Alex Caruso could return to the Lakers lineup as soon as tonight, when the team will take on the San Antonio Spurs, but has missed the team’s last five games due to the league’s health and safety protocols, which is as specific of a reason for his absence as the team has ever given. And on Tuesday, the Lakers had another member of the organization missing, as head athletic trainer Nina Hsieh — perhaps best known for her fan favorite appearances on JaVale McGee’s NBA Bubble vlogs — was not on the bench for their second matchup with the Grizzlies in Memphis due to the league’s guidelines.
Just like with Caruso, the Lakers never specified why Hsieh was held out, but her situation was evidently different than Caruso’s, as she was cleared by the end of the game to rejoin the team and travel on the plane with them back to Los Angeles. Caruso was only taken off the team’s status report yesterday, 10 days after he was originally held out.
But whatever the differences between the two scenarios facing Hsieh and Caruso were, they’ve given the Lakers an early reminder of how different, challenging and sometimes scary this season will be in a multitude of ways. Head coach Frank Vogel also emphasized that all of it also means that everyone in the organization will have to be ready to step up at any time.
“Such is life in a pandemic. There are protocols in place to keep us all safe, and when something is out of place, something like tonight happens. We’ve all just got to have a roll with it type of mindset,” Vogel said. “Part of life in a pandemic is going to be people — staff, players, coaches — at any time, pulled from their responsibilities. And we just have to have a next-man-up type of mindset.”
On the team’s roster, that will mean players like Talen Horton-Tucker or others on the fringes of the rotation working hard to stay ready to play more if a regular rotation player like Caruso is held out for any reason. For staffers like assistant athletic trainer Jon Ishop, that means being ready to step into Hsieh’s role if necessary, like he did on Tuesday.
It’s also a reminder for everyone, both in the organization and outside of it, of how careful we all need to be right now, especially in Los Angeles County, where the L.A. Times’ data analysis shows that someone is becoming infected with the coronavirus roughly every six seconds, and dying of it every 10 minutes. We all need to be cautious and follow best practices, whether we work for the Lakers or not. So wash your hands, mask up, and physically distance yourself from others. We’re all in this together.