wearable ring that tracks heart rate, respiration rate, and other variables”; this device is designed to calculate an “illness probability score” that could indicate a player’s risk of contracting the virus. And although Lowe notes that teams will not have access to the wearable data unless the score reaches a certain warning threshold, that level of available biometric data could pose broader ethical concerns for players, as it has across other sports in nonpandemic times. Charania reports that some agents have expressed concerns in recent weeks over the prospect of players being monitored at all times.
Desire for behind-the-scenes footage of players’ free time activities could spark similar issues. It’s understandable that fans (and the league’s social media accounts) would seek this kind of access: Footage of Michael Jordan playing games with an unknown security guard captured everyone’s attention during the Last Dance—imagine what a card game between LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo would draw. Reporter Keith Smith cites a Disney source that says there are preliminary plans in place for “behind the scenes footage to be shot and shared across various mediums.”
Yet given all the existing complications with living—and, don’t forget, competing for a championship—inside this kind of environment, adding any level of Big Brother documentation to the mix could compromise the players’ experiences on the campus. When they need time to unwind after a tough game, amid conditions that are already fueling mental health concerns in a league that is emphasizing awareness, will cameras recording their ostensibly private interactions distort the process?
Furthermore, if some players are already concerned that a return to play will take attention away from the ongoing nationwide protests against systemic racism and police brutality, it would seem that intense focus on all of the exploits at Disney could further distract. Would more attention on the players’ card games and ping-pong duels take away from the league’s recently stated mission to “utilize the NBA’s platform to bring attention and sustained action to issues of social injustice” and “drive action and create meaningful and generational change”?
Players Coalition Wants to See “Real Actions” From the NBA Before Restart
Tuesday, June 16, 5:47 p.m. PT
O’Shaughnessy: Avery Bradley and a new players coalition are asking for quantifiable changes from the NBA in response to some players’ growing concerns that the NBA’s restart will distract from the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement.
On Tuesday, Bradley gave specific examples to ESPN: new hiring practices for executives and coaches to better reflect the makeup of the players (the league is composed of 81.9 percent players of color, according to an ESPN diversity report card published last June), donations to organizations serving Black communities, and a concerted effort to partner with Black-owned businesses, including potential arena vendors.
“We don’t need to say more. We need to find a way to achieve more,” Bradley said. “Protesting during an anthem, wearing T-shirts is great, but we need to see real actions being put in to the works.”
Shifting the weight of social responsibility to team owners has been a long-standing demand. Most recently, when the season was postponed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, players including Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Love, and Blake Griffin donated $100,000 each to arena staffers who would go without pay with no games while the majority of owners stayed silent. (Mark Cuban donated hundreds of thousands to health care workers in March and has walked back problematic racial comments to give public support to Black Lives Matter; Michael Jordan and the Jordan Brand are donating $100 million over 10 years to organizations dedicated to promoting racial equality and social justice.) Player representatives voted 28-0 to restart the season; still, the contentious return gives the coalition, which is made up of NBA and WNBA players, an unprecedented bargaining chip. It’s disappointing that nationwide unrest and a unique leverage opportunity is what may finally persuade the league to enact change, which aligns with Kyrie Irving’s original point that the NBA could be a distraction from the larger picture: If the players go on with business as usual, business will stay unacceptable, per usual.
“The actual act of sitting out doesn’t directly fight systemic racism,” said Bradley, who is the co-leader of the coalition along with Irving. “But it does highlight the reality that without black athletes, the NBA wouldn’t be what it is today. The league has a responsibility to our communities in helping to empower us—just as we have made the NBA brand strong.”
A popular argument for restarting the season is that it will actually give players a platform to raise these issues. Adam Silver made the case yesterday during an ESPN interview. “In terms of social justice issues,” Silver said, “it’ll be an opportunity for NBA players and the greater community to draw attention to these issues.” He later contradicted his own argument, saying that basketball will serve as a distraction from the stressful times we’re in.
Then there’s Silver’s implication that there’s an opportunity for NBA players to speak up, without any mention of the league as a whole. “Why [is] all of the responsibility being put on the players?” Bradley said to ESPN.
“Regardless of how much media coverage will be received, talking and raising awareness about social injustice isn’t enough,” Bradley said. “Are we that self-centered to believe no one in the world is aware of racism right now? That, as athletes, we solve the real issues by using our platforms to speak?”
The NBA responded hours after Bradley spoke out, pledging to work with the National Basketball Players Association to “utilize the NBA’s platform to bring attention and sustained action to issues of social injustice.”
NBA has informed all 30 teams of this entering 2019-20 resumption: "A central goal of our season restart will be to utilize the NBA's platform to bring attention and sustained action to issues of social injustice..." pic.twitter.com/qfrRms88Hi— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) June 16, 2020
While the prompt response is encouraging, Bradley and the players have made it abundantly clear that they need more than words. They need action.
