COVID-19 will be the ultimate wildcard in NBA season


NBA players will get tested daily — and even their families will get tested twice a week. Coaches will wear masks on the sidelines, muffling a few choice words for officials and players who miss a defensive rotation. The NBA sent out a 158-page set of health and safety guidelines to teams to try and keep the virus at bay, including saying things like players should wear a mask when not playing. The guidelines state players should not go to clubs or casinos — essentially the opposite of everything James Harden did this week.

It will still not be enough. Players — and likely franchise players, or maybe multiple players on a team — will come down with COVID-19. Just returning to training camp, 8.8% of the players tested positive, and then there were another eight players this week. Portland had to shut down its practice facilities for a deep clean after positive tests. All that before preseason games even started.

The NBA has left the bubble behind to travel and play in home arenas, and as we have seen with the NFL/MLB/college sports, players will come down with the disease.

Then what?

“We have to really focus… more on our top guys learning what we are doing, knowing that we are trying to work everybody in because, let’s be honest, the chances of nothing happening is not very high,” said new Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers about installing his system in a pandemic-shortened training camp. “We don’t know what’s going to happen. That’s the problem. We’re living in scary times.”

“We got those eight or nine, let’s get out there and compete,” new Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy said of what would happen if he were short a few players. “Let’s not get distracted by outside stuff. Let’s not make excuses. Let’s compete every night.”

That “next man up” approach is the only thing a coach can say or do, but Van Gundy and everyone else around the league knows one thing:

COVID-19 is the biggest wildcard in an unpredictable NBA season.

In the Orlando restart bubble, the NBA as a league came up with a way to keep the virus at arm’s length. It worked. That is simply not possible this season with players going home after games or traveling to other cities and arenas to compete. The League has its protocols, but now the teams have to become the enforcers and get their young players to wear masks and follow the rules.

“The players, I guess us as an organization, are going to have to be just as diligent,” Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer said recently. “We’re going to have to be just as mindful of wearing our masks, and the decisions we make, when and where and how we eat, all those things that go into, hopefully, mitigating this virus…

“So I think, organizationally, we’ve got to take some of that burden that the NBA took in Orlando.”

Even with all that will be positive tests, game postponements, and maybe some cancelations (the league has not laid out hard-and-fast criteria on game postponement, wanting the flexibility to adapt to different situations).

Those coronavirus-forced changes will impact wins and losses.

When an NBA player tests positive this season, they have to isolate and quarantine for 10 days (that’s 10 days from the test or the onset of symptoms). Then players can workout in isolation for two days, during which time they must pass two negative coronavirus tests and a heart stress test. That’s a minimum of 12 days away from the team, although in reality teams expect players who test positive to be away from the team for up to three weeks.

Injuries are always part of the unpredictability of a season, but COVID-19 adds another layer.

If a team in the thick of the playoff chase loses its best player for three weeks — probably at least eight games, maybe 10 — it easily could fall two or three seeding spots. Suddenly a team that looked like it would host a first-round playoff game is on the road against a much tougher opponent when the playoffs start.

“You certainly know you’re gonna deal with things to keep guys. It’s just all a part of it,” Van Gundy said.

One part of it, eventually, will be the vaccine. When it is widely available and players can get it — likely sometime next spring — the NBA wants to have educated players on why they should take it, and have made steps to ensure that players get the vaccine. The league sees the vaccine as important to having fans at playoff games in June and July this year (even if not a full house), and more importantly for next season. The league’s ultimate goal is to get back to a traditional format for the 2021-22 season — games start in October and run through June, with arenas full of fans.

First, the NBA has to negotiate this season, adjusting as they go to get through it.

COVID-19 will make this the most unpredictable NBA season in recent memory…except maybe for last season.

Dolan says he he has no plan to sell Knicks, retire, but he loves facial recognition

Celebrity Sightings In New York City - October 06, 2022
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Knicks owner James Dolan has been better in recent years about staying out of the way of the front office and staying out of the media spotlight — both of which are good for the Knicks and their fans’ sanity.

However, he stepped back in the spotlight the past couple of days — doing an interview on “Good Day New York” on Fox 5 Thursday then WFAN sports talk radio on Friday — and reminded everyone why it’s best when he stays out of it. Here are the highlights of these interviews.

• Dolan isn’t going anywhere, saying to WFAN he is not selling the team, nor does he plan to retire. Via Fred Katz at The Athletic:

“I have no plans whatsoever to sell at this point. I’m not retiring anytime soon. It’s a family-controlled asset, so someone in the family will eventually own it.”

That was a bit of a pipe dream for Knicks fans, there had been no rumors of a sale. With the value of NBA franchises rising rapidly and Dolan enjoying being the owner of one of the biggest brands in the sport, there has been little chance of a sale.

• Dolan defended Madison Square Garden’s controversial use of facial recognition technology to ban attorneys from firms involved in lawsuits against the Knicks or MSG from entering the property (or other Madison Square Garden properties, such as Radio City Music Hall).

“At Madison Square Garden, if you’re suing us, we’re just asking of you — please don’t come until you’re done with your argument with us. And yes, we’re using facial recognition to enforce that…

“If someone is suing you, that’s confrontational. It’s adversarial. If you’re being sued, you don’t have to welcome that person into your home.”

