When the NBA issued a warning to the Lakers and LeBron James this week, saying that James would not be suspended but had violated the league’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols by attending an outdoor party with celebrities to promote his tequila brand, head coach Frank Vogel wasn’t concerned.
The NBA ultimately decided not to put James into isolation due to the lower-risk nature of the event — which was outdoors and featured only a handful of people who were all tested and/or vaccinated — but part of Vogel’s lack of concern may not have been solely that he isn’t the type of coach to criticize his players publicly. It’s also because the Lakers are about to have more freedom within the league’s health and safety protocols.
While last week the team had not yet hit the threshold of having 85% of their players and 85% of their travel party staff fully vaccinated — aka two weeks out from their final dose of the COVID-19 vaccine — that would lead to lessened restrictions, Vogel said the team expects to hit that goal on Monday.
“All we did in terms of talking to our guys about it is just remind them that as of Monday we expect to be a fully vaccinated team at the 85%, and remind them what the rules look like, that we can eat outdoors, that we can eat indoors, those types of things,” Vogel said.
According to Vogel, the main benefit of this will be that the team can now gather for dinners to bond.
“I haven’t really dove into what that’s going to look like,” Vogel said of what other benefits are provided for teams at the 85% threshold. “Our guys can have team dinners, which they haven’t been able to do this year with the exception of restaurants at the hotel and things like that. But I just know guys will be able to do more together in that type of setting.”
There are other benefits as well, privileges that Baxter Holmes of ESPN outlined in his report on the NBA’s memo to teams about what they can do once they are 85% vaccinated:
Fully vaccinated individuals will no longer have to quarantine following exposure to COVID-19; can have friends, family and others visit at home and on the road without having them test or register with the team; and can dine outdoors at restaurants, among other eased restrictions.
Fully vaccinated teams will no longer have to wear masks at the practice facility; have more flexibility to leave the team hotel on the road; and can dine indoors or outdoors at restaurants, among other eased restrictions.
There is also the reality that the Lakers have hardly been able to practice this year, especially on the road, in part because of all the restrictions for teams. It is possible that reaching this threshold will also make gathering for those types of events easier.
So long story short, this is all obviously good news for the Lakers, who Vogel admitted last week had missed the team bonding activities that they were denied this year due to the protocols.
“That’s been absent league-wide in terms of team building and team bonding,” Vogel said on Friday. “It’s been a challenge. So if we ever reach that threshold, then obviously we can do more.”
Now the Lakers are there, so while they may not be fully vaccinated, it is now far less likely that they will have players shelved for protocol violations in the future. In addition to that being great news just in a societal sense and for their own personal health and that of their families, it should also provide camaraderie, bonding and simple availability benefits for the Lakers as the NBA postseason continues.