MILWAUKEE —Giannis Antetokounmpo is spending much of his time during the coronavirus-imposed hiatus working out, helping care for his newborn son and playing occasional video games.
What the reigning MVP isn’t doing very often is shooting baskets since the NBA has closed team practice facilities.
“I don’t have access to a hoop,” the Milwaukee Bucks forward said Friday during a conference call. “A lot of NBA players might have a court in their house or something, I don’t know, but now I just get my home workouts, (go) on the bike, treadmill, lift weights, stay sharp that way.”
The hiatus is forcing thousands of athletes, pro and otherwise, to work out from home as they try to keep in shape. Equipment varies from player to player, too.
“It all comes down to what they have and what they’re capable of doing,” Atlanta Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce said. “We can do a lot of body weight stuff. That’s how they stay ready. That’s the most I can offer as a coach for them to stay ready. I can’t say ‘Hey, can you find access to a gym?’ That would be bad management on my part.”
For instance, Pierce said Hawks guard Kevin Huerter has access to a gym in New York and guard Jeff Teague owns a gym in Indiana.
Other players face different situations.
“I’ve seen LeBron’s Instagram,” Pierce said of Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James. “LeBron has a house with a full weight room and he has an outdoor court. He’s got a different reality right now that gives him a little more access to continue the normal. (Hawks rookie) Cam Reddish lives in an apartment and it’s probably a two-bedroom apartment. He can’t go in the apartment weight room because it’s a public facility. So he’s limited in all things.”
Bucks coach Mike Budenhlolzer said he wanted his players to focus on keeping their bodies in shape and conceded that logistics surrounding the pandemic would make it tougher for them to do any basketball-specific activities.
The Bucks are still finding ways to stay sharp.
Bucks players said team officials have made sure they all have the necessary exercise equipment. Antetokounmpo noted the Bucks also had a catering company bring food to make sure they maintain a proper diet. Center Brook Lopez said workout plans have been sent to them via a phone app.
“They’ve done a really good job of getting everything taken care of and still having tailored workouts for each individual player despite the situation,” Lopez said.
But it’s difficult for them to work on their shooting without access to a court.
“Since the practice facility is closed down, I don’t have any access to a basketball goal unless I go to one of my neighbors’ houses and shoot outside,” Bucks forward Khris Middleton said. “There’s really no basketball for me. It’s basically like Giannis said. Treadmill, jump rope, some weights and that’s it. I have a couple of basketballs I can dribble in my house or outside, but no actual goal to shoot on.”
Pierce noted that Huerter recently asked him when players would be able to get back into the Hawks’ practice facility.
“I told him, ‘I’ll tell you when we won’t,” Pierce said. “We won’t in April.”
Olympics postponement should force USA Basketball to change roster strategy
USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo explained: Though young players would eventually get their turn, the 2020 Olympics would be for players who previously represented the U.S.
Except there will be no 2020 Olympics.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Games have been postponed to 2021. By then, USA Basketball’s plan to build an older roster – already a suspect strategy – will become even less tenable.
The 2019 FIBA World Cup showed the Americans’ vulnerability. They finished seventh – their worst-ever finish in a major tournament. The United States’ advantage is depth of star talent. That has carried Team USA through deficient cohesion and comfort with international rules/style. The 2019 squad lacked the usual star power.
Anything USA Basketball does to lower its talent level – including giving preferential treatment to past-their-peak players based on prior contributions – increases risk of another letdown.
A little backcourt-heavy? Yes. But so is the United States’ top-end talent. Will Stephen Curry play? His father said yes, though that was before Curry was sidelined even longer than he expected. So, there’s plenty of room to quibble with the selections. But it’s at least a reasonable facsimile of the final roster.
The average age* of that group: 29.5.
That’d be the second-oldest Team USA in the Olympics, shy of only the 1996 squad. It’s even older than the original Dream Team, which – as the first Olympic team to include NBA players – definitely prioritized rewarding career accomplishments.
