Evan Fournier

Rudy Gobert
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Utah’s Rudy Gobert ‘in a good place,’ trying to move forward

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There were the tweets from strangers.

“I hate you.”

“You ruined the whole world.”

“You deserve it.”

And there was the scorn from inside his own locker room, the presumption that he infected a teammate with coronavirus, the suggestion that his recklessness somehow caused the entire sporting world to come to an absolute standstill.

Utah center Rudy Gobert is still standing tall, after all that and more.

Plenty of eyes will be on Gobert when the NBA season, the one that shut down March 11 when he became the first player in the league to be diagnosed with the coronavirus, takes a giant step toward returning by having teams gather at the Disney complex in Central Florida over the next few days. The Jazz will be a fascinating case study during this restart, particularly regarding whether or not Gobert and Donovan Mitchell — a fellow All-Star who was diagnosed with the virus shortly after the shutdown began and did not hide his anger with Gobert about it all — can coexist peacefully again.

“I’m happy now. I’m in a good place, you know,” Gobert told reporters Friday. “And I’m happy that I get the joy back from playing basketball with my team and the competitiveness is back. I’m ready to try to go out there and try to win the championship. That’s the goal. And to be honest, after everything we’ve been through as a team and as human beings, it would be a great comeback.”

Gobert answered questions for about 11 minutes. He talked about the relationship with Mitchell. (“It’s never going to be perfect,” he said, acknowledging strains that have been no secret.) He talked about the potential of signing a lucrative extension — he’s supermax-eligible — with the Jazz, which could happen before next season. (“I don’t plan on leaving right now,” he said.) He talked about his recovery from the virus, which is ongoing, at least in how his sense of smell hasn’t totally recovered. (“Smelling, I took that for granted too. It’s back now, it’s back at 80%, I’m not worried,” he said.)

He spoke softly, calmly, thoughtfully. And even though he is the two-time reigning NBA defensive player of the year, he didn’t swat any question away.

“Obviously, when you have the whole world judging you and threatening you or sending you a lot of negative energy and stuff like that, it’s something that I would say is not easy as a human being,” Gobert said. “But at the same time, people just judge you on the perception they have and the perception they get. Sometimes it can be one picture, one video, one interview, one action.”

In this case, that’s pretty much exactly what happened.

A picture, a video, an interview, an action. It was the start of the downfall.

It was the morning of March 9: Before leaving a media session at shoot-around in Salt Lake City on Monday in advance of a game against Detroit, Gobert touched all the tape recorders that were placed before him on a table, devices that reporters who cover the Jazz were using. He meant it as a joke. When he tested positive two days later, it was no laughing matter.

The Jazz were in Oklahoma City, just moments away from starting a game against the Thunder, when word came that Gobert tested positive. The game was called off. The season was suspended that same night.

Just like that, Gobert was a center of negative attention.

“First of all, you make sure he’s OK,” said Orlando guard Evan Fournier, a fellow French national-team player, who reached out often to check on Gobert. “You know, you call him and once we’re on the phone or just talking, text, whatever, you just ask him a few questions. How is he feeling, blah, blah, blah. And then once he starts to open up and say things about how he sees the whole situation, then you just try to give your best judgment to him. And you know, that’s what I did.”

Gobert immediately started trying to show remorse. He donated $200,000 to a fund established to help those who work part-time at Jazz games, people who lost income because contests were canceled. More money — about $310,000 — went to families affected by the pandemic in Utah and Oklahoma City, plus in his native France. He taped a public-service announcement for the league.

“I won’t be able to control everyone’s perception of me, but I can control my actions,” Gobert said. “I can control, you know, the things I do for the people around me, for the community, the things I do for my teammates on the court, off the court. All that stuff, I can control and that’s what really matters to me.”

For his part, Mitchell said the relationship with Gobert has improved.

“Right now, we’re good,” Mitchell said Thursday. “We’re going out there ready to hoop.”

The Jazz have secured a playoff berth. They’ll be without the injured Bojan Bogdanovic for the remainder of the season, yet still have enough depth to be considered a contender in the Western Conference.

And Gobert expects he and Mitchell, on the court anyway, will be fine.

“As long as we respect one another and we both share the same goals and we both do what’s best for the team, that’s what matters,” Gobert said. “And, you know, I think over the last few years that’s what we’ve been doing and that’s what we plan on continuing doing.”

Wizards sign Jerian Grant to fill Davis Bertans roster spot for restart

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It is a full-circle story: Jerian Grant, the former Wizards’ ball boy and son of former Bullets player Harvey Grant, signed with his father’s former team.

The younger Grant signed with the Wizards for the NBA’s restart down in Orlando, a story broken by Chris Miller of NBC Sports Washington.

Grant will take the roster spot of Davis Bertans, as the sharpshooting big man and free agent to chose not to head to Orlando in what is a smart business decisionone called out by Evan Fournier of the Magic. It’s not every day you see a player call out another one for making a decision that will guarantee them the most money.

Grant bounced around the NBA for four years before averaging 16.3 points and 5.9 assists per game (and shooting 43.5% from three, but on fewer than two attempts a game) for the Wizards G-League affiliate this season, the Capital City Go-Go.

Grant plays primarily at the point, but he can work off the ball as a two-guard. With John Wall not returning to play in Orlando, Ish Smith and Shabazz Napier are the Washington point guards. Grant will be behind them in the rotation.

