NBA suspends season
Michael Reaves/Getty Images

NBA suspends season: What happens next for the league?

Leave a comment

Welcome to the most uncharted of territories. The NBA suspended play after Utah Jazz All-Star center Rudy Gobert preliminarily tested positive for COVID-19, the league announced on Wednesday night. The suspension is indefinite.

This was absolutely the right move by the league. It also leaves a lot of questions going forward.

“The NBA is suspending game play following the conclusion of tonight’s schedule of games until further notice, the league said in its statement. “The NBA will use this hiatus to determine next steps for moving forward in regard to the coronavirus pandemic.”

What are those next steps? What happens now?

Nobody knows for sure, this is unprecedented. Just a few hours before the test came back, league officials were thinking they could move forward playing games in empty arenas without fans, now that is off the table, too. Here’s what we have learned so far after reaching out to people around the league.

Rudy Gobert’s health, and the health of his teammates and recent opponents, will be monitored closely.

The Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder were minutes away from tip-off when a health official ran on to the Chesapeake Arena court to inform the officials of the news. Gobert, who was sick — and had ironically joked about the coronavirus as he touched reporters mics/recorders — was not in the building at the time, however, he was traveling with the team and in the city. Gobert, obviously, has been around his teammates and they are being tested, according to reports out of Utah. The Jazz team is not traveling yet and will be quarantined in Oklahoma City.

It’s unknown at this time where or when Gobert contracted this virus, but he has played against Toronto, Detroit, and Boston in the past week alone. Players from those teams and others the Jazz recently faced (Cleveland and New York) are being told to self-quarantine for now, and they may be tested at some point. (The lack of availability of testing for COVID-19 has been an issue with the spread of the disease in the United States from the start.)

Gobert, as well as any other NBA players who may have caught it from him, very likely will be fine. Fellow French national team member Evan Fournier reached out to Gobert.

The vast majority of cases, an estimated 80 percent of COVID-19 cases, are mild, and younger people in good health tend not to be hit hard by the disease. The concern is Gobert passing the virus along — either directly or second-hand through a fan or player he came in contact with — to someone older than 60 and/or with respiratory issues, the people most impacted by the disease.

Have any other players tested positive?

Not that we know of. However, literally all 30 teams can be connected to the Jazz in the last five days. This is why the NBA was not taking any chances — and it is the very definition of “community spread” mentioned in the news.

Has the NBA G-League also suspended play?

As of Wednesday night the NBA’s developmental minor league — which has players bouncing between it and the NBA — suspended play.

Are teams dispersing or will they stay together and continue to practice

Teams have been told they can continue to practice, Mark Cuban told ESPN. Teams will certainly ask players to stay in their home cities and not travel, allowing them to reduce the risk of exposure to the virus. However, a couple of players I reached out to were essentially waiting on their teams to give them direction, and understandably the teams are figuring all this out on the fly and didn’t have plans in place.

Will the players continue to get paid during this suspension?

Yes. There is a provision in the CBA that calls for players to continue to get paid when games are not being played due to a “Force Majeure Event” that makes it impossible for the NBA to continue playing. The rule specifically sites epidemics as a situation where the players still get paid.

When might the NBA resume games?

Nobody knows. A player testing positive is the worst-case scenario for the league, and one source I spoke to suggested this could shut the league down for up to a month.

The Toronto Raptors have reportedly told their players to self-quarantine for 14 days. That seems like the shortest time frame for games to resume at this point, however it will likely be longer.

The question on a return to play goes beyond just when the players might get healthy and gets into the spread of the disease in the urban centers where NBA teams play games. When will it be safe to have large gatherings of more than 1,000 people again? Experts say the goal of all the preventative measures taking place — from the cancellation of NBA games and the closing of college campuses to the push to get people to wash their hands — is about “flattening out the curve” of how many people get the disease and when. If that curve spikes quickly, it can overwhelm a nation’s health system’s ability to respond (as we have seen in Italy).

