The NBA season is in full swing, and we will be here each weekday with the NBC Sports daily roundup Three Things to Know — everything you might have missed in the Association, every key moment from the night before in one place.
1) One year ago today the NBA world shut down
Nothing has been the same — not our lives, not our priorities, and certainly not the NBA — since what started one year ago tonight.
Just before tip-off of a nationally televised game with Utah at Oklahoma City on March 11, 2020, the Thunder team doctor sprinted on the court to talk to the referees, letting them know that Rudy Gobert had tested positive for the coronavirus — the first known case of an NBA player with the disease. Soon after, the game was called off.
By the end of the night, Mark Cuban was getting news on his phone that left him dumbfounded and the NBA was releasing this statement:
“The NBA is suspending game play following the conclusion of tonight’s schedule of games until further notice.”
For many in a nation yet to feel the virus’s impacts, the NBA shutting down was a wake-up call. The reality was the disease that had devastated parts of China and Northern Italy had come to the heartland of America and forced a popular sports league to close its doors — many were not ready for it. By Adam Silver’s own admission, the NBA was not ready for it.
A source I spoke to the night of the incident thought this could shut the NBA down for a month — we were all so naive back then. Nobody was completely sure of all the ways the virus was transmitted, and nobody could come close to envisioning the idea of more than 500,000 lives lost in the coming year. Nobody foresaw the upending of American life that would leave businesses closed, people scrambling to find food (and toilet paper), multiple stimulus boosts by the government to keep the economy afloat, and a nation of people wearing masks (except for some defiant fools).
Nobody in the NBA league office — nor players, fans, or media members — could have foreseen the bubble in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, that would make the NBA a model organization for some.
The devastation of the disease reached deep into the NBA family — Karl-Anthony Towns lost his mother and six other family members to the disease. He was far from alone among players who saw loved ones pass away. Recently, we in the media felt a punch to the gut when Sekou Smith died (it’s hard to put into words how much he was loved in the NBA writing community — he was the guy with the smile on his face you were always excited to see at a game, or during the Finals or Summer League). Everyone around the league — like everyone around the nation — has their own stories of loss.
But because the coronavirus hit Black and other minority communities harder, the NBA community felt the pain more acutely. Hundreds of players and NBA staffers tested positive for the disease over the past year, so many more lost loved ones to the disease.
One year later, the NBA reflects society as a whole — games and business go on, but things are not the same.
Arenas are either empty or have a few thousand people in them, yet the games go on (with a reduced and compacted schedule). Players, coaches, staff, and everyone else goes through testing to stay safe, yet the virus continues to spread, and players continue to test positive. The vaccine provides light at the end of the tunnel, but things are still pretty dark and people are still dying.
There is hope. Adam Silver made it clear during the All-Star festivities — which were far smaller and less festive — that the plan is ultimately to return to something close to traditional next season. The hope is a full 82-game schedule with fans filling arenas and travel.
However, nothing will feel normal again. Not for a long time.
Yet the NBA and its games keep rolling along…
2) Spurs, LaMarcus Aldridge agree to part ways
LaMarcus Aldridge signing with the Spurs in 2015 was huge — free agents didn’t come to San Antonio. The Spurs’ success had always been homegrown (Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard). It felt like the Spurs were transitioning to a new era.
That era has come to an end. Gregg Popovich announced Wednesday the Spurs are working with Aldridge to find a new home, ideally via trade (but it most likely will end up as a buyout). Aldridge is not with the team and will remain that way until the situation is resolved.
The reality is Aldridge has been beaten out as a starter by Jakob Poeltl (that’s not a knock on Poeltl, who has played well this season for the Spurs, rather a picture of where Aldridge is in his career arc). San Antonio will look for a trade, but Aldridge makes $24 million this season, and that’s a lot of salary to match for a player who can only help a team as a role player, then will be a free agent come the offseason. Maybe a trade can be found, but more than likely this ends with Aldridge being bought out and becoming a free agent (at a league minimum salary there will be multiple suitors for Aldridge).
3) NBA games return — and Luka Doncic is still must-watch television
The NBA returned from the All-Star break Wednesday with two games — not coincidentally featuring four teams with a lot of games to make up in the second half of the season due to COVID-19 postponements.
Dallas and San Antonio are fighting for playoff seeding in the West (right now the two would meet in the 7/8 play-in game), so their matchup carried weight.
It also featured Luka Doncic, who finished the night with a triple-double of 22 points, 12 rebounds, and 12 assists to help Dallas pull away late for the 115-104 win. Doncic also stuck the dagger in the Spurs with a ridiculous crossover step-back-to-the-left three.
That’s just not fair.