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Increasing buzz teams well out of playoffs will not come to Orlando for games

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The Golden State Warriors have been public about it, they expect their season to be over. Golden State is far from alone, multiple teams well out of the playoff picture have questioned the expense and risk-to-reward ratio of coming back to play a handful of regular season games without fans in Orlando.

More and more, the buzz has been the NBA league office sees things the same way. I am not the only reporter hearing this: Steve Popper of Newsday wrote a column saying there was no reason to invite all 30 teams to the bubble city and the USA Today’s well-connected Jeff Zillgett added this:

This is where we throw in the caveat: There are no hard-and-fast plans from the NBA yet and every option is still being considered. One lesson Adam Silver took from David Stern was not to make a decision until you have to, and Silver is going to absorb more information in the coming weeks — such as from the recent GM survey — before making his call.

That said, the league seems to be coalescing around a general plan, which includes camps starting in mid-June and games in mid-July in Orlando.

For the bottom three to five teams in each conference, there is little motivation to head to Orlando for the bubble. It’s an expense to the owner with no gate revenue coming in, teams want to protect their NBA Draft Lottery status, and the Warriors don’t want to risk injury to Stephen Curry — or the Timberwolves to Karl-Anthony Towns, or the Hawks to Trae Young — for a handful of meaningless games.

The league is considering a play-in tournament for the final seed or seeds in each conference (there are a few format options on the table, it was part of the GM survey). That would bring the top 10 or 12 seeds from each conference to the bubble, depending upon the format, and they would play a handful of games to determine which teams are in the playoffs (and face the top seeds).

Either way, that would leave the three or five teams with the worst records in each conference home. Which is the smart thing to do, there’s no reason to add risk to the bubble for a handful of meaningless games.

NBA teams part of Mayo Clinic led coronavirus antibodies study

NBA coronavirus
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When team president Gersson Rosas put together a revamped Minnesota front office, he didn’t want to stick to the mold of just bringing in basketball people. With studies showing group decision making improves with a diversity of views, Rosas brought in people from outside basketball, including anesthesiologist Dr. Robby Sikka.

Sikka, one of the most interesting people I have spoken to around the league, help set up the health and training programs around the Timberwolves, bringing an outside the box mentality.

He’s also at the heart of a league-wide effort, led by the Timberwolves, where teams are participating in a Mayo Clinic led coronavirus antibodies study. Malika Andrews of ESPN detailed the study and the NBA’s involvement, which is also backed by the players’ union.

Now, Sikka and the Mayo Clinic — an academic medical center headquartered in Rochester, Minnesota — are spearheading a leaguewide study that aims to establish what percentage of NBA players, coaches, executives and staff have developed antibodies to the coronavirus.

The initiative, which is supported by the league office and the players’ association, is expected to have the participation of all 30 teams.

Assessing the prevalence of antibodies in NBA personnel will help teams identify which people might have a lower risk of contracting COVID-19. The study is expected to be completed in June.

One key part of this study is it uses a finger-prick method to draw a drop of blood, then uses that for detecting antibodies. One key hope for the study is showing this easier method is just as accurate as drawing more blood with a syringe in detecting COVID-19 antibodies.

As the league looks at restarting the season in a centralized location, knowing with players and team staff have the antibodies can be a help in setting up as safe an environment as possible. Plus, anything players and NBA can do to help grow the understanding of the coronavirus, the better it is for society as a whole. Major League Baseball teams participated in a similar study done by Stanford.

In Minnesota, this hits home — Karl-Anthony Townsmother died due to complications from COVID-19. Those kinds of random, unfortunate deaths leave everyone looking for answers and a way to help, this is a small step down that road. That all 30 teams are participating speaks to the league is a plus.

It’s a step down the road of how we all ultimately get through this (and, hopefully, get basketball back soon).

NBA Draft Lottery reportedly to retain same format (whenever it takes place)

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The 2020 NBA Draft Lottery originally was set for this Tuesday (May 19), but like everything else around the NBA (and the nation) it is on indefinite hold. No new date will be set until the NBA determines what it is going to do with the rest of its season.

However, whenever the lottery returns, it will retain the same format as last year, reports Tim MacMahon at ESPN.

Although some will inevitably grumble about the order being determined by an incomplete regular season, the belief among several executives asked about it is that the lottery will remain as it was scheduled to be before the pandemic.

“I wouldn’t expect changes,” said one executive with a lottery team.