Here’s the average age* of each Team USA since NBA players began competing in the Olympics:
*Age for Team USA’s first game or, in 2020, first originally scheduled game of the tournament
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see taking that same group to Tokyo in 2021 would make it Team USA’s oldest-ever squad, advancing the average age a full year to 30.5.
Plenty will change in the next year. It’s easy to project growth from players like Trae Young, Zion Williamson and Ja Morant. But whether or not those three in particular meet expectations, other young players will rise. Some of these older players will decline further.
Of course, there will still be room for some veterans in 2021. Chris Paul is flourishing with the Thunder and could continue to play at a high level. LeBron James is so dominant, he has plenty of room to decline while remaining elite.
But USA Basketball should be open-minded about emerging young players. That’s the only way to ensure a maximumly talented roster.
In 2020, it was foolish to pretend it’s 2016 or even 2012.
It’d be even more misguided to do so in 2021.
It was already the strangest NBA season before the coronavirus hit
To be sitting on the couch in late March and streaming “The Peanut Butter Falcon” or “Don’t f*** with cats” because there isn’t any basketball to watch feels wrong. No NBA battles for the eighth seed, no late pushes for Defensive Player of the Year or even MVP. No NCAA March Madness. Nothing. And no idea when the NBA is coming back.
It’s been the strangest of NBA seasons. One that feels like a scene out of Space Jam.
The thing is, this was already the strangest of NBA seasons before the novel coronavirus forced the league to suspend games back on March 11.
Just think about all the stuff we saw before the coronavirus changed our lives.
One Daryl Morey Tweet upends NBA’s relationship with China
The NBA season hadn’t even started when things got weird. Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey sent out a Tweet showing support for the protestors in Hong Kong, a Tweet that barely registered a ripple of recognition stateside. NBA players or people from teams getting political barely generates a shrug here because we’re both used to it and had the concepts of free speech baked into us at a young age.
In China, Morey’s Tweet touched the third rail of politics and things blew up. Soon sponsors were pulling out of deals and NBA games were off Chinese television. When the NBA released a statement that read as wanting to appease the league’s business partners in China, plenty of people stateside — Senators and presidential candidates, even the creators of South Park — pounced to make a political point, saying the NBA was putting the almighty dollar over the freedom of speech it says it champions. The league had to come out and set the record straight with a second statement, backing Morey, and then hoping it would all blow over.
Before the coronavirus literally stopped it, the entire NBA world seemed to grind to a halt on Jan. 26, when a helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others crashed into a foggy hillside in Calabasas, California. There were no survivors.
Tributes poured in — not just at Staples Center but from around the NBA and around the world. Kobe’s impact and inspiration were global. His “Mamba Mentality” had influenced a generation of players (and people not in basketball), and he came to be a guru of sorts that countless current players leaned on for advice — Devin Bookereven got a Kobe-related tattoo based on Kobe’s words to him.
Nothing, however, was as moving as the Kobe Celebration of Life that came at Staples Center. Kobe’s wife, Vanessa, gave a powerful speech that brought an arena to tears.
Michael Jordan — the man that helped fuel Kobe and became his friend — spoke from his heart. He also had the funniest line of the day.
At Staples Center (even for Clippers games), the numbers and names of the other legendary Lakers’ players have been covered up, and just Kobe’s 8 and 24 were visible in the rafters. It seemed a fitting tribute this season.
That alone was strange because Westbrook was the guy who stayed and embraced Oklahoma City when Kevin Durant bolted for Golden State a few years prior, then Westbrook went on a historic run of triple-doubles. However, when Paul George forced his way to the Clippers via trade, Westbrook relented and went to join another former Thunder star in James Harden in Houston.
It never really worked, not on a contender level, anyway. Harden and Westbrook played next to, not really with, each other and Houston didn’t look any better than they did the season before (the Rockets were 34-20 at the All-Star break, they won 33 games before the break the season before).
