Justise Winslow

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NBA confident in restart plan despite coronavirus spike in Florida

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Saturday, Florida confirmed 4,049 new coronavirus cases in the state, a dubious record. That beat out the previous record set 24-hours before of 3,822 new cases, which itself beat the record from the day before of 3,207 cases in the state. Florida is a coronavirus hot spot.

In less than three weeks players land in Orlando, where the plan is to restart the NBA season in a coronavirus-free bubble, eventually crowning a champion.

Is that still safe?

People throughout the NBA are asking that question, but Commissioner Adam Silver and the NBA’s staff remain confident, report Adrian Wojnarowski and Baxter Holmes of ESPN.

In at least one recent call with high-level team executives, NBA commissioner Adam Silver has acknowledged the spiking numbers in Florida. Multiple team sources described the general tone of that call, including the questions asked of Silver on it, as tense. Another called Silver’s tone “resolute but somber.” He expressed a resolve to go on — a confidence in the NBA’s bubble concept — while recognizing the seriousness of the coronavirus spike, sources said.

NBA spokesman Mike Bass told ESPN that the league is “closely monitoring the data in Florida and Orange County and will continue to work collaboratively with the National Basketball Players Association, public health officials and medical experts regarding our plans.”

The league’s general reaction to the Florida case spike sounds something like what Dallas owner Mark Cuban told the New York Post: It will be safer in the bubble than outside it.

In fact, given the rise in cases in states, I have every reason to believe the setup we have in Orlando will be safer for our players and travel parties than staying in their respective cities.

Not everyone is so confident.

The league has a 113-page set of rules for players and team staff to create and maintain a bubble on the Walt Disney World property allowing an NBA restart despite the coronavirus. It includes regular testing, wearing masks, and everyone has to eat the food prepared in the bubble, sleep in the hotels in the bubble, and generally not physically interact with the outside world. The rules get down to details such as throwing out a deck of cards after a night of games rather than reusing it.

“No one is suggesting that this is going to be an infection-free, guaranteed environment,” NBPA executive director Michele Roberts told The Associated Press this past week. “I guess, unless we go to … well, where would we go? What state has the lowest rate? There’s just no way of finding a sterile environment probably on this planet, but certainly, not in this country…

“My solace is that our guys are not going to be out and about in the city of Orlando,” Roberts added. “The players will be flown in non-commercial, and they will essentially be on campus for the entirety of their stay until such time as their season ends.”

However, as Justise Winslow and other players are quick to point out, Disney staff will go home and sleep in their own beds, interact with family and friends in the Florida hotspot, then return the next day to work in the bubble. Those employees will get temperature checks, wear masks and gloves, and most of them will have little if any interaction with the players. Still, there is a growing risk. Orange County, which includes most of the Disney property, is seeing a record number of cases and a much higher percentage of people testing positive in recent days.

There is no simple “plan B” for the NBA; it can’t just pick up the bubble and drop it in Las Vegas or Houston or anywhere else. The NBA is committed to Orlando and making this work.

It’s possible, however, that how the state of Florida quickly pushed to re-open with as few restrictions as possible could doom the best laid plans of the NBA.

Justise Winslow on bubble concerns: ‘I don’t know if it’s worth it’

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The buzz around the league is that, among players, enthusiasm for spending at least a month in the Orlando bubble is mixed. In general, they like the idea of playing again, and they definitely want to get paid. However, the risk of illness combined with time away from family and concerns about the impact on the Black Lives Matters movement has some players hesitating.

Memphis’ Justise Winslow summed up the sense a lot of players have, speaking to Caron Butler on the NBA’s Twitter feed.

Winslow had previously said the return was all about the money (he’s right, it is). Here some of the key parts of what he said to Butler. (hat tip Andrew Lopez of ESPN).

“The bubble is tricky, man. From the COVID standpoint, I don’t think it’s a great idea just to have all these people in a bubble and tight spaces. It’s almost the opposite of social distancing. We’re going to have workers who are working for Disney; they’re going to be going home and seeing their family and doing whatever they want to do, but then they are going to come back…

“But at the same time, I’m a competitor. I want to play. I want my money even though it’s not all about the money. It’s still a business. So if these owners are going to get paid, I want my fair share as well. It keeps going back to just the dynamic of players want more money and owners want more money, so how can we do this without killing each other or knocking each other down or being disrespectful…

“I know the NBA is taking it seriously, but I don’t know if it’s worth it. Is it that serious? People have families, people have babies on the way. We got international players coming across the country and leaving their families and won’t be able to see their families until if they make the second round. It’s a lot still in the air.”

A lot of players are in this same headspace right now.

They are torn, although there is a sense the money part of the equation, along with the desire to compete, will win out and the vast majority of NBA players will head to Orlando. When looking at how other sports in the United States are handling a return, Adam Silver has the NBA pretty well organized.

But is it worth it?

That’s a question each player has to answer for himself. The answer is not going to be the same for everyone.

Justise Winslow tags NBA, NBPA: All about money, questions whether they care about coronavirus risk

Grizzlies forward Justise Winslow
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Dwight Howard said his coalition – which also includes Kyrie Irving and Avery Bradleywasn’t trying to halt the NBA’s resumption.