This isn’t a surprise, and change would have been discussed with owners long ago.

It’s not ideal to have the lottery without the full 82 games (and it’s highly unlikely we will see a complete season, at best we likely see a handful more regular season games played). But, in this coronavirus shortened season, nothing is going to be as we hoped.

Besides, with the flattened out lottery odds (started last season), getting a little worse or a little better isn’t going to change a team’s chances in the draw dramatically.

When play was suspended, Golden State, Cleveland, and Minnesota had the three worst records and each would have a 14% shot at the No. 1 pick. That would be followed by Atlanta (12.5%) and Detroit (10.5%).

The 2020 NBA Draft Combine also is postponed, but the NBA still hopes to conduct that, possibly virtually. The NCAA has pushed back the date that players need to decide if they are in or out of the draft to maintain their college eligibility, with that date now in flux like everything else.

For now, the 2020 NBA Draft Lottery date remains up in the air. Adam Silver and his team at the league office have a decision tree and countless scenarios mapped out, depending upon the virus and how states where the league hopes to have “bubbles” for games are doing in the fight against COVID-19. When a decision on the season is made, the lottery and everything else will fall into place.

Until then, we wait.

D’Angelo Russell says Lakers didn’t offer professional guidance, takes blame

D'Angelo Russell in Lakers-Nets
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D'Angelo Russell has a unique place in NBA history: young star journeyman.

The Lakers drafted Russell No. 2 overall in 2015. After alienating his teammates in Los Angeles, Russell got traded to Brooklyn. He developed into an All-Star with the Nets, but they moved on to sign Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. So, Russell joined the Warriors last summer in a double sign-and-trade for Durant, becoming the youngest established All-Star to change teams via free agency. Russell already got moved again, getting dealt to the Timberwolves just before the trade deadline.

Russell is only player ever to play for four different teams and become an All-Star all before turning 24.

Nobody else has played for even three different teams and become an All-Star before turning 24.

Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic took a deep dive into Russell’s journey. I recommend reading it in full. The story includes Russell reflecting on each of his stops.

Russell on the Lakers:

“I didn’t know how to be a professional and the guidance wasn’t there also,” Russell said. “I don’t blame anybody. I blame myself. It was really a blur to me, just in the sense that the things that I’ve been through ever since then.”

A completely fair assessment.

The Lakers were focused on Kobe Bryant’s farewell tour. Young players like Russell got put on the backburner. Russell’s relationship with Lakers coach Byron Scott was mutually unproductive.

But nobody is responsible for D’Angelo Russell like D’Angelo Russell. It would’ve been nice if the Lakers better mentored him. Ultimately, though, it falls on him.

Which leads to Brooklyn, where Russell improved under then-coach Kenny Atkinson’s watch.

Russell on the Nets:

“I’m not going to give it to Kenny,” he said. “I still don’t think he knew what he had, honestly. I don’t think he knew what I was capable of in the fourth quarter.”

If Russell gets the blame for his stumbles, he should also get the acclaim for his success. People assign too much credit to the coach. Though Brooklyn’s player-development system helped, the player is most central to his own growth.

Russell’s progress earned him plenty of suitors in free agency, including the Timberwolves. But unlike Minnesota, Golden State offered a max contract.

Russell on the Warriors:

“I remember going through the process and I was like, ‘If I go to Minnesota, I play with Karl and all the guys who will be there. I could potentially settle down and relax and unpack my bags,” Russell said. “But there’s something telling me you gotta go get every bit of money you’re worth right now.”

There’s always valuing in securing financial security. That looks particularly prescient now.

Though Russell spent time as an awkward fit in Golden State, he still got to Minnesota, where he was heavily pursued and warmly welcomed.

Russell on the Timberwolves:

“I’m like, OK,” he said, “this is where I’m supposed to be.”

I still have questions about Russell’s and Karl-Anthony Towns‘ fit together. Though the friends have long wanted to play together and each have plenty of talent, neither has shown the necessary commitment to the finer points of winning basketball.

Of course, there’s still time to learn. After all – despite all he has been through and all the perspective he shows throughout Krawczynski’s article – Russell is still just 24.

When will NBA return? A Q&A on where, what will it look like, how to watch

When will NBA return
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A restart of this NBA season — albeit in a very different form — has gained momentum in recent weeks, and it seems more and more likely games will be back this summer, prompting the obvious question of when will NBA return? Those games will be played without fans in the building, and there could be other format changes, but the league wants to complete a season that legitimately crowns a champion.

