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.

Timberwolves head into offseason in need of healing, with big decisions looming

Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Another season of setback and tumult has mercifully ended for the Minnesota Timberwolves, this time in the strangest of ways after the NBA’s decision to resume virus-halted play with 22 teams.

The revelation of the makeshift plan immediately put the Timberwolves, who finished 19-45 for the third-worst record in the league, in offseason mode after nearly three months in limbo while the world wrestled with the COVID-19 pandemic and all NBA arenas went dark.

There was no arguing from Minnesota, where the 18 games remaining on the original schedule before the shutdown would have had little benefit as long as star center Karl-Anthony Towns was sidelined with a wrist injury.

“While we are disappointed for our team and our fans that our season is coming to an end, we understand and accept the league’s plan to move forward with 22 teams. It is important that we be a good teammate not only to the NBA, but to the other 29 teams to support the efforts to complete this season and prepare for next season in a healthy and safe manner,” president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas said on Thursday after the league’s announcement.

Whether due to injuries or trades, the repeated disruptions during the season made the assessment of 34-year-old head coach Ryan Saunders difficult. First-timers aren’t typically hired without at least some commitment from the franchise to patience, but the Wolves are 36-70 under Saunders since he replaced the fired Tom Thibodeau halfway through the 2018-19 season. No NBA jobs are ever guaranteed.

Rosas, in his season-ending statement distributed by the team, appeared to apply some pressure on what will be for the Timberwolves a critical summer – and fall, since the draft has been pushed back to Oct. 15. Rosas promised an “intensive and thorough” program to help make up for the time lost to the shutdown. He also said Saunders and the rest of the staff would be “creative, aggressive and proactive” in approaching team building and player development in the meantime.

Here are some other key angles to follow as the offseason unfolds:

HEALING FIRST: Before the Timberwolves embark on the free agency and trading period, and enter the draft with two first-round selections, they could use some time simply for healing.

The city of Minneapolis became the epicenter for a nationwide wave of protest, anger and destruction after the death on May 25 of George Floyd, the black man who was handcuffed and pinned to the street by a white police officer who pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck until and after he stopped breathing. Since then, Saunders and guard Josh Okogie have been particularly outspoken on the issue of racial justice, and they joined on Friday a group spearheaded by Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph to distribute essential goods to community members in need in front of a grocery store that was vandalized, looted and burned last week during the worst of the violence.

All this came after the organization was mourning the loss Jacqueline Cruz-Towns, the mother of Towns who died of complications from COVID-19 on April 13.

WHEELING AND DEALING: Rosas proved in his first year on the job that he could swiftly and thoroughly change the roster, making four trades in the span of less than a month that fetched nine new players and dealt nine others elsewhere, not to mention the draft picks that swapped hands. That was more than half of the roster. The linchpin of the early February activity was D'Angelo Russell, who was acquired in a deal with Golden State that sent former cornerstone Andrew Wiggins packing.

BETTER WITH BEASLEY?: The pairing of Towns and Russell gave Rosas the potential star duo he sought. Shooting guard Malik Beasley was another key acquisition during the flurry of activity, should the Timberwolves decide to keep him. The 23-year-old averaged 20.7 points in 14 games.

“We’re big fans of Malik. We tried hard. We paid a very, very strong premium to get him here in Minnesota, but we’re excited,” Rosas said.

WHAT’S NEXT: There are six players on the roster whose contracts are set to expire, with Beasley, power forward Juancho Hernangomez and power forward James Johnson the most notable.

Johnson, who at 33 is the oldest on the team, had a productive 14-game stretch after arriving from Miami during the trading spree. He has a player option he can exercise for about $16 million next season. Hernangomez, who is only 24, will be an unrestricted free agent. The 6-foot-9, 220-pound native of Spain averaged 12.9 points in 14 games with the Wolves, after coming with Beasley in the deal with Denver.

Jonathan Isaac, Al-Farouq Aminu not expected to be back for Magic when games restart

Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Jonathan Isaac was having a breakout season for Orlando. He had become a go-to defensive stopper for the Magic, a long, athletic, switchable defender averaging 2.4 blocks and 1.6 steals a game. He was going to get All-Defensive team votes this season and looked like a future Defensive Player of the Year candidate. (On offense he’s averaged 12 points and 6.9 rebounds a game, both career bests, but he is still a project.)

