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On one month anniversary of NBA shutdown we know little more than we did then

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It was one month ago today that Thunder trainer Donnie Strack, wearing a suit, raced up to the referees just moments before tip-off of Utah in Oklahoma City to tell them Jazz center Rudy Gobert had just tested positive for the coronavirus.

Soon after, the game was canceled. Games being played went on as scheduled, but that night the New Orleans game at Sacramento was called off because one of the referees had worked a Jazz game a couple of nights before.

That was the last day any of us saw NBA basketball live. The NBA was shut down.

One month later, we know little more than we did then.

“When we initially shut down, we were calling it a hiatus or a pause. There was no sense our country would be shut down. In some ways, I know less now than I did then…” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said less than a week ago. “I’ve told my folks that we should just accept that for the month of April, we won’t be in a position to make any decisions. That doesn’t mean on May 1st, we will be. It’s just, honestly, too early to project or predict where we will be in the next few weeks.”

That hasn’t changed.

Ten NBA players — including Gobert and Jazz teammate Donovan Mitchell, plus stars such as Kevin Durant and Marcus Smart — tested positive for the disease. Fortunately, none were seriously ill. Multiple people on team staffs, including Knicks owner James Dolan, also tested positive.

Nationally, more than 18,500 people have died from the disease — the United States has passed Italy for the nation with most deaths due to COVID-19 — and nearly 500,000 people have tested positive. While there are models and projections — which show the stay-at-home and social distancing orders are working — nobody knows for sure when the peak of the disease in the United States will be.

Nobody knows when life will return to something resembling pre-coronavirus normal.

Which leaves the NBA stuck in limbo, along with all major sports.

The health and safety of the players remains paramount, but there is no money coming into the league at the gate right now and teams are taking a financial hit (like nearly every other business nationwide). There have been team staff layoffs and salary reductions (with more to come). While that pain has yet to hit players with cuts in pay, that is coming. All of that will add pressure to Adam Silver to get the league playing again.

NBA staff — working from home, along with representatives of the players union — are trying to map out scenarios to return to play and find a way to crown a champion for this season.

The most likely way that happens is a “bubble” — bring all the players, coaches, training staffs, equipment managers, referees, plus broadcast crews and more — to one city, essentially quarantine them there creating a safe environment. Then games could be played, without fans, and televised. There might be some regular season games, although that seems like a long shot, and then a condensed playoff format.

This plan brings a lot of challenges. They have tried to do it in China and twice that basketball league had to push back its timeline.

Trainers who spoke to NBC Sports said they would like a month of a mini-training camp before games were played — needing time to ramp guys up and avoid injuries — but they don’t expect to get that. A scenario being bounced around would have two weeks of players in the bubble being able to work out individually (one player, one trainer, one half of the court) followed by two weeks of camp and some scrimmages. Then games.

That means telling NBA players they need to be isolated from their families and friends for more than a month to play these games. For teams advancing deep in even a shortened playoffs, it will be more than two months.

The NBA reportedly does not want to go deep into September with its playoffs, but working backward from that the league would need to create its “bubble” and get players in likely by about mid-June and playing in July.

For the NBA to pull this “bubble” off they need a venue — Las Vegas is the most-discussed destination — and they would need access to fast, accurate tests to detect the disease. The NBA and players union are looking at the testing availability, but finding tests that do not have a lot of false negatives has not been easy. Plus, the NBA does not want the perception it is pulling thousands of tests — and potentially the lab time to process them — away from hotspots of the disease that need them. As a nation, a lack of testing has hampered our ability to track and contain the virus; the NBA understands how that could look if tests are not widely and readily available.

There are other challenges with the bubble — keeping hotel staff, cooks, security, and everyone else around the bubble tested; players leaving the bubble to enjoy the distractions of Las Vegas or wherever — but the league is looking intently at this option.

Because it is their only option. Certainly for this season, maybe for the start of next season.

Who knows how long it will be before 18,000 people will feel safe and want to gather in an arena to watch LeBron James or Giannis Antetokounmpo or anyone else play. Who knows when the kind of travel the traditional NBA schedule requires will be taking place. Unless the NBA wants to push the return of games until next December — something that comes with its own host of challenges, including NBA and MLB teams sharing regional broadcast networks — it’s tough to say what the start of next season will look like.

Right now, it’s tough to say what anything looks like.

Because one month since the NBA suspended its season, nobody knows what comes next. Nobody knows much more than we did a month ago.

 

Report: Bulls likely to keep Jim Boylen as coach for financial reasons

Bulls coach Jim Boylen
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The Bulls appeared ready to fire Jim Boylen. After all, Chicago just hired a new team president in Arturas Karnisovas who’d want to pick his own coach. That was unlikely to be Boylen, whose tenure had been defined by players disliking him, ill-timed timeouts and losing.

Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

But as the Sun-Times learned this week, even if Karnisovas didn’t like what he would have seen from Boylen he would likely be handcuffed from making a change.

According to several sources, there is strong growing momentum that financial concerns the Reinsdorfs have about the 2020-21 NBA season will keep Boylen in his current seat, as well as most of the coaching staff.

Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf has earned a reputation for his frugality. However, the economic downturn surrounding the coronavirus pandemic has caused many teams to tighten their belts. The financial consequences will likely continue into next season.

But this puts Chicago at a disadvantage.

Boylen has looked like one of the NBA’s worst coaches. Though Bulls ownership is more optimistic than most on Boylen and he could exceed expectations, it’s telling that Chicago probably wouldn’t have kept him based on merit. This is about saving money and hoping for the best.

That’s obviously great news for Boylen. He has improved significantly since taking over last season. More time on the job could allow him to grow into it. That said, improving from a near-mutiny in his early days doesn’t exactly mean he’s in an acceptable place now. Boylen still has a long way to go, and it could be more difficult if players are tired of him.

Nets fined $25K for injury-reporting violation

Brooklyn Nets
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Earlier this season, Kyrie Irving missed several weeks with a shoulder injury. Throughout the absence, the Nets provided few details and no clear timeline. Eventually, a report said Irving could miss 2-3 additional weeks with bursitis. The Nets denied it. Later, Irving confirmed he had bursitis then returned nearly three weeks after the report.

Finally, Brooklyn caught the league’s ire.

NBA release:

The NBA today announced that the Brooklyn Nets have been fined $25,000 for failing to comply with league policies governing injury reporting.

It’s unclear what specifically caused this violation. Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, Jarrett Allen, Jamal Crawford and Rodions Kurucs have all appeared on the Nets’ injury report during the resumption. As 19-point underdog, Brooklyn pulled a historic upset of the Bucks. Remember, public injury disclosures are primarily about preserving gambling integrity.

For the NBA not to reveal even basic details while fining the Nets for their lack of transparency is ironic. It’s also ironic this fine comes amid a restart that featured the NBA being highly secretive about player heath.

The Clippers got fined $50,000 earlier this season for saying Kawhi Leonard was healthy. What did Brooklyn do that was less egregious but still worth of a fine?

LeBron James says Lakers have off-court issues, out vs. Rockets (groin)

Lakers star LeBron James
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The Lakers’ offense has stumbled so far in the bubble.

Joe Vardon of The Athletic:

LeBron gave a weird answer about this. He agreed that he and the Lakers were looking for a rhythm on offense. And then he said: “It’s just some things that you can’t control that’s here, that I really don’t want to talk about, that’s off the floor.”

Mike Trudell of the Lakers:

Was LeBron referring to his groin injury? I wouldn’t call that an off-court issue, but maybe he would.

LeBron knows how to work the media. This subtle comment will draw attention and sets up LeBron to look better if he leads the Lakers through this mysterious issue.

Without more context, it’s easy for imaginations to wander – especially about a team with Dwight Howard, Dion Waiters and J.R. Smith. The Lakers could be facing a major hurdle. Or a minor nuisance. Who knows? But the unknown is scary.

It’ll be difficult to detect the Lakers’ progress during remaining seeding games. The Lakers have already clinched the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, and without a home-court advantage in the NBA Finals, there’s no reason to chase the NBA’s best overall record. That’s why LeBron missing tonight’s game against the Rockets could be mostly precautionary.

76ers: Ben Simmons suffered subluxation of knee cap, considering treatment options

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Ben Simmons injured his knee during the 76ers’ win over the Wizards yesterday.

The diagnosis is in, and the prognosis sounds worrisome.

Serena Winters of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

How quickly will Simmons recover? Once he recovers, will he face elevated risk of re-injury?

These questions now haunt Simmons and Philadelphia.

Simmons is a young star who’ll begin a max contract extension next season. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons opened Philadelphia’s championship window, and now rain is drizzling through. Philadelphia can’t reach it ceiling without Simmons healthy and providing value.

Even more modest goals in a disjointed season will be more difficult to reach.

The 76ers were just adjusting to playing Simmons at power forward. Now, they must again re-configure their plan – maybe for a significant chunk of the remainder of the season.

Even more burden falls onto Embiid, who has been shouldering so much with this mismatched roster. Simmons plays across the positional spectrum, so any number of 76ers could fill in while he’s out. Many of those lesser players will complement Embiid more smoothly than Simmons did. But the talent deficit without Simmons can’t be offset.

That’s the scary issue for now – and maybe a while.