There are countless things still undecided about a return, but as plans take shape this is where they stand today, according to sources and other reports. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman put together this update.

When will NBA return?

NBA commissioner Adam Silver reportedly plans to decide in 2-4 weeks.
—Dan Feldman

Do NBA players support the return? NBA owners?

Yes. An “overwhelming” majority of players support a return to play this season — if steps are in place to make things safe. A number of the game’s biggest stars — LeBron James, Chris Paul, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrookestablished a united front after a conference call saying they wanted to return to play this season, forming a powerful lobby that will influence other players.

Another player reportedly put the split at 70% wanting to play this season as long as things are safe, 30% do not. That is an overwhelming majority that want to come back, but also a sizeable minority with concerns. Players want to know what the risks are with a return, and some will want more safety guaranteed than others.

As for the owners, there is no public polling, but the buzz around the league is they unanimously want this season to play out. Financially, that should be expected. They and their organizations are taking a big hit in the pocketbook and they want to restart games, make their television partners happy, and regain momentum for the league. More importantly, they want next season — even if it starts around Christmas — to be played in full, all 82 games.

The owners of some teams well out of the playoffs have questioned if they should shoulder the expense of sending teams to a “bubble” location for a handful of meaningless regular season games. Still, they will do so for the good of the game if NBA Commissioner Adam Silver asks them to.
—Kurt Helin

When would NBA games resume? How often could teams play?

The NBA is still mapping out potential timelines, but most sources around the league expect games — whether they be regular season, part of a play-in tournament, or playoff games — to begin in July. Those games would be preceded by a roughly three-week “training camp” for players to get back in shape and readjust to playing. The timing of all of that will depend on both the coronavirus in America and the availability of rapid testing.

How often teams would play also is not fully decided, but most around the league expect a condensed schedule with playoff games every other day for teams (and a rotation so games are being played and broadcast every day). If there are regular season games we possibly will see some back-to-back games for teams as the league pushes to get as many games in a limited time as possible.
—Kurt Helin

How can I watch?

The playoff games, once they tip-off, will be broadcast on ESPN and TNT, as per usual. Teams’ regional sports networks likely would be able to show any regular season games played as well as the first round of the playoffs, as they traditionally would. The schedule for the games (if they are played) will be announced at a later date.

The also NBA wants to use this opportunity to explore new camera angles and greater use of technology — possibly pushing their 3-D game experience or other new technology — to help draw viewers in since the energy will be different without fans in the building.
—Kurt Helin

Where would NBA games be played?

Most likely inside a “bubble” or “bubbles” in an MGM hotel in Las Vegas (the Mandalay Bay) and/or at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando. There has been momentum toward two bubbles of late, with possibly the West teams in Las Vegas and the East in Orlando. (Other cities are still in consideration, but are seen as long shots.)

The NBA has coalesced around the concept of the bubble — Adam Silver described it as a “campus setting” to owners — where players, coaches, trainers, staff, and everyone would live, eat, practice, and play games in one location. The idea would be to test everyone before they come into the bubble, and regularly inside the facility, with the hope of keeping the virus out — and quickly quarantined and controlled if it gets in. It’s not only people with the teams or broadcast crews who would be tested but also people with the hotel and facility (janitorial staff, chefs, security, etc.).

Players would be able to leave the “bubble” but would be tested upon re-entry. Players’ families and significant others also are expected to be allowed in the bubble, they would face the same testing requirements.
—Kurt Helin

What would be the safety protocols? Would there be enough testing?

It’s all about the testing. The NBA’s return this season hinges on accurate, widely available rapid testing. There will be other layers of protection inside the bubble facilities as well, but testing is the lynchpin. Anyone entering the bubble would be tested, and Silver said he wants daily testing for players and team staff in the facility. There also would be extensive testing of everyone (hotel staff, for example) involved. In addition to testing, there would be temperature checks (which can catch people with symptoms, even if not everyone shows them), increased sterilization of surfaces, and other steps.

One concern for the league: That they can get the estimated 15,000 tests they need for this without being a drain on tests needed in other parts of the nation where there are outbreaks. The league faced a PR backlash back in March when entire teams were tested (including players without symptoms) while in those same states  citizens with symptoms could not get a test. The NBA learned its lesson on that front.
—Kurt Helin

What happens if a player tests positive?