But before the break lame-duck coach Mike D’Antoni found something that worked: real small-ball. Start P.J. Tucker — a 6’5″ corner-three shooting forward — at center, have nobody taller than 6’7″ on the floor. Make sure everybody can shoot the rock, and make other teams adapt to them. It may have been a lineup tried first out of injury desperation, but it worked. The Rockets went so all-in they traded center Clint Capela to Atlanta at the deadline.
For a while, it all came together and the Rockets went on a streak winning 10-of-12 and shot back up the standings. Eventually teams seemed to adapt (there was a four-game losing streak just before the suspension) and there were legitimate questions about how it all would hold up in the playoffs, but in the regular season the Rockets were must-watch television again.
And Harden is going to win another scoring title, averaging 34.4 points per game.
The resurgence of a 35-year-old LeBron James as serious MVP candidate
Nobody questioned that LeBron James could still dominate basketball games, we had seen it in the playoffs for years. When focused, he was still as good as anyone on the planet, a dominant force of nature unlike anyone else the NBA had seen (or, at least seen since MJ or Wilt).
However, for years, LeBron had largely coasted through the regular season, particularly on the defensive end. He was saving energy, not dialing it up every night, and placing a priority on the postseason over the regular season. This had gone back to his second stint in Cleveland — where he won another title — and continued into his first injury-riddled season in Los Angeles.
Not this season. At age 35, LeBron held nothing back. He came out of the gate playing hard on both ends of the floor every night, becoming a disrupting defensive force while scoring 25.7 points per game and leading the league with 10.6 assists a game every night. He was attacking again like we hadn’t seen in years.
It feld weird bcause it was unexpected at this age. We’d need to go back to Karl Malone, or maybe Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, to find a player at this age having this kind of impact.
LeBron, driven by the arrival of Anthony Davis and the realization he does not have that many years left in the game to win another title, had played at an MVP level all season. The award may well go to Giannis Antetokounmpo, who had another spectacular season as well and pushed his Bucks squad close to 70 wins, but the impact of LeBron was unquestionable. When he sat, the Lakers’ offense struggled, which is a big part of the “valuable” portion of his MVP case. The season being cut short hurt LeBon’s chances to make that case over the final 20 games.
There was a real rivalry in Los Angeles for once
For many years, the Clippers had been — at best — the cute little brother in Los Angeles. They were not the heart of Los Angeles basketball or a bigger draw, even when the Chris Paul/Blake Griffin “Lob City” Clippers were clearly the better team and a potential contender. The Los Angeles market always has been about the Lakers. There also was no feeling of a rivalry because even the years the Clippers had been better the Lakers were not in the mix for a title. The little brother was not in the way.
This season the LeBron/Davis Lakers were legit title contenders — and the Clippers may be their biggest foe.
The Clippers are no longer the backward-run franchise of the Donald Sterling years, this is one of the best-run franchises in the league now and that word had gotten around to players. The Clippers were a team guys wanted to play for, Steve Ballmer was an owner guys wanted to play for.
That helped the Clippers win the off-season, landing Kawhi Leonard as a free agent and trading for Paul George. Combine those two elite talents with a playoff-level core already — Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, Patrick Beverley, and the list goes on — and the Clippers were the deepest team on paper in the NBA. The Clippers were legitimate title threat, once they got healthy and put everyone on the court.
The crash of Golden State from five-straight NBA Finals to worst team in the NBA
Everyone understood this would be a down season — a “gap year” — for the Warriors. Kevin Durant had left for Brooklyn, and after tearing his ACL in last year’s Finals nobody expected Klay Thompson to suit up this season (except maybe Thompson himself).
Then four games into the season, Stephen Curry fractured his hand, followed by four months of missed action.
At that point, the wheels came off, and the Golden State Warriors went from the team that went to five straight NBA Finals to the worst team in the NBA. The Warriors were 15-50 when play was suspended, leaving them with the worst record in the league by 4.5 games. Even with Curry back, and now a healthy Andrew Wiggins on the wing (the book is still out on that trade), the Warriors were going to finish near the bottom of the pack.
