What's next for the NBA? A plan for testing is the big key
For the NBA, it is not officially time to play. It’s getting closer, but the league isn’t there yet.
The move to agree on a 22-team format for the resumption of the pandemic-interrupted season is a major step forward, but it was just the first of many major decisions that has to be completed before the league moves into the ESPN Wide Wide Of Sports complex at the Disney campus near Orlando next month.
Another step was completed Friday as expected when the representatives from the National Basketball Players Association voted to unanimously approve the proposal that the NBA’s Board of Governors approved a day earlier.
More talks and negotiations are scheduled for the coming days to work out everything else, and it is a sizable list. A look at some of the other issues facing the league, both in the quest to finish this season and then what awaits in the coming year:
The format was significant, but not the biggest hurdle for the NBA to clear in this process. That one, by far, is testing. The medical protocols are the most critical part of the return-to-play plan.
The league and the players know they must go above and beyond in the interest of safety. The protocols are the key — players will have to practice social distancing when they aren't playing, plus submit to a quarantine at the beginning of the time at Disney and likely daily testing for the entirety of their stay there.
Players and coaches likely won't even be able to have their families at Disney until September, at the earliest.
A person with direct knowledge of the talks said the NBA and NBPA have been working on what will be lengthy protocols — which, among other things, will explain what happens when a player or coach tests positive while at the Disney complex.
The season is set to resume July 31, with playoffs starting in mid-August and leading up to an NBA Finals that could stretch until Oct. 12.
Other than Milwaukee and the Los Angeles Lakers, who are all-but certain of going into the playoffs with No. 1 seeds, everyone at Disney will be playing for something — a playoff seed or a playoff spot.
The dynamic at the bottom of the East is fascinating with Brooklyn and Orlando separated by a half-game — and Washington just 1-1/2 games out of getting into a two-game play-in series for the No. 8 spot.
Out West, expect craziness with six teams basically assured of vying for one berth.
Whichever team emerges from that mess will be playoff-ready and loaded with confidence heading into Game 1 of Round 1 against the Lakers. That means the Lakers will have to be playoff-sharp right away, because LeBron James and his teammates will open against a team that’s hot.
THE OTHER EIGHT
Consider this: Detroit didn’t win a game in March, and now won’t play in April, May, June, July, August, September, October or November.
The Pistons’ last win was Feb. 28. The rough — very rough — draft of the NBA calendar suggests next season will start Dec. 1.
That’s almost nine full months without games. Meanwhile, the 2020 NBA finalists aren’t even slated to get nine weeks off before next season starts.
And every team will have to cram a draft and free agency into very small windows next fall.
For Detroit, Chicago, New York, Atlanta, Cleveland, Charlotte, Minnesota and Golden State, it'll be a long break. The Warriors’ Klay Thompson last played a year ago, when he tore his ACL in the NBA Finals. He’s basically going to go a year and a half without playing a real game. (The same could be the case for Kevin Durant, if he doesn’t return to Brooklyn’s lineup when the season resumes.)
“This certainly wasn’t how we hoped our season would come to an end, and it’s fair to say that we are disappointed that our young team will not be allowed to gain more valuable time playing together by being included in the restart of the season,” Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk and coach Lloyd Pierce said in a joint statement Friday.
There’s a lot of teams feeling that same way.
The very long wait for the eight teams not going to Disney and the very short offseason for the teams that go deep into the playoffs are Disney are not the only schedule issue on the table right now.
If the NBA goes forward with a normal regular season in 2020-21, a Dec. 1 start date means the playoffs wouldn’t start until late May and could reach into late July.
And that calls into question whether NBA players could take part in the Olympics, which has qualifying scheduled for June 2021 for the final four spots in the men’s field and then the Tokyo Games themselves beginning on July 23, 2021.
USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo has said the Americans will wait and see what the NBA schedule really is before reacting and setting a firm plan for picking a team for Tokyo next summer.
But for the players who play deep into this season, then play deep into next season, that’s a lot of basketball without a lot of time off. And that could make the job of picking an Olympic team much tougher than usual.