That player would instantly be quarantined, and there would be contact tracing and testing of everyone that player was in contact within recent days. That team may not play games for a couple of days, depending on the situation.

Play would not stop. Silver emphasized this to both players and owners in recent calls — the league cannot shut down again after one positive test if it is going to get through this season and finish the playoffs. A player who tests positive would be treated almost like a player with a sprained ankle or other injury — he would not be able to play, but games would continue (except in this case said player would not be in street clothes on the bench, instead he would be quarantined away from the other players). Injuries are part of the luck of the playoffs, a positive test would be treated the same way by the league.

Ultimately, to finish the season, the NBA and its players face the same question the rest of society does right now: What is an acceptable level of risk?
—Kurt Helin

What format would the season, playoffs take?

This is one of the big questions still hanging over a restart of the league, and the NBA is mapping out a range of scenarios. One of the key questions in answering this question becomes how deep into the fall the league is willing to go. Is Labor Day weekend the cut off? Is it mid-September? October?

There are three options for the NBA restart (each follows a three-to-four-week training camp to get players back in shape). First would be to bring back all 30 NBA teams, play at least some of the postponed regular season games (if not all), then jump into a playoffs with seven games in each round. This is the NBA’s preferred option financially, but it also would run the longest into the fall, and the more teams brought into a bubble the harder it is to maintain.

Second would be to have a play-in tournament with the final playoff seeds up for grabs. This likely would involve seeds seven, eight, nine, and 10 (and maybe 11 and 12). This compromise has gotten pushback from some teams (what’s the point of earning a playoff spot in the regular season?), plus this would be something to broadcast not covered in the current television agreement, forcing that to be renegotiated at a time there are a lot of other priorities. The final option is to go straight into the playoffs, using the standings as they were when play was suspended. This is the cleanest and most straightforward option, however, it also does not help as the regional networks hit their broadcast goals and it would mean some teams would stop play in March and likely not retake the court until December.
—Kurt Helin

How late could the season go?

The latest word: October. But we’re not that far removed from Labor Day being considered the deadline. This seemingly keeps getting pushed back and could get pushed back again.

The NBA was approaching its most lucrative time of the year – the playoffs – when the shutdown occurred. It’s just logical to make every reasonable effort to play the postseason, even if it disrupts a future regular season.

Prolonging the current season also buys more time for advances that allow fans into arenas next season. Silver said the league draws about 40% of its revenue from ticket sales and other game-day sources.
—Dan Feldman

When will the next season start?

The NBA is open to delaying the start of next season. December gets mentioned most often, because that’d fit with finishing this season then having a shortened offseason.

But there’s a degree of hopefulness with that timeline. Coronavirus creates uncertainty in how quickly the NBA can restart this season, let alone finish it.

Even if the NBA cancels the rest of this season, there are no guarantees about when it’d be safe to start next season amid a pandemic. Unlike this season, next season would definitely include all 30 teams and possibly travel between cities – more points of concern.
—Dan Feldman

When will the NBA draft and free agency take place?

The league is reportedly set on holding the draft after the current season (whether canceled or completed). That’d allow teams to put current players into trades involving draft picks. A delay would also allow a chance for team workouts and a (potentially virtual) combine. Right now, the pre-draft process is out of whack. The NCAA indefinitely deferring its withdrawal deadline eases the NBA’s ability to postpone the draft.

If holding the draft before the season finishes is untenable, there’s absolutely no way to hold free agency until then. For the playoffs to be credible, players must have contractual allegiance to only their current team.
—Dan Feldman

What are the financial ramifications (including to the salary cap) of the stopped season?

Simply, the NBA is losing significant revenue while on hiatus. That hurts both owners and players, as the Collective Bargaining Agreement calls for each side to split revenue approximately 50-50.

So far, owners have borne the brunt of the losses. Players will soon feel the pain through paycheck deductions. A lower salary cap could follow.

A goal was preventing a significant decline in the salary cap (which is $109.14 million and was projected to be $115 million next season). The salary cap is typically calculated based on revenue. Yet, owners and players could agree to artificially boost the salary cap while withholding a higher portion of salary from all players. That’d protect certain classes of players – 2020 first-round picks, 2020 free agents, players who signed max extensions last year (Ben Simmons, Jamal Murray, Pascal Siakam and maybe Jaylen Brown) – from getting particularly disadvantaged. It’d also smooth (pun intended) the transition back into normal conditions whenever that happens.
—Dan Feldman