Last week, the NBA released its first guidelines for the Los Angeles Lakers and the other 29 teams in the league to follow during the current COVID-19, or coronavirus, crisis. Included within was that players could not do group workouts and that they had to remain in the market of their current team.
On Sunday, the league gave an update on those precautions to teams, and it certainly reinforced the idea that the NBA is bracing to not resume the season until mid-June at the earliest:
In addition, the league has recommended that teams consider using temperature checks on everyone entering their facilities, league sources tell ESPN. https://t.co/AD5xpbfssx— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) March 16, 2020
Sources: Players who travel out of team's market during NBA season hiatus must: Provide whereabouts; remain home, do social distancing. Team permitted to pay for certain travel.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 16, 2020
Teams also encouraged to establish daily health/basketball check-ins (such as via FaceTime, Skype). https://t.co/9uoboDoJ8L
The most significant takeaway for the Lakers here, obviously, is the last one, as now Danny Green can dunk as much as he wants, and Alex Caruso can get photoshop muscles as large as the internet can imagine, all without the fear of “random” drug tests as a result.
Okay fine, so maybe those aren’t actually the biggest takeaways here. For one thing, it’s great news that the NBA is taking so many common-sense precautions. Taking everyone’s temperature when they come into the facility and keeping players separate would at least seem to be good places to start to prevent further spread of this contagion.
How these changes most significantly impact the Lakers, though. is twofold. For one, after the NBA initially hinted that teams may still be able to practice, they’re seeming to completely walk that back, which means that the Lakers and other teams will be without any NBA-level competition until the season gets closer to starting back up again, which could be months.
While that does give LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Caruso and any other Lakers who were a little dinged up a bit more time to recover, it also means that most of the team will not be in NBA shape by the time the season resumes. Obviously that’s a concern that applies to the whole league, but given the potential pitfalls it would create for even a mid-June return, it really does seem completely possible that this season will be cancelled entirely.
(And before you ask, no, it does not mean they are going to re-sign DeMarcus Cousins for the playoffs, as his medical timeline means he’s unlikely to be able to play again until August)
Also adding to the idea that the NBA is very much allowing for the possibility that a return to basketball is not exactly imminent is the league allowing players to travel out of market. While it was already pretty obvious that their initial 30-day timeline was a little too optimistic, the fact that they’re now fully allowing players to just head away from the team is yet more evidence that the league believes this will be a lengthy layoff.
And to re-state, when the league starts up again affects a lot of things, and creates a lot of questions. When the would the NBA hold its summer leagues? Or free agency or the draft? Would the start of next season be delayed? All of these queries (and plenty more) would have to be answered.
Marc Stein of the New York Times mused on Twitter that some around the league are “intrigued” by the idea of the NBA starting on Christmas, and how such a calendar might keep players from competing for their international teams, and it’s already known that some think that such a start would help ratings by reducing the amount that the NBA competes for eyeballs with the NFL.
It’s not clear how much of a dichotomy that latter point actually is — how often do games between a markets two teams overlap, anyway? — but what is clear is that such a schedule alteration would be a significant shift from how the league has always operated, and that would surely have other unintended consequences.
For one thing, it would mean the NBA would consistently overlap with the WNBA (barring a schedule change from that league as well, which would then take away the significant income women’s basketball players generate overseas during the non-summer months). NBA players would also no longer be off work during the months that their kids are home from school, and while it’s unclear how much that would matter to those players, it is something to think about.
Those are far from the only concerns, but just points to illustrate that there are domino affects to any alterations the league makes here, not to mention that all the players, owners, broadcast partners and other such groups would have to get on the same page and buy into any permanent change.
And all of this is just hypothetical for now, anyway. It’s unknown if the league will even be safe in mid-June to go forward with it’s plan to re-start the season. Keeping such matchups below 50 people, when factoring in players, coaches, other staff and broadcasters, at minimum, is no easy challenge if such CDC recommendations/local government restrictions are still in place.
In the end, as painful as it would be for teams like the Lakers and other organizations with a shot at the title, the simplest thing may ultimately be to cancel this season and try to retain some normalcy for next year, an argument Kyle Neubeck of the Philly Voice makes well here.
Look, I get it. It would certainly suck for this community and others to have the season get cancelled. There would also be ramifications for the league, but if players are going to be separated from each other for this long, with little way to effectively work on the skills that make basketball so much fun to watch in the first place, rushing back could do more long-term damage than is worth it to make up this year’s looming revenue shortfall, and that’s without mentioning how much it would potentially complicate the league’s schedule moving forward, or risk injuries for players that will be extremely rusty by June.
In the end, we also just don’t know how the threat of coronavirus is going to evolve and continue to impact the country, much less the NBA. No matter how much the NBA tries, it may be difficult to make sure that no one in the league gets infected this summer, and what would they do if it happened once they resumed? Exile and isolate that player, coach, or staffer until they no longer tested positive? Suspend the league again? It just seems like it would be exceedingly difficult to get things going while the threat of this contagion looms for a league where players sweat, breathe on and come into contact with each other constantly.
Maybe things will have calmed down by this summer, but we just don’t know. Cancelling the season may just be necessary to keep everyone safe, aside from all these other, longer-term complications.
We’ll see if things progress to that point, but either way, it really does seem like we should expect to be without basketball for a while. Stay safe (and inside) in the meantime, everyone.