It has always been all about next season for the Warriors: A healthy Curry, Thompson, and Draymond Green, with Wiggins, a high draft pick (or whomever they can trade that for), and a solid bench, should put the Warriors back near the top of the NBA. This season, however, was a strange and ugly one for the Warriors.
Carmelo Anthony was outside the NBA looking in. After being waived by the Rockets 10 games into the 2018-19 NBA season, the future Hall of Famer could not find a new home. No team picked him up last season, no team wanted to sign him this summer. The concerns from teams were mainly about Anthony’s defense — never good it had been a disaster in Houston — and whether the production was worth the attention he would bring.
Enter Portland. Already without Jusuf Nurkic for much of the season, and early rash of injuries — including to Zach Collins, sidelining him most of the season — left Portland desperate for frontcourt help. They turned to Anthony in a marriage of desperation.
At age 35, Carmelo Anthony proved he was not washed. He’s going to get to walk away from the NBA on his own terms (probably). Which is amazing and a little weird considering where we were a year ago.
Luka Doncic having Dallas on pace for the greatest offense in NBA history. Statistically.
Last season, the Golden State Warriors put together the greatest team offensive season in NBA history, with an offensive net rating of 115.9 (that’s points scored per 100 possessions). That just bested the 1987 Showtime Lakers and the 2017 version of the Warriors, who had net ratings of 115.6. Then came the 1992 Jordan Bulls and last season’s James Harden/Chris Paul Rockets at 115.5.
This season’s Dallas Mavericks, led by second-year player Luka Doncic, blew them all out of the water.
Dallas had an offensive rating of 116.7 when play was suspended. Through 67 games, Dallas had been the best of them all, with Doncic’s masterful pick-and-roll decision making setting up Kristaps Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., Seth Curry, and others in a game of marksmanship. Dallas has been entertaining, and Doncic has pushed his way into getting MVP votes (down-ballot, but still top five) with his play.
The high offensive rating may be a product of the times and three-point shooting, but it’s still weird to say this Dallas offense may have been better than any other. Ever.
There was so much more
The strangeness of this NBA season went beyond all that. There was:
• The likely end of San Antonio’s 22-season playoff streak.
• Ja Morant mania.
• Zion Williamson mania surpassing Morant-mania.
• John Beilein’s weird, short tenure as Cavaliers coach.
• Kenny Atkinson getting fired late in a playoff season for his injury-riddled Brooklyn team.
And that list goes on; it was all weird.
Then the coronavirus came and made it all that much stranger.
Without games, NBA players use social media to spread message of coronavirus safety
Miami’s Goran Dragic, in his native Slovenian, told people to stay inside.
This is the new NBA normal in a coronavirus-dominated world.
Even without games, the league is trying to engage and even encourage fans in these tough times.
So far, almost 20 current and former players have partnered with the NBA and WNBA for a new sort of public-service announcement as the world continues dealing with the coronavirus pandemic that is known to have struck about a quarter-million people worldwide, killed nearly 10,000 and has essentially shut down sports around the globe.
“We’re able to reach a number probably in the hundreds of millions, but as far as kids go, tens of millions of kids just by pressing send on an NBA PSA,” Love said. “So for me, it was considering that community aspect as well as, you know, thinking of young kids now being at home being homeschooled, at-risk youth being homeschooled … we have to reach them.”
Love’s PSA, released earlier this week, went for nearly three minutes and was a continuation of sorts of the conversation he’s been having publicly for some time about mental health. “Now more than ever, we have to practice compassion. … We need more of that,” Love said in his video.
Love went public two years ago about his struggles with depression and was one of the first NBA players to announce a donation to help arena employees who aren’t at work right now because of the shutdown. He gave $100,000 and has been raising money through his Kevin Love Fund to directly donate to mental health organizations working with high-risk children and teens who need help with their mental well-being.
Love didn’t hesitate before deciding whether to talk directly to fans.