The NBA Sets a Deadline for Players Who Want to Skip Orlando
Tuesday, June 16, 3:32 p.m. PT
Devine: NBA commissioner Adam Silver said during an interview with ESPN on Monday that the league’s proposed 22-team restart in Orlando next month “may not be for everyone,” acknowledging rising concerns on a number of fronts that have some players questioning whether or not a resumption of the 2019-20 season is the wisest course of action. Players thinking about skipping the trip to Disney, though, will have to make their minds up pretty soon.
NBA players have been notified that any player who chooses not to play in resumed 2019-20 season must notify his team by June 24, sources tell @TheAthleticNBA @Stadium. Compensation would be reduced by 1/92.6 for each game missed.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) June 16, 2020
Shams Charania of The Athletic reported Tuesday that the league has informed players that anyone who’d prefer not to play in Orlando must notify their teams by June 24—two days after players are expected to have returned to their home markets, and one day after they’re expected to have begun undergoing mandatory testing, according to a National Basketball Players Association memo. Players who opt out by next Wednesday will forfeit their paychecks for any games they miss—a reduction of 1/93rd of the money owed to them on their contracts—but they “will not be disciplined” by the league for making that decision.
Players can get their absence excused—and, accordingly, receive their full salary—if they’re categorized as “protected players” or “excused players,” according to Charania. “Protected” players are ones whose teams believe them to be at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19; “excused” players are designated as higher-risk cases by a “panel of three medical experts,” according to Charania. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne had previously reported that the league and the union “have set up an independent doctors panel to evaluate the players and make a determination” on whether they fall into the “protected” or “excused” groupings and can thus receive their full pay.
The new timeline comes on the heels of a coalition of players, led by All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving and Lakers veterans Dwight Howard and Avery Bradley, speaking out to seek further clarification from the NBA on a number of issues related to the planned July 30 restart of a season that has been suspended since March 11. Among them: the fact that the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise sharply in Florida, including in Orange County, home of the Disney “campus-like environment” that would host the NBA in Orlando; the specific rules and conditions on the restrictions to which players would be subject upon entering the “bubble”; the possibility of the league financing insurance policies that could protect players on the verge of major contract extensions in the event of serious illness or injury in the final stretch; and, perhaps foremost, any and all ideas and plans the league and its stakeholders, from ownership on down, have for contributing to the cause of social justice reform as mass protests against police brutality and systemic racism continue across the United States.
“As far as the racial injustice, I think that’s where a lot of the struggle is for a lot of athletes,” Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard told ESPN on Monday. “I think our league is made up of so many African American players. And a lot of our hearts are with our people; our minds are with our people. And we feel like we should be a part of that fight. And that’s where the struggle is; I think that’s where you’re hearing a lot of guys kinda coming out, saying maybe we should be focused on that instead of worrying about going back in and jumping into the season.”
Adam Silver Tries to Calm Growing Concerns About the NBA’s Restart Plan
Tuesday, June 16, 6:05 a.m. PT
Matt Dollinger: One of the most maddening aspects of a pandemic is the sheer uncertainty of everything around us. And as much as we wish NBA commissioner Adam Silver had all the answers about how the NBA’s going to return in Orlando next month, he readily admits what he doesn’t know.
In a Monday night interview with ESPN, Silver preached optimism and said he’s confident the league will address the various concerns from a mounting coalition of players—he’s just not sure how yet.
“Listen, it’s not an ideal situation,” Silver said on ESPN’s ‘Return to Sports’ special. “We are trying to find a way to our own normalcy in the middle of a pandemic, in the middle of essentially a recession or worse with 40 million unemployed, and now with enormous social unrest in the country. And so as we work through these issues, I can understand how some players may feel, that it’s not for them ... it may be for family reasons, it may be for health reasons they have, or it may be because they feel—as some players have said very recently—that their time is best spent elsewhere.”
The NBA’s board of governors approved a 22-team return plan on June 4 and the league’s player representatives unanimously signed off on the proposal the next day. But in the last week, a group of players led by the Nets’ Kyrie Irving and the Lakers’ Avery Bradley and Dwight Howard have spoken out about their myriad issues with the restart—from concerns over the integrity of the bubble in Orlando to whether it’s appropriate for a league predominantly composed of Black athletes to provide a distraction during social upheaval and such an important inflection point across the country.
“Things are changing around us,” Silver told ESPN. “The social unrest in the country was—in the same way we never could have predicted the pandemic would unfold, in the way it has—what’s happened since George Floyd’s death is also unprecedented. I’m incredibly sympathetic and empathetic to what’s happening in people’s lives. And in the midst of all that, to say, ‘We’re looking for an opportunity to restart this league, to try to move forward with crowning a champion,’ it’s not top of mind for a lot of people.”