However, that flatter curve extends longer, which would mean more time before the NBA could resume games.

Will the NBA play out the remainder of the NBA season, shorten it, or jump straight to the playoffs when play resumes?

Again, nobody knows for sure. The NBA has asked teams for a little time for them to formulate a new plan, this caught everyone off guard.

However, it is highly unlikely the NBA would be able to fit in the full regular season of 82 games. It is exceedingly difficult to schedule NBA games — all of those arenas host other events such as concerts or NHL games — as well, then throw in travel and the rest and it is a complex puzzle.

More likely we will see a shortened NBA season (Adrian Wojnarowski said on ESPN this is what league sources are telling him). It may be a couple of weeks before players are cleared, but then would the league be willing to come back and play in empty buildings — something a majority of owners favored earlier in the day on Wednesday, before the positive test broke — or will they wait until fans can fill the arenas again?  Could there be fan-free empty buildings for the playoffs? Do the owners want to just get games on television again?

Would owners be willing to pull the plug on the season? That seems extreme but is not off the table at this point. Nothing is. A lot of experts predict that the number of cases will continue to rise and things will get worse before they get better on a national level. That will color the NBA’s decisions.

One idea being floated is for the league to freeze the standings and start the playoffs when they would normally begin, on April 18. This is a possibility, but if the league can play games — and teams have to refund less season ticket money — they will want that option. Expect a shortened season followed by the playoffs.

Will the loss of games impact league revenue and, by extension, next season’s salary cap?

Absolutely. How much remains to be seen, but the Warriors generate an estimated $3.6 million in revenue for every home game and they will likely be down for a few. The numbers are smaller at other venues, but it will add up fast. The league and teams also will have to negotiate with national and local broadcasters on how to make up and compensate for missed games, and this also could hit the bottom line.

How much of an impact this will have on the league and the salary cap is impossible to say. However, it is a double whammy of losing money because of the league’s spat with China — Adam Silver said that cost the league hundreds of millions of dollars (hinting eventually it was about $400 million).

The impact of this suspension goes beyond the teams and the players

This is going to hit people in the pocketbook who can least afford it: Ushers, ticket takers, concessionaires, and janitorial staff at the arenas will not get paid for games they would have worked. Bartenders and servers at bars and restaurants around arenas are not going to get the rush of customers that come with game nights. Those lists go on and on. There are a lot of people whose livelihoods hinge around the NBA who will be impacted by this delay, necessary though it is.

Rumor: Indiana coach Nate McMillan is on hot seat

Indiana coach hot seat
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Last season, Indiana’s Nate McMillan finished fourth in Coach of the Year voting, taking a team that lost star Victor Oladipo after just 36 games and still got them into the playoffs. McMillan is going to get COY votes again this year for much the same reason — his teams play good defense and overachieve.

Indiana coach Nate McMillan is also on the hot seat.

It’s surprising, and it’s just a rumor, but ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy and Zach Lowe had this conversation on a recent episode of The Lowe Post podcast (hat tip PacersTalk.net).

Van Gundy: “I had two people come up to me since I’ve been here [in the NBA restart bubble] and say, ‘Nate McMillan’s in trouble.’”

Lowe: “It’s been the hottest rumor all season… What you’ve heard in Orlando’s been going around all season…

“Let me be clear: It’s just a rumor. I don’t know if it’s true. When you talk to people around the Pacers, they say, ‘It’s not true’ or ‘Where you’d hear that from?’”

Maybe management wants a more modern offense, the Pacers are bottom eight in both three pointers attempted and pace. Overall, Indiana’s offense is middle of the pack (18th in the league), which is not bad considering it was without Oladipo for most of the season (and he was playing his way into shape when he returned and was not at an All-NBA level).

