The NBA is officially coming back, but concerns about safety continue to grow.
Earlier on Tuesday, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association officially agreed to terms on a revised Collective Bargaining Agreement that will restart the 2019-20 season. The transaction window, which allows teams to sign or waive players, began at noon.
As expected, NBA and NBPA have finalized terms of the revised CBA for the Orlando restart, sources tell ESPN. All items in Saturday’s league memo to teams are agreed upon. Transaction window starts at noon.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 23, 2020
The plan has been laid out for some time now: the season will restart on July 30 with 22 teams converging down to Orlando’s Walt Disney World Resort. An eight-game regular season will precede a traditional 16-team playoff format, although there is the possibility for a play-in round involved. For a more in-depth breakdown of how the NBA intends on incorporating the entire plan, click the link here.
Finishing the 2019-20 season has always been the goal since the season was suspended on March 11. Now that both the league office and the players have come to an agreement, that goal can be achieved. But does it mean the NBA is actually looking down the home stretch?
Also on Tuesday, Wojnarowski reported that at least four players from a Western Conference playoff team tested positive for the coronavirus. Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic reported that two members of the Phoenix Suns, who are outside of the playoff picture but will go to Orlando, also tested positive, which led to the organization shutting down voluntary workouts roughly two weeks before the league meets up in Florida. It was later leaked on Tuesday afternoon that Denver Nuggets superstar center Nikola Jokic also tested positive for COVID-19. His return is now delayed from his home country of Serbia, putting him even further behind the rest of the league that is already operating on a tight schedule. According to Woj, teams are ACTIVELY PREPARING for more positive cases to show up. Now the question is, how many positive cases will prove to be too many? How many positive cases are going to be necessary before the bubble is forced to pop?
Individual franchises won’t start meeting in Orlando until July 7, so there is still time to quarantine players in order to have them ready to go for the July 30 restart. The NBA already has a plan in place for players who are showing symptoms or test positive once everyone is down in Orlando and it has shown an apparent reluctancy to suspend the season once again after just a positive test or two. That being said, if the virus finds a way to infect the bubble, the entire project could crumble down in an instant.
Maybe I’m overthinking things a bit, but hosting an event that will attempt to quarantine over 1,000 people (not including the Disney employees, who are not subject to the same quarantine rules as the members of the NBA restart) in an area where cases are rapidly rising sounds like an ever-increasing risk.
Zach Binney, who is an epidemiologist at Oxford College of Emory University, told James Herbert of CBS Sports that Florida’s rising number of positive cases is “really, really, worrying” for the NBA and, despite all the protocols already instilled, Binney is “afraid it’s all about to go pear-shaped anyway.”
Until the rate of positive coronavirus cases in Florida begins to go south, it’s hard for me to remain optimistic that everything is going to stay on course. Currently, Orange County (whose county seat is Orlando) is seeing a significant spike in the number of tests that have come back positive. Wojnarowski reported on Tuesday that among the six non-playoff teams also making the trip to Orlando, none of them believe a restart is worth a long-term injury. Will the Phoenix Suns or Washington Wizards even take this as seriously as the league expects? In reality, why should they?
Remember too: Even among the six teams trying to reach the playoffs via a play-in, none believe this restart is worth risking injuries on players that could carry into next season. For some, Orlando will be an extended summer league to develop young players and protect veterans.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 23, 2020
Davis Bertans (Washington Wizards) and Trevor Ariza (Portland Trail Blazers) both will reportedly sit out the restart for different reasons. Bertans is due for a big contract this offseason and sees little incentive in returning to a Wizards team that will likely not make it into the playoffs, while Ariza has elected to spend the time with his children. Neither of these guys bolsters superstar careers, but they aren’t slouches, either, and their absence will affect their respective teams.
I would imagine not everyone within the organization is happy about their decisions, but I also believe teammates and front offices are more understanding considering the circumstances. For instance, I don’t think Bertans is going to miss out on any money this offseason because of his decision to not go on with the restart. He has a legitimate future as a starting-caliber player on a playoff team and he knows it. To risk that over maybe eight games hardly seems worth it. The rest of the league will have until Wednesday, June 24 to decide if they want to return with their team.
I won’t blame any player that declines to return, as long as they have a reasonable claim.
All it takes is for the virus to slip its way into one of the team’s camps down in Orlando. If half of the Los Angeles Lakers test positive right as the restart is set to begin, what happens? Does the league move on without them? Even when you consider the factors of potential injury-risk and the protests against racial injustices springing up across the United States, the coronavirus is still the number one risk for the NBA’s return.
A lot can change from now until July 30.