One month after the initial positive test from Jazz center Rudy Gobert that sent the season into suspension, the NBA is still grappling with issues for which it can have no answers, not as long as the novel coronavirus pandemic that has gripped the world continues its spread.
If it were a normal NBA Saturday, there would be a full schedule of games, highlighted by an Eastern Conference battle that surely would have had some bearing on playoff seeding—Boston at Miami. Already, more than 200 games have been wiped from the slate, with 44 that were to be played between now and Wednesday, the scheduled close of the season.
Nothing’s quite normal, however, and there’s no telling when things might be “normal” again—or what normal might even look like. But around the league, here’s where things stand:
Start of Season: July 1, Best-Case
ESPN’s Bobby Marks, a former front-office executive with the Nets, suggested in a tweet that the “best-case” scenario for an NBA return is early July. That is still two-and-a-half months away so it sounds reasonable. But the league would need ample lead time to secure a plan to finish the season and/or start the playoffs, and, according to the Celtics’ Gordon Hayward, players would need two or three weeks to get their conditioning up. For early July to work, the NBA would have to get the all-clear to restart around the end of May.
It’s hard to see that happening. Also hard to imagine: Any credible playoff schedule that starts after August 1. As one general manager told Heavy.com, “They’re not coming out and saying anything but I would say that would have to be the end date. So they’d have to know they can restart in mid-June or so for it to work.”
China Model: So Far, Not So Good
There was some hope that the Chinese Basketball League would restart its season in the coming weeks, as it had planned to do, and that the NBA could learn from its experience in conducting a squeezed tournament, playing without fans and keeping players safe. China had additional hurdles in getting its season back, having to call its best players back from the United States and elsewhere to make them sit in a two-week quarantine.
But the NBA may get no such guidance from China. The CBA, desperate to recoup the season’s losses, has backed off plans to restart the league and it appears that China’s government, fearing a second wave of COVID-19 in the country, might quash any attempts to do so.
NBA Playoffs in a Bubble: Cruise Ship Problem?
The only way to play out the NBA season would be to quarantine players in a hotel that could be continually sanitized and free from outside contagion. That’s nearly impossible. As one epidemiologist told Tom Haberstroh of NBC Sports, “I’m not sure the bubble scenario is wise. The chances of pulling that off for the entire NBA seems highly unlikely. All you need is one unintended case of COVID-19 and the whole thing goes bad, like a cruise ship.”
That’s got to send some shivers through the spines of folks in the league office. The NBA does not want its playoffs turning into a coronavirus cruise ship.
NBA Draft: Delay, Delay, Delay
There obviously will be an NBA Draft and it can be a socially distanced event. Problem is, teams like to spend time with a player before investing a draft pick in him, watch him in the workout they designed, interview him, check his body language—all the normal tests and checks. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that teams are imploring the league to push the draft back to August 1, at least.
Agents are doing the same. “We usually have time, a couple of months, to get players in shape, change their diets, work out at our facilities, with our trainers, tailor what they do to what the teams want to see,” one prominent agent told Heavy.com. “We’re not getting that here and I think everyone understands that. But we’d like some time to help these guys put their best foot forward in the process.”
Ticket Sales: The ‘Gut-Punch’ Poll
A poll done by Seton Hall delivered what one league executive called a “f—ing gut-punch” to pro sports across the country. The poll reported that 72 percent of Americans, “would not attend games, with 12 percent saying they would if social distancing could be maintained. Only 13 percent said they would feel safe attending as in the past.”
A COVID-19 vaccine could change that, but that could be a year away. In the meantime, even if this season is canceled, next season will certainly be thrown off. It’s a long way back to normal.