Silver said that he doesn’t expect all players to want to play in Orlando, but that the league will do everything within its power to leverage its platform and help players with their messaging. The commissioner said he knows the NBA is proceeding with an imperfect proposal during an unprecedented time—but that the alternatives might be worse.
“For us, we feel that this is what we do: We put on NBA basketball. We think that for the country, it’ll be a respite [from] the enormous difficulties people are dealing with in their lives right now.”
Still, the friction that has popped up in recent days has provided a new twist. While Silver said staying on the sidelines would be to “give in to this virus,” he also is trying to convince players that playing basketball is not only safe, but appropriate and logical during a period of widespread protesting across the country. With logistical and public relations battles popping up in real time, it’s proving to be a daunting challenge for a commissioner that’s rarely fazed—and a strange contrast from a leader that’s seemed prepared for everything since taking over for David Stern in 2014.
Despite all the worries, Silver maintains that it’s in everyone’s best interest to resume the 2019-20 season and that players and the league will have a chance to impact the world far beyond just basketball.
“It’ll be an opportunity for NBA players in the greater community to draw attention to the issues because the world’s attention will be on the NBA in Orlando if we’re able to pull this off. What should this league, that may have a unique opportunity as compared to almost any other organization in the world, be doing in response to George Floyd’s death, to endemic racial issues in society? I’ve heard this loud and clear—the statements have been issued, foundations have been announced, contributions. But there’s an expectation that there’s more that this league can do; and I think part of it’s gonna require a fair amount of listening, something we’ve been doing already. But then engaging in very deliberate behavior, together with the players, in terms of how can we use our larger platform, the NBA together with the players, really to effect change.”
Momentum Slows for the NBA’s Restart Plan As Kyrie Irving and Other Players Begin Asking Bigger Questions
Monday, June 15, 5:16 a.m. PT
Verrier: In the hours after the board of governors near-unanimously approved a plan to restart the 2019-20 season on June 4, the NBA distributed a news brief with a bold, all-caps subject line: “NBA BOARD OF GOVERNORS APPROVES COMPETITIVE FORMAT TO RESTART 2019-20 SEASON WITH 22 TEAMS RETURNING TO PLAY.” The email also included a statement from commissioner Adam Silver that concluded as follows: “We also recognize that as we prepare to resume play, our society is reeling from recent tragedies of racial violence and injustice, and we will continue to work closely with our teams and players to use our collective resources and influence to address these issues in very real and concrete ways.”
In the days after, the issues Silver referred to raging outside the NBA bubble have risen from fine print to the essential question in the league’s bid to resume play. Protests over the killing of George Floyd, systemic racism, and police brutality continue across the country, and many players are lending their voice to the movement. The players association agreed to “further negotiations” on the league’s return-to-play plan a day after the BOG approval, but last Friday, Kyrie Irving, an NBPA vice president, hosted a call of nearly 100 players and reportedly made an “impassioned plea” to not play in order to take a stand for social justice reform.
With the likes of Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, and Carmelo Anthony listening, Irving said he’s willing to give up “everything I have” for reform, according to The Athletic’s Sham Charania. “I don’t support going into Orlando,” Irving told the players, per Charania. “I’m not with the systematic racism and the bullshit. … Something smells a little fishy. Whether we want to admit it or not, we are targeted as black men every day we wake up.”
The financial implications of canceling the rest of the season are significant: ESPN reports players would lose another 25 percent of their salaries on top of the 25 percent they’ve been giving back since mid-May; worse, the league would have the option to rip up the current collective bargaining agreement. In a follow-up to the Irving call, Donovan Mitchell and other young stars eligible for lucrative extensions next offseason talked with NBPA executive director Michele Roberts about league-financed insurance policies that would protect players in the event of an injury in the bubble, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
ESPN reported late Friday that “there’s significant support to resume the season among the league’s superstars,” including from LeBron James, a clash that Irving is “relishing.” On Sunday, Patrick Beverley took a stand with James specifically:
But the situation is evolving by the day. Take, for instance, Dwight Howard’s weekend. On Friday, the Lakers center was reportedly among the most vocal participants on the Irving call. On Saturday, Howard released a statement to CNN through his agent that concluded with the phrase “No Basketball til we get things resolved,” which read like a firm stance against resuming play. On Sunday, the agent told ESPN’s Dave McMenamin that, actually, Howard hasn’t made a decision about playing again this season, and an anonymous Lakers teammate told McMenamin that they “Still have some time to figure things out as a league and as a team.”
That said, the clock is ticking—and there’s still that whole combating a worldwide pandemic thing to figure out. Training camps may ultimately open in the coming weeks, and games could wind up resuming on July 31 as scheduled, yet the plan is at the very least far murkier than it seemed just over a week ago.