“This is just incredibly anxiety-ridden, stressful, and I think the unknown is what really scares us,” Love said. “So, it’s completely normal to feel this way and what people are feeling is normal. And I think that just being isolated at your home, it’s tough to stay away from this 24-hour news cycle where all people are getting are things that will send them down a slippery slope and in a spiral because it just seems to be so negative.”
The league started these PSAs on March 13, two days after the NBA’s shutdown because of the virus went into effect. In less than a week across all platforms – NBA.com, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Tik Tok – the videos collected more than 36 million views, or reaching, on average, 70 people every second.
“Just a reminder to make sure you guys wash your hands, avoid large crowds and if you might be sick, quarantine yourself,” Portland guard Damian Lillard said in his PSA. “This is only a virus that we can beat together.”
Toronto coach Nick Nurse was one of many who spoke about the need to listen to medical professionals and wash hands frequently; the official guideline is 20 seconds, Nurse suggested raising the bar to 24 seconds in a nod to the NBA shot clock.
“This is one time we don’t mind a shot clock violation,” Nurse said.
Other NBA players are making sure to keep their social-media contact with fans up in different ways. Phoenix’s Frank Kaminsky and New Orleans’ JJ Redick are among the players who have dropped podcasts this week, and the Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James took his enormous following inside his home for a 45-minute live video Thursday night while he played cards with his family.
James talked about such things as the Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference finals when he led Miami to a season-saving road win at Boston – “if we lose, Pat Riley may break us all up,” he said, recalling what his mindset was that night – to his favorite wines and sneakers, to how he hopes to remain with the Lakers for the rest of his career.
“I might do this more often, man,” James said shortly before he ended the live broadcast. “Going to be quarantined for the next 12, 13 days.”
More PSAs are coming from the NBA and some will be geared toward the league’s international fan base. Slovenian star Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks is part of a PSA, as is Spanish legend Pau Gasol. Ricky Rubio of Spain, Danilo Gallinari of Italy, Rui Hachimura of Japan and Buddy Hield of the Bahamas have ones scheduled to be released soon.
Plus, Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell – Utah Jazz All-Star teammates and the first two players in the NBA to have positive tests for COVID-19 – taped PSAs in the opening days of the initiative.
All the messages are different, but to Love, the theme is the same: The virus is affecting virtually everyone on the planet. And if NBA players talk about their angst, maybe fans won’t find their own angst to be so troubling.
LeBron James: ‘Be a Laker for the rest of my life’
When he returned to the Cavaliers in 2014, LeBron James said in Sports Illustrated,” I always believed that I’d return to Cleveland and finish my career there.” As recently as 2017, he said his plan to finish his career with the Cavs hadn’t changed.
Of course, LeBron left for the Lakers at the very next opportunity in 2018.
What NBA team would I never play for? I’m still playing, man. Hey, I’ve got to keep all my options open, man. But right now I’ll tell you one thing: I don’t want to go nowhere besides be here, baby. Be a Laker for the rest of my life.
By “Laker for the rest of my life,” does LeBron mean staying with the franchise until retiring? Or does he mean it in the Dwyane Wade-Heat lifer sense – where Miami remained important to Wade, even while he played for the Bulls and Cavaliers?
But after his experiences in Cleveland and, to a lesser extent,* Miami, it’s hard to completely trust what LeBron is saying here. In both situations, LeBron wielded his power to make big demands of the franchise. The Cavaliers and Heat depleted long-term resources to optimize LeBron’s supporting casts – wise plans that produced championships, but a strategy that had LeBron looking elsewhere as the wells ran dry after just four years.
*The difference between the stops: I don’t recall LeBron ever professing that type of commitment to Miami. In fact, quite the opposite. He was openly discussing returning to Cleveland after just a year-and-a-half with the Heat.
LeBron is 35 now. He’s certainly not leaving the Lakers any time soon. He might not be up for another big move in a couple years.
I’d just never say never with him. He has transformed every team he has joined into a power – both on the court and as a brand. Even if his skills diminish, his star power will remain huge.