He hyperextended his knee and suffered a bone bruise in January, but it looks like neither he nor veteran Al-Farouq Aminu (torn meniscus) will be on the court for the Magic when games restart in July, reports Roy Parry of the Orlando Sentinel.

Injured forwards Jonathan Isaac (knee) and Al-Farouq Aminu (knee) most likely will not be healthy enough to return…

“Not a whole lot of news there,” [Magic president of basketball operations Jeff] Weltman said when asked about the possibility of Isaac or Aminu returning. “As always, we’re going to wait and see how they respond to rehab. They’re both working very hard.

“There’s a difference of being healthy and then being safely healthy. It will have been a long, long time since those guys played and you know organizationally that we’re never going to put our guys in a position where they’re exposed to any sort of risk of injury. So that being said, we’ll just continue to see how they progress.”

Put plainly, the risk is not worth the reward. Isaac is a key part of what the Magic want to build in the future and they do not want to push him too hard to return for this handful of games.

Come July, the Magic will head down the street to the Walt Disney World resort complex in Orlando as the eighth seed in the East with a 5.5 game lead over the ninth-seeded Wizards (who will not have John Wall back). If Washington can close that gap to four games or fewer during the eight “seeding games,” then there will be a two-game play-in series between the teams, with the Magic just needing to win one of the two to advance (assuming they are still the eight seed).

After that, it’s on to the first round of the playoffs and the Milwaukee Bucks.

Isaac’s defense would be helpful against Bradley Beal and/or Giannis Antetokounmpo, but the Magic are thinking bigger picture.

Winning percentage will determine final seedings in NBA restart; regular tiebreakers used

Leave a comment

Heading into the NBA’s restart in Orlando, the Trail Blazers are the nine seed in the West, followed by the Pelicans and Kings. All three of those teams are 3.5 games back of Memphis for the eighth seed, however, Portland gets the nine seed because it played two more games than either New Orleans and Sacramento, went 1-1 in those two games, and that gives Portland a slightly better winning percentage (.439 to .438).

That winning percentage matters because it’s how the league will determine seeding in a situation where teams have played a different number of games, reports Tim Bontemps of ESPN.

In practical terms, this may not matter much.

In the West, if Portland and New Orleans both went 8-0 in the seeding games then winning percentage would play a role with the Blazers getting the higher seed. However, that scenario is highly unlikely. More likely is wins and losses in Orlando will decide this and other tiebreakers (New Orleans beat Sacramento in their one head-to-head meeting, but our projected schedule for those teams has them playing twice, so the head-to-head tiebreaker is still up in the air). Because of how the records shake out, tiebreakers are irrelevant to Portland — it will not tie any teams, winning percentage will decide their seed.

In the East, winning percentage is irrelevant for the playoff chase — either Washington gets within four games of Orlando hand forces play-in games for the final playoff spot, or it doesn’t and Orlando is in.

Eight teams not headed to Orlando considering mini-camps, summer games to help players

Todd Kirkland/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Nine months is a long time to go without playing a basketball game.

That’s what the eight teams not going to the NBA season restart in Orlando — Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Golden State, Minnesota, and New York — face. And for all of those teams except the Warriors, developing young players to be the future core of the franchise is their goal, and no games from March to December will set that effort back.

Which is why the teams are talking about “mini-camps” — think college spring football — with two teams at least playing each other during those camps, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Among the front-office ideas presented to the NBA, sources said:

• A combination of voluntary and mandatory workouts for two weeks in July.
• Regional minicamps in August that include joint practices for a period of days and approximately three televised games.

Those teams also want other “voluntary” team workouts and to start their training camps for next season earlier than the teams headed to Orlando.

The NBA isn’t going to grant teams everything on their wish list, but there should be some allowance for organized mini-camps and scrimmages/exhibitions. This would be particularly important to New York (and maybe Chicago), where a new coach will be installing a new system and trying to start a new culture.

Those eight teams missed out on 17 or so “meaningless” games with their season put on hold, games that would have meant something in terms of developing young players and giving guys key minutes. The league should — and almost certainly will — take steps to allow those off-season camps and scrimmages, helping teams get their player development programs back on track.