Except, it isn’t a home, it’s a public building where sports and entertainment events take place for which tickets are sold. Also, there are fans saying they have been banned from the building because of social media posts critical of Dolan.

• This policy has created a considerable backlash, including from the New York Attorney General, who said the policy could violate anti-discrimination laws in the state. Lawmakers in the New York state assembly introduced a bill prohibiting sports venues — such as Madison Square Garden — from refusing entry to attorneys or others involved in lawsuits against the organization.

• Dolan said on FOX 5 that the State Liquor Authority reached out to the Madison Square Garden company saying the use of facial recognition technology in this manner could lead to a suspension of their liquor license.

“This isn’t going to bother me because I’ve been sober 29 years. I don’t need the liquor.”

Dolan even hinted he could do a dry New York Rangers game on Fox, but he backed away from that idea the next day speaking on WFAN.

• Dolan reiterated his support of current Knicks decision-maker Leon Rose.

Dolan also went on to say he expects the Knicks to make the playoffs this season, however, there is no timeline for the team to contend for a ring.

What will Rockets do at trade deadline? Send out Gordon? Bring in Collins?

Minnesota Timberwolves v Houston Rockets
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There’s a sense in league circles that this is the final season Houston will be okay with having one of the worst — as of today, the worst — record in the NBA. The Rockets hope to grab one of the big names at the top of the draft board this season, but they already have drafted Jalen Green at No. 2 (2021) and Jabari Smith Jr. at No. 3 (2022), plus made a draft night trade for Alperen Şengün (who is playing well). With cap space to spend and extensions coming up, the tanking days will be over.

How will that impact the Rockets at this trade deadline? Here are a few names to watch.

Kelly Iko at The Athletic reports the Rockets have interest in the Hawks’ John Collins and the sides have talked, but there is no real traction yet.

There has been nothing concrete from the Rockets — merely ideas floated by the Hawks to Houston among other teams — but the interest is real.

The Rockets could also be part of a larger, three-team trade to move Collins.

Eric Gordon remains on the trade block, as he has been for more than a year. Gordon has been frustrated waiting, but the Rockets have held out for what they thought was fair — a first-round pick — to no avail. That price likely comes down, and according to Iko at The Athletic, the front office is “more inclined to trade him now” than in the past, but the proof will be in a deal.

• Teams also are calling about K.J. Martin, according to Iko.

K.J. Martin, there continues to be interest in the 22-year-old combo forward who has been quite productive as a starter — averaging 14 points and seven rebounds on 35 percent shooting from 3 — but nothing concrete at this juncture in terms of offers on the table.

The Rockets like Martin, it’s going to take a serious offer to get them to consider it.

Knicks reportedly offered multiple first-round picks for OG Anunoby, got nowhere

Boston Celtics v Toronto Raptors
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What are the Toronto Raptors going to do at the trade deadline?

It’s less than two weeks before the trade deadline and the entire NBA is still asking that question, the Raptors are the one team that could turn this trade deadline from a dud to epic if they decide to pivot toward a rebuild. Are they willing to trade players like OG Anunoby or Pascal Siakam, or will they look to add a more traditional big man such as the Spurs’ Jakob Poeltl, who has been linked to the Raptors in rumors? Everything seems to be on the table.

Anunoby is a player a lot of teams covet, including New York. The Knicks reached out to the Raptors, reports Ian Begley of SNY.TV.

“And Anunoby with Toronto, I mean, that would cost you a lot. That would cost you significant draft compensation. Maybe the Knicks are there, maybe they’re feeling like they could make the playoffs and make a big push if you added in Anunoby. I know that we reported they contacted Toronto on Anunoby and I was told in that conversation they offered multiple firsts. But this was a while back… Toronto has done a lot since then. But I don’t think the league is crystal clear on what [the Raptors] want to do on Anunoby.”

Anunoby is an elite on-ball wing defender who can be a finisher, averaging 17.3 points and 5.6 rebounds a game at age 25 — the asking price will start at two unprotected first-round picks in this market. The Knicks may have thrown some of their protected picks in the conversation, but Toronto’s asking price is reportedly sky-high because they’re not eager to get rid of him.

Anunoby is making $17.4 million this season and is under contract for $18.2 million next season, a fair price for what he brings to the court (he has a player option at $19.9 million in 2024-25). What the Raptors do with him may signal their direction.

At the deadline, most people around the league expect Toronto to trade Gary Trent Jr., but that’s it. Any other big moves are likely this offseason. If ever.

Reprots: Luka Doncic day-to-day with “mild” ankle sprain

Washington Wizards v Dallas Mavericks
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While there are grades of ankle sprains, ask anyone trying to walk around on one if there is a “mild” version.

Yet that’s what Mavericks sources say about Luka Doncic’s ankle sprain suffered against the Suns on Thursday night. He is “day-to-day” with the injury, a story first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (and since confirmed by others).

Doncic has been playing through ankle soreness in recent weeks and it’s fair to expect the Mavericks to give him a few games off. However, it can’t be too many for a team fighting for a playoff spot, the Mavs are 0-5 in games Doncic has rested this season and have been outscored by 5.3 points per 100 possessions this season when he sits (although they did beat the Suns largely without him Thursday). Doncic is an All-Star starter averaging 33.8 points, 9.1 rebounds and 8.6 assists a game.

Dallas plays next on Saturday against the Jazz. It would be a surprise to see Doncic suit up for that game.