Evan Fournier on Davis Bertans sitting out: ‘This is whats wrong with the NBA nowadays’

Magic wing Evan Fournier and Wizards forward Davis Bertans
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Wizards forward Davis Bertans – who’ll enter unrestricted free agency this offseason coming off a career yeardecided to sit out the NBA’s resumption at Disney World.

Magic wing Evan Fournier

Bertans:

Fournier sounds like he DOES about care the risks of playing in Orlando. Which would explain him griping about Bertans.

Players like Fournier will go to Disney World, live under less-than-ideal conditions, risk exposure to coronavirus and risk injury. By doing so, they’ll protect their own salaries. They’ll also help the NBA maximize its revenue – which will ensure all players lose the smallest-possible share of this season salaries and keep next year’s salary cap from falling too far.

As a free agent this offseason, Bertans will particularly benefit from a higher cap.

Yet, he can stay home and still reap the rewards. It isn’t fair.

Nor is there a good way to make to this fair. Players on the eight done teams will get all the same rewards without playing. Unlike Bertans, they won’t even have to sacrifice a larger portion of this year’s salary. On the other hand, they didn’t ask for their seasons to get cut short.

Coronavirus has led to numerous impossible decisions. That stinks. We shouldn’t demonize Fournier for raising a legitimate point.

His biggest problem was making his best point in a reply tweet surrounded by tweets conveying an old-school mentality. Bertans is a free rider, yes. But he’s benefitting from everyone who plays, not just his teammates. Some things are more important than your basketball team.

If Bertans’ teammates feel let down, they’re entitled to feel that way. Team sports require buy-in and sacrifice. Players also deserve room to set their own priorities. It gets complicated.

But Wizards players can speak for themselves.

Fournier makes a more compelling case on the very-significant difference between players all sitting out and a few individual players sitting out.

Bertans makes a reasonable request, too: Tag, don’t subtweet.

Mock NBA expansion draft: Hawks, Hornets, Heat, Magic, Wizards

Mock NBA expansion draft
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The NBA season is on hiatus. NBC Sports is not – even if we have to venture into fantasy.

We’re holding a mock NBA expansion draft. Keith Smith is setting protected lists for existing teams. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman will run two new teams as this project culminates in an expansion draft.

Current teams can protect up to eight players. Each team must make at least one player available. If selected, restricted free agents become unrestricted free agents. Pending options can be decided before or after the expansion draft at the discretion of the option-holder. Anyone selected in the expansion draft can’t return to his prior team for one year. Players entering unrestricted free agency and players on two-way contracts are essentially ignored.

We’re unveiling protected/unprotected lists by division (here is the Atlantic Division, Central Division, Pacific Division and Northwest Division). Players are listed with their 2020-21 salary. Up now, the Southeast:

Atlanta Hawks

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 4

Ineligible – 3

Analysis: The Hawks protections are very straightforward. Every player they are protecting is either a rotation player, under team control for a while or both. No hard decisions here.

That means that Atlanta is leaving their restricted free agents and Brandon Goodwin unprotected. No major concerns over losing any of the four.

Charlotte Hornets

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 3

Ineligible – 2

Analysis: Charlotte’s decisions were fairly easy. Terry Rozier, Devonte’ Graham, Miles Bridges and P.J. Washington are all core pieces. Despite his suspension, Malik Monk still has upside. And the three young forwards (Cody Martin, Caleb Martin and Jalen McDaniels) are locked in on low salaries for a while.

Keeping the three minimum salary forwards meant leaving Dwayne Bacon unprotected. Bacon had been out of the rotation and sent to the G-League, so he’s out of the plans for now. As for Nic Batum or Cody Zeller, the Hornets would welcome getting either big salary off the books.

Miami Heat

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 1

Ineligible – 6

Analysis: Miami was really helped by having six players ineligible because they are unrestricted free agents this summer. That left just this decision point: Andre Iguodala vs KZ Okpala vs Kelly Olynyk.

Okpala is a minimum salary player, so that means he stays. Iguodala was just added and given an extension. He stays. That means Olynyk and his $13 million salary are left exposed.

Orlando Magic

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 5

Ineligible – 2

Analysis: Orlando had seven fairly easy protections. Their five starters, sixth man, and their promising young big man in Mo Bamba.

That left Khem Birch vs Al-Farouq Aminu vs Wesley Iwundu. Aminu was left unprotected due to salary and coming off a knee injury. It’s unlikely he’ll be selected and the Magic will be happy to have him back. That means it came down to Birch vs Iwundu. It’s more likely Birch will be selected, given his low salary and skill as a big man, so Iwundu was left unprotected.

Washington Wizards

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 3

  • John Wall – $41,254,920
  • Isaac Bonga – $1,663,861 (Non-Guaranteed)
  • Anzejs Pasecnicks – $1,517,981 ($250,000 Guaranteed)

Ineligible – 4

Analysis: The Wizards are taking a gamble. Most of the protections were pretty easy. Bradley Beal and Thomas Bryant are key players. Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown, Mo Wagner and Jerome Robinson are all on their rookie scale deals.

Then things get interesting. Leaving John Wall unprotected may seem crazy, given he’s a former All-Star. But Wall is coming off two lost seasons due to injury and will be 30 years old at the start of next season. He’s also owed $133 million over the next three seasons. Ish Smith and Admiral Schofield stay and the Wizards throw caution to the wind. It’s unlikely Wall will be selected, but just the chance of clearing that salary off the books is a gamble worth taking for Washington.

NBA suspends season: What happens next for the league?

NBA suspends season
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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.