It’s hard to imagine that the Pacers would make a change this offseason, which will be short and give a new coach less time to ramp up a program. Plus, does owner Herb Simon want to pay two coaches? The finances of the league are helping other coaches keep their jobs.

More than all that, McMillan doesn’t deserve to be fired.

Not that “deserved” has had much to do with NBA coaches keeping their jobs in the past.

 

Report: NBA players bypassing ‘snitch’ hotline to call Adam Silver directly

NBA commissioner Adam Silver
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Leave a comment

No NBA players have been diagnosed with coronavirus in the bubble. And they want to keep it that way. A championship and a lot of money are on the line.

That means preventing players from having close contact with anyone outside the bubble. And, in case someone contracts coronavirus, wearing masks (intact masks) to prevent a wider outbreak.

The NBA set up a hotline – quickly dubbed the “snitch” hotline – for players to report violations.

Chris Haynes of TNT:

Players have been circumventing that process. Sources informed me that multiple players are personally calling commissioner Adam Silver to issue their complaints with things they’re seeing in the bubble.

Adam Silver is accessible to players – particularly the president of the union.

I’m not sure about tattling straight to the top boss when there are other protocols in place. Are hotline calls not resulting in changed behavior?

Either way, it’s important for the NBA to keep players safe – both for their health and the league’s revenue (about half of which goes to players in salary). So, cut Chris Paul anyone calling Silver a break. They’re at least trying to help. And so far, violations inside the bubble have led to reminders, not harsher discipline.

Zion Williamson sitting out Pelicans-Wizards (rest)

Pelicans big Zion Williamson
David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Pelicans have been one of the NBA’s most disappointing teams in the bubble. New Orleans has gone 1-3 at Disney World and fallen to 13th in the Western Conference.

Still (barely) hanging in the race to make the play-in, the Pelicans must face the Wizards without Zion Williamson.

Pelicans:

The Pelicans are treating Williamson carefully – and they should. He’s their 20-year-old franchise player with major health concerns.

But New Orleans still has its highest ceiling now with Williamson on the floor. He’s an offensive force. His interior scoring and gravity create efficient looks for himself and teammates.

Williamson has been woeful defensively, and the Pelicans have bigs – Derrick Favors and Jaxson Hayes – to take Williamson’s minutes. New Orleans can go small, too.

The Pelicans should still beat Washington, even without Williamson. Ideally, this will have Williamson ready for a closing stretch against the Spurs, Kings and Magic without sacrificing today’s game.

Yet, this is really just proof New Orleans isn’t as ready to launch as it appears during Williamson’s most exciting moments. His availability remains murky. His team has run hot and cold. I wouldn’t assume a win over the Wizards – though it’s a game the Pelicans need to preserve their fading playoff hopes.

Rumor: Next NBA season could begin in March

Wizards guard Bradley Beal and 76ers center Joel Embiid
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The NBA could reportedly delay the start of next season – currently planned for Dec. 1 – if fan attendance becomes foreseeable.

How long would the league wait?

Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

one plan includes starting in March if the NBA feels they can get fans in the arena by then, as well as not lose personnel and viewership to the Summer Olympics.

I understand the temptation to delay. The coronavirus pandemic has made it more difficult for NBA teams to turn a profit.

But this plan would invite all sorts of complications:

  • What if there’s no vaccine, cure or comparable solution by March? Then, the league would have wasted months getting practically no revenue – rather than reduced revenue – without reaching a more favorable point. (However, maybe owners could also reduce costs with a lockout.)
  • Starting the season in March would radically alter the NBA’s calendar. Shifting back to an October – or even December – start date would mean even more upheaval, potentially for several years.
  • The Tokyo Olympics are scheduled for July and August 2021. The Olympics have been a powerful tool for the NBA and its players expanding their global reach.

These are unique and trying circumstances. Coronavirus is a massive and confounding variable. Everything should be on the table.

Do I predict next season will begin in March? No. But apparently the possibility is being considered, which is something.