But some players still have concerns about play at Disney World amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Grizzlies forward Justise Winslow on Instagram:

As far it being all about the money… Well, yeah. The NBA doesn’t exist because basketball serves the great good. The NBA is a business to make money. Basketball and safety are considerations toward the main goal, but the main goal is money.

If Winslow believes the NBA’s plan is unsafe, he should advocate for it to be changed. Irving did a great job of inviting that discussion after the National Basketball Players Association (of which Irving is ironically a vice president) failed to gain a full understanding of its members’ priorities. Experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, have praised the NBA’s plan. But they don’t have to live in the bubble. Winslow would.

If the NBA proceeds with a plan Winslow deems too unsafe, he shouldn’t play. That could cost him $1,123,110 plus $140,389 for each play-in and playoff game Memphis plays up to a total of $1,965,443 in lost wages.*

*Winslow was sidelined with a back injury when the NBA suspended its season. But he said in April, “I’m pain-free and symptom-free. So I plan to get right back into the swing of things when everything resumes.” So, it’s unclear whether he’d get an injury exemption and full salary.

Coronavirus has disrupted safety around the world. Many – businesses and employees – are still trying to make money amid the pandemic. Everyone must evaluate their own risk tolerance. It isn’t fun. It isn’t easy.

But it’s the unfortunate situation Winslow – and many others, within the NBA and beyond – are in.

Mock NBA expansion draft: Mavericks, Rockets, Grizzlies, Pelicans, Spurs

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, Northwest Division and Southeast Division). Players are listed with their 2020-21 salary. Up now, the Southwest:

Dallas Mavericks

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 4

Ineligible – 3

Analysis: Seven of Dallas’ protections were easy calls. They’re all players locked up long-term. That left deciding between Tim Hardaway Jr, who has been a starter for the Mavericks but has a player option, and several other useful players.

Ultimately, the Mavs can’t afford to lose Hardaway, who has rediscovered his solid offensive play from his Hawks years. That leaves Justin Jackson and three big men in Dwight Powell (coming off a torn Achilles’) and Boban Marjanovic and Willie-Cauley-Stein (both backups for Dallas). The most likely to be selected player is probably Jackson, but that’s a risk Dallas has to take.

Houston Rockets

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 2

Ineligible – 5

Analysis: No decision points for the Rockets. Houston is protecting the entirety of their eight-man rotation.

Chris Clemons could make for an interesting expansion pick because his scoring ability at guard. Isaiah Hartenstein has shown some flashes in the G-League as well.

Memphis Grizzlies

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 5

Ineligible – 1

Analysis: Just how hard the Grizzlies’ protection decision were is a testament to how well their rebuild has gone. Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., Dillon Brooks, Brandon Clarke and De’Anthony Melton were all locks. Justise Winslow was just acquired at the trade deadline as the centerpiece of a deal. Tyus Jones is the ideal backup point guard behind Morant, so he stays as well. That left Jonas Valanciunas vs Kyle Anderson for the final protected spot. Valanciunas’ presence allows Jackson to play power forward, so the big man gets the final spot.

Memphis is gambling that Anderson’s slow-mo style of play and $9.5 million salary isn’t what an expansion team is looking for. Jontay Porter is another risk, but he’s got a lengthy injury history of his own. The Grizzlies will hope one of the other three is selected and might be willing to offer a small incentive to make it happen.

New Orleans Pelicans

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 4

Ineligible – 3

Analysis: New Orleans’ protections are cut and dry. Every player protected, minus Brandon Ingram, is signed for at least one more season. This includes several players on rookie scale contracts. Ingram will most assuredly be re-signed this summer, so that decision was easy as well.

The only gamble among the unprotected players is Nicolo Melli. He’s become a rotation player for the Pelicans, but he’s not as valuable as the younger players. The other three players are mostly out of the New Orleans’ rotation and not anyone the team will worry about if they are selected.

San Antonio Spurs

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 4

Ineligible – 2

Analysis: The Spurs are banking on keeping DeMar DeRozan this summer. He either opts in or re-signs in San Antonio. LaMarcus Aldridge is an easy decision as well. Dejounte Murray will start his extension this coming season. Everyone else is on their rookie scale contract, minus Jakob Poeltl. Poeltl is a restricted free agent that the Spurs hope to retain this offseason.

San Antonio is gambling that the big salaries of Rudy Gay and Patty Mills will keep them from being selected. That exposes Trey Lyles, who has a relatively small guarantee, and young big man Chimezie Metu. The Spurs would like to keep both, but not at the expense of losing a rookie scale player.

Could healthy Ben Simmons, Kevin Durant, others change course of June NBA playoffs

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This June — *knocks on wood* — we will have NBA playoff basketball. That may be the optimistic scenario (and it may be without fans in the stands), but we here at the NBC NBA page are optimistic people. We want to believe.

If a June postseason comes together, those playoffs will look a lot different from what we would have seen in mid-April — and that was already shaping up as one of the most wide-open, interesting playoffs in a decade.

