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Will the NBA allow enough time with the restart of games to avoid injuries?

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It finally happens — the NBA returns. The coronavirus forced stoppage ends and the NBA races into action. As quickly as they can teams gather in a “bubble” in Las Vegas, players are on the court in games televised across the nation and streamed around the world. The NBA’s elite are back and thrown into a condensed playoff format…

Then in the first game a superstar player goes down with a torn ACL.

Just a few games later, another is sidelined with a strained quad. Another player suffers a torn meniscus. The injuries quickly start piling up.

It’s the scenario that is keeping NBA athletic trainers and staffs up at night.

“We call it spiking the workloads, you never want to go from zero to 100, that’s when you see a lot of injuries,” one team’s strength and training coach told NBC Sports, speaking on the condition of anonymity [his team did not want this discussed]. “You’re going to need a slow ramp-up. How slow it is going to be somewhat limited, with everyone wanting to get things going.”

As the NBA and its fans dream of returning to play, the league must find a balance. When the NBA restart happens, there will be a rush to move fast and get games going, but move too fast and it could lead to injuries. Guys need time to get back into game shape.

Any athlete at any level will tell you: working out in a gym is not game shape. For the NBA, the consequences of moving too fast could devastate some players and teams.

How long a runway into games will teams need before they can play?

“I think it’s going to take time… Realistically three weeks, four weeks would be ideal, but I don’t think that’s going to happen,” one strength trainer said.

Other training staff polled seem to expect two-three weeks, with games of some form — maybe some regular season games, perhaps just exhibitions — as part of that. The league itself is not discussing publicly the return — there are too many variables in play to make predictions — but sources said a training camp is factored into the equation.

Just having the games is critical.

“Conditioning is a primary reason for pre-season exhibition games… live game speed simulation remains ideal,” said Javair Gillett, Director of Athletic Performance for the Houston Rockets.

Knowing they could return to work at any time, NBA players are trying to work out at home — and team strength and conditioning staffs are using new technology to help out with that. Everyone understands that whenever the suspension is lifted, things are going to move fast.

That short window has players from playoff-bound teams seeming a little more focused than those who are near the start of their off-season (and may not play again this season).

“As we’ve been preaching and saying around our team, amongst coach, we want to win the wait,” the Clippers’ Paul George said on the team’s Instagram feed. “When this thing gets back going, we want to be the team that’s in the best shape and ready to go.”

“Guys know that they won’t be able to use games to play themselves into shape,” Gillett said of the Rockets. “So if we continue the season, the hope and expectation is that we see guys returning with a higher level of fitness than the state they typically return in at the onset of a full season…

“We know where we’re at in the season, what’s on the line, what’s at stake, with that in mind our players are very motivated because there’s still that end goal in sight, to win a championship.”

Technology helps training staffs push their players in ways they couldn’t have years ago.

Gillet and the Rockets are among the franchises using Teambuildr, an app and website site where staff can plan, track, and demonstrate through videos how to do remote workouts. It allows the staffs to design and modify workouts for each player individually. In the NBA alone Oklahoma City, Charlotte, Minnesota, and Detroit use the site, as do teams in the NFL, NHL, and MLB.

“Technology has grown by leaps and bounds over the years, we’ve gotten to the point teams can present their programs online or through apps,” Gillett said, adding it makes it easier for players to follow along and stick with a program.

Other teams have gone different directions.

“The players had bikes and weights delivered to their homes,” Brad Stevens said of the Celtics. “We’ve had some voluntary strength and conditioning sessions.”

The Warriors’ players have been doing group Peleton classes.

One challenge is simply nobody knows what the timeline of a return will be.

“Like the rest of the country, they don’t know when they are going to go back to work,” Gillett said.

Another challenge has been the limited equipment some players have available to work out with in their home. Highly-paid players and ones that live in bigger homes in the market (often veterans with families) may have impressive workout facilities in their houses. Even among those players, having half-a-court to practice shooting is rare. Stephen Curry didn’t have one.

It’s even harder for younger players and guys living in apartments, they had very limited tools.

“Their homes aren’t equipped with a lot, so we tried to communicate with them on an individual basis and address individual needs as best we can,” Gillett said of the Rockets’ approach. “In the offseason we send guys home with a care package, a duffel bag of items we feel is necessary, that we know is going to be part of their program. I think in this case it’s no different, we’re trying to provide some things we know they may not have at their home.”

Even for the teams taking their suspension workouts seriously, nobody is going to be in game shape.

“It is very difficult to maintain basketball, NBA level conditioning, without playing games… the volume, the intensity, the stress levels all come into play and it’s very difficult to replicate,” the Rockets’ Gillett said. “Which is why we’re stressing [to players] you have to maintain a certain level of fitness so that when you are to return it’s not going to take a long time to get you back into basketball shape.”

There will need to be games when the league returns, which is one reason for the discussion of playing some regular season games upon the league’s return. Even if the long hiatus forces the NBA to jump almost directly to the playoffs, there will need to be some exhibition games to get guys ready.

“I feel no matter what guys are doing, unless they have a court in their house, or access to a court, they’re just not going to be ready physically to handle the stress that a player goes through during the game,” one trainer told NBC Sports. “Then you add to that it could be right into the playoffs, and that’s an added stress.”

And that added stress could lead to injuries the NBA desperately wants to avoid.

Watch Tom Brady tell Charles Barkley to “take a suck of that” after he holes fairway shot

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It was the highlight of an entertaining — if not always pretty — afternoon of live golf, raising money for charity.

Tampa Bay Bay Buccanneers quarterback Tom Brady (it’s so weird to type that) was on his fourth shot on the par-5 7th hole at the Medalist Golf Club. Brady had a rough front nine to that point, and commentator Charles Barkley decided to up the trash talk (as if Barkley should talk about someone else’s golf game).

