NBA suspends season: What happens next for the league?

NBA suspends season
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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.

Doncic’s 30, Mavericks’ 17-0 run lift them past Knicks at MSG

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NEW YORK (AP) — Luka Doncic had a game-high 30 points, Tim Hardaway Jr. chipped in 28 points against his former team, and the Dallas Mavericks beat the New York Knicks 121-100 on Saturday.

Spencer Dinwiddie scored 17 points for Dallas, which outscored New York 69-41 in the second half for just its second win seven games.

“I think it’s great that everyone’s in the locker room smiling,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said. “Everybody saw the ball go in, we shared the ball, we played the right way. … We’re a team that lives or dies by the 3, and today we made them.”

Forward Julius Randle led the Knicks with 24 points, and Immanuel Quickly chipped in 23. Leading scorer Jalen Brunson had 13 points playing against Dallas for the first time since he signed with the Knicks on July 12, but New York fell for the sixth time in its past eight games.

“To be honest, not fun,” Brunson said when asked what it was like playing against his former team. “They played great tonight. You got to give them credit. No matter who is on the floor, my approach stays the same. But to see them after the game and shake their hands, that was pretty cool.”

Hardaway exacted revenge against his former team, with whom he played 254 games over parts of four seasons. Hardaway had 17 points in the third quarter, including five 3-pointers, during a 27-6 run. He credited familiarity in New York – and Dallas’ previous game in Detroit – as keys to his third straight 20-plus point game.

“This road trip, when you have family and friends in both cities, it lightens you and brings some positive vibes and some positive energy,” Hardaway said. “To come here, to Detroit and to New York, both places where I used to play college and professionally, was a great atmosphere. I was comfortable, and my teammates (were) keeping me positive.”

Doncic, the NBA’s leading scorer, had just 11 points on 3 of 11 shooting in the first half. But he took over in the third, scoring 19 points on 8 of 10 shooting. Dallas outscored New York 41-15 in the third quarter, turning a tight game into a rout.

“The first half I wasn’t really participating,” Doncic said. “It was a challenge to come out of the locker room with more energy.”

The Knicks shot 55% in the first half, including 63% from the field in the first quarter. Randle had 14 of his 21 first-half points in the first quarter, including seven on a 9-0 run that gave New York an early 14-5 advantage.

The Knicks led by as many as 15 in the second quarter, but Dallas turned up the defensive intensity and cut New York’s lead to seven, 59-52, at halftime.

“The start of the game, I thought we were pretty good,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We built the 15-point lead, then we sort of lost traction mid-second quarter.”

Ja Morant fined $35,000 for using ‘ inappropriate language’ toward referee

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A frustrated Dillon Brooks and Ja Morant must have used some special language near the end of the Grizzlies’ loss to the Timberwolves, because both were ejected within a matter of minutes near the end of the game Wednesday night.

The league fined Morant $35,000 for “confronting and directing inappropriate language toward a game official and failing to leave the court in a timely manner following his ejection.”

Morant was not demonstrative at the time and was clearly surprised by the ejection. Before leaving the court he dapped up Anthony Edwards (who was shooting free throws) and a couple of other players before heading back to the locker room. Afterward Morant took to social media.

If the official said that to Morant, he should also be punished. The league can’t come down on players for not showing the referees respect if it’s not a two-way street.

It was an ugly loss for the Grizzlies, who fell to a Timberwolves team without Karl-Anthony Towns.

Teams reportedly watching to see if Bulls make stars available; Lakers had internal discussions on it

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It was a talking point going into the season: What teams we thought would be good will struggle, and then pivot to chase Victor Wembanyama in the lottery.

What about the 9-13 Chicago Bulls? They barely look like a playoff team, they miss Lonzo Ball, and even at their best where do they fall in the East? Would they blow it up? With DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vucevic and Zach LaVine, they have players that would interest other teams and could bring quality picks (or young players) back to Chicago. Other teams are watching, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

One of those teams: The Los Angeles Lakers.

That is according to ESPN’s Zach Lowe on the Lowe Post Podcast. He was discussing a potential trade floated by The Ringer’s Bill Simmons where the Lakers send Russell Westbrook and two future first-round picks (2027 and 2029) to the Bulls for DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic.

“The trade I saw on Twitter was Russ and both picks, one with light protections I think for DeRozan and Vucevic. I can tell you 100% for sure that the Lakers have had internal discussions about that very possibility, if it would ever come up. Not that they would do that. Let me be clear.”

None of this matters if the Bulls don’t decide to pivot, and they are not there yet. They may never get to that point. But the Lakers and other teams are surveying what teams might make game-changers available at the deadline, and the way the Bulls are stumbling has other teams keeping an eye on them. Expect the rumors to keep coming.

But for now, that’s all they are, rumors and speculation.

On the bright side for Bucks, Khris Middleton looks good in return

Los Angeles Lakers v Milwaukee Bucks
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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Milwaukee Bucks forward Khris Middleton initially said that making his 2022-23 debut in his return from offseason wrist surgery felt great.

Then he quickly corrected himself.

“I should actually say good,” Middleton said Friday night after the Bucks’ 133-129 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. “If we got the win, I think I would have been (feeling) great. It felt really good to be back out there with the guys competing and playing,”

Middleton, 31, had 17 points and seven assists while playing 26 1/2 minutes in his first game since spraining the medial collateral ligament in his left knee April 20 in Game 2 of the Bucks’ first-round playoff series with the Chicago Bulls. That injury caused him to miss the entirety of the Bucks’ Eastern Conference semifinal with the Boston Celtics, a series Milwaukee lost in seven games.

The 6-foot-7 forward then had surgery on his left wrist in the summer, having played through the injury late last season.

“Pretty impressive how kind of seamlessly he got back into the game on both ends of the court,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said.

Middleton said Friday at a post-shootaround availability that he might need some time to readjust, but the three-time All-Star didn’t show any signs of rust in his first game back. He shot 6 of 11 and went 3 of 4 from 3-point range.

“Just relying on my experience,” Middleton said. “Just (trying) not to rush and let the game come to me. Don’t try to do too much the first game back and try to fit in and play off my teammates.”

The most important thing is that Middleton felt just fine physically.

“Hopefully tomorrow when I wake up, I feel the same also and I won’t feel too sore or whatever,” he said.

The Bucks had gone 15-5 in Middleton’s absence. Milwaukee is second in the Eastern Conference, behind only the Boston Celtics.

Middleton’s teammates believe his return should make them even better.

“It takes us to a whole different level,” Bucks forward and two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “We scored 129 points and we had a bad first half. That says a lot.”

Lakers coach Darvin Ham knows how much Middleton means to the Bucks’ title hopes. Ham was an assistant coach on Budenholzer’s Bucks staff from 2018-22, including their 2021 championship season.

“Giannis is the heart and soul and the engine, and Khris is like the steering wheel,” Ham said before Friday’s game. “He’s the GPS in terms of understanding what to do. Giannis is the focal point but Khris is the master of putting guys where they need to be. He’s like that quarterback.”

The Bucks aren’t going to overexert Middleton as he returns to the floor for the first time in about 7 1/2 months. Budenholzer said Middleton probably won’t play Saturday at Charlotte.

“We’ll talk about it on the plane, but my guess is he will not play a back-to-back,” Budenholzer said.

Middleton’s just happy he’s back on the floor at all.

“Just a range of emotions,” Middleton said. “(I’ve) been through a lot these last couple months. Happy, sad, anxious, nervous. To finally get out there and play and get a lot of those nerves past me felt pretty good.