The whole point of “load management” has been to keep guys healthy for the playoffs. This is government-forced load-management.

“If you give these guys a break going into the playoffs and you build the anticipation of the NBA coming back, you’re giving the best players in the world an extra two, three, four weeks off,” Matt Barnes said on ESPN’s First Take a week ago, at the time underestimating the length of the break.

“The energy in the playoffs is going to be off the charts. It’s going to be the best playoffs we’ve seen because everyone is fully rested and fully healthy.”

Fully healthy could be the key — players who would have been out, or at least slowed, due to injury, could be back at 100 percent. Here is a look at how a late playoff could be changed by health.

• A fully loaded Brooklyn Nets team. At the top of the list of potential game-changers is Kevin Durant. Durant did not set foot on the court for the Nets this season as he recovered from his torn Achilles (suffered in the NBA Finals), but that recovery seems to be going well.

Durant would not rule out playing in the Tokyo Olympics this summer, which would have required him on a court starting early July at USA training camp. So if the NBA playoffs get pushed back to a June start and run into August, would Durant suddenly be able to jump in?

Probably not. Durant’s business partner and manager Rich Kleiman was on ESPN radio and said of a return, “Honestly, not very realistic from my standpoint and not even spoken about.” Maybe that’s Durant’s camp keeping expectations down, although it’s more likely the truth and KD will not play until whenever next season starts. It would be asking a lot to have Durant come back, have some of his first games be high-level playoff games, and then have a short turnaround until the next season starts.

Kyrie Irving is the other Brooklyn wild card. He had shoulder surgery in February that was going to end his season, but if he could come back for a playoff push, that might interest Durant. With Durant and Irving, the Nets would be the most dangerous seven seed we’ve ever seen.

But most likely, the Nets stay focused on next season and keep their superstars on the bench in June.

Ben Simmons returns to a fully healthy 76ers team. Things were falling apart for the 76ers when the season shut down, they had gone 5-5 since the All-Star break with a bottom 10 defense, and both Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons had missed time with injuries.

Embiid had returned for the last game before the shutdown when he had 30 points and 14 boards against Detroit. However, a little more rest gets him fully healthy for a postseason run where he will have to play a lot of minutes.

Simmons is dealing with a pinched nerve in his back and the 76ers hoped they could get him back for the playoffs. Now, he could be back and at 100 percent for the playoffs, serving as a needed ball handler and shot creator for Philly.

Is that enough to fix their Island of Misfit Toys roster? Probably not. Brett Brown will pay the price for that. But a fully healthy 76ers team is long, athletic, veteran, and dangerous in a playoff matchup. If Simmons and Embiid are fully healthy, the 76ers are a real threat.

Malcolm Brogdon could return to the Pacers. Indiana, sitting currently as the five-seed in the East, was already a sneaky-dangerous team who could get to the second round and push a team like the Bucks. They become that much more dangerous with Brogdon back. He likely was out for the season with a torn left rectus femoris (connecting the hip and quad), but if he can return with his 16.3 points and 7.1 assists per game, the Pacers just became a much tougher out.

Add to that the hiatus brings more time for Victor Oladipo to find his legs and his shot, and suddenly Indiana looks a lot more threatening.

• Boston will have a fully healthy Jaylen Brown back. The Celtics would have had Brown back anyway for the postseason, but he had missed games due to a strained right hamstring, and those can linger. Maybe that would not have been an issue in the playoffs, but now there are no worries. With Brown and Jayson Tatum, Boston may be the biggest threat to Milwaukee in the East.

• Orlando could get Jonathon Isaac back. Is this going to win the Magic a playoff series? No. But getting their breakout player back makes the Magic better — and more watchable. Isaac had been out due to a posterior lateral corner injury of his left knee as well as a bone bruise, and he was thought done for the season. Now, he could return. On offense he’s still a work in progress, but he averaged 12 points and 6.9 rebounds a game, both career bests. Isaac is already a game-changer on the defensive end, where he is a long, athletic, switchable defender averaging 2.4 blocks, and 1.6 steals a game. He’s had the kind of season that would get him All-Defensive Team votes, getting that kind of player back helps.

• Memphis will have Justise Winslow, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Brandon Clarke all back and healthy. Much like the note on Orlando above, the fact that these three players will be healthy is not going to lift the eight-seed Grizzlies past LeBron James and the Lakers in the first round. Not a chance. But for a young team looking to build for the future getting their young core — along with a healthy Ja Morant — playoff game experience is a big step forward for them. Plus, it makes that first-round series a little more interesting to watch.

• Portland could have big men Jusuf Nurkick and Zach Collins back, but no postseason to play them in. The Trail Blazers sit as the nine seed in the West, 3.5 games back of Memphis. It is highly unlikely they are going to get to play enough regular season games to catch them and become a genuinely dangerous first-round team (you think the Lakers want to see Damian Lillard in the first round?). But indulge the what-ifs here: What we learned about Portland this season is just how much Nurkic means to the team, now he would be back, with Zach Collins playing either next to him at the four and/or as a backup five, depending upon the situation. Portland would be a lot more dangerous, but we likely don’t get to see that.