“How many shots do you want? Come on, I’m going to give you some shots man, I want some of you,” Barkley said.

“Don’t worry, it ain’t over yet,” Brady countered as he walked up to his fourth shot, 130 yards from the pin. “I think you just made him mad, Chuck,” host Brian Anderson said. “No, he can take a joke,” Barkley replied. Then this happened.

Brady earned that trash talk.

It wasn’t the only great exchange between the two; they had some fun on an earlier on a par 3 when Barkley bet Brady couldn’t get it on the green.

Increasing buzz teams well out of playoffs will not come to Orlando for games

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The Golden State Warriors have been public about it, they expect their season to be over. Golden State is far from alone, multiple teams well out of the playoff picture have questioned the expense and risk-to-reward ratio of coming back to play a handful of regular season games without fans in Orlando.

More and more, the buzz has been the NBA league office sees things the same way. I am not the only reporter hearing this: Steve Popper of Newsday wrote a column saying there was no reason to invite all 30 teams to the bubble city and the USA Today’s well-connected Jeff Zillgett added this:

This is where we throw in the caveat: There are no hard-and-fast plans from the NBA yet and every option is still being considered. One lesson Adam Silver took from David Stern was not to make a decision until you have to, and Silver is going to absorb more information in the coming weeks — such as from the recent GM survey — before making his call.

That said, the league seems to be coalescing around a general plan, which includes camps starting in mid-June and games in mid-July in Orlando.

For the bottom three to five teams in each conference, there is little motivation to head to Orlando for the bubble. It’s an expense to the owner with no gate revenue coming in, teams want to protect their NBA Draft Lottery status, and the Warriors don’t want to risk injury to Stephen Curry — or the Timberwolves to Karl-Anthony Towns, or the Hawks to Trae Young — for a handful of meaningless games.

The league is considering a play-in tournament for the final seed or seeds in each conference (there are a few format options on the table, it was part of the GM survey). That would bring the top 10 or 12 seeds from each conference to the bubble, depending upon the format, and they would play a handful of games to determine which teams are in the playoffs (and face the top seeds).

Either way, that would leave the three or five teams with the worst records in each conference home. Which is the smart thing to do, there’s no reason to add risk to the bubble for a handful of meaningless games.

Eight-year NBA veteran Jon Leuer announces retirement

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Jon Leuer is only age 31, but the big man has battled ankle and other injuries in recent seasons, playing in only 49 games over the past three seasons. Last July, the Pistons traded him to the Bucks in a salary dump, and Milwaukee quickly waived him. Leuer struggled to get healthy and did not catch on with another team.

Sunday he took to Instagram to announce his retirement.

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I love the game of basketball. I still want to play, but I know deep down it’s not the right decision for my health anymore. The past 3 years I’ve dealt with a number of injuries, including 2 that kept me out this whole season. It’s taken me a while to come to grips with this, but I’m truly at peace with my decision to officially retire. As disappointing as these injuries have been, I’m still thankful for every moment I spent playing the game. Basketball has been the most amazing journey of my life. It’s taken me places I only could’ve dreamed about as a kid. The relationships it brought me mean more than anything. I’ve been able to connect with people from all walks of life and forged lifelong bonds with many of them. What this game has brought me stretches way beyond basketball. I’m grateful for this incredible ride and everyone who helped me along the way. 🙏🏼🙌🏼✌🏼

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Leuer — a second-round pick out of Wisconsin for the Bucks in 2011 — averaged 10.2 points and 5.4 rebounds a game for the Pistons in the 2016-17 season, and for the years at the peak of his career he was a quality rotational big man teams could trust, either off the bench or as a spot starter.

Over the course of his career he played for the Bucks, Cavaliers, Grizzlies, Suns, and Pistons. He earned more than $37 million in salary, most of it from a three-year contract the Pistons gave him in 2016. It was not long after his body started to betray him.

Leuer has been riding out the quarantine in Minnesota is wife Keegan (NFL coach Brian Billick’s daughter) and the couple is donating thousands of meals a week to the needy in that community.

 

New York Governor clears path for Knicks, Nets to open facilities for workouts

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As of today, 19 NBA teams have their practice facilities open for players to come in for individual workouts, but 11 have yet to open the doors. Some it’s the decision of the team, some it’s that the municipality or state had not allowed it.

The Knicks and Nets — in the heart of New York, the part of the nation hardest hit by COVID-19 — are two of those teams whose facilities are closed. However, on Sunday New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said they could open the door for practice.

“I believe that sports that can come back without having people in the stadium, without having people in the arena — do it! Do it!” Cuomo said at his press conference. “Work out the economics, if you can. We want you up. We want people to be able to watch sports. To the extent people are still staying home, it gives people something to do. It’s a return to normalcy. So we are working and encouraging all sports teams to start their training camps as soon as possible. And we’ll work with them to make sure that can happen.”

While the teams have not formally announced anything yet, it is likely at least the Nets will open soon for the players still in market to workout (the majority of players from the New York teams went home to other parts of the country). The Knicks, well out of the playoff picture, may be much slower to open their facilities back up.

When they happen, the workouts come with considerable restrictions: one player and one coach at each basket, the coach is wearing gloves and masks, the balls and gym equipment are sanitized, and much more.

One part of a potential plan for the NBA to return to play called for a couple of weeks of a training camp at the team facilities, followed by 14 days of a quarantined training camp in Orlando at the bubble site. Multiple teams reached out to the league about doing their entire training camp in Orlando to avoid having players quarantine twice (once when the player reports back to market, once when the team goes to the bubble city).