NBA Determined to Power Through Latest Crisis with Imperfect Solutions

Jake Fischer@JakeLFischerContributor IJanuary 12, 2021

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver attends Game 2 of basketball's NBA Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat on Friday, Oct. 2, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver held a Town Hall with league office employees on Monday in which he and Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum maintained a clear messaging: The season will continue, even with the recent uptick of positive COVID-19 tests among numerous teams.   

The league and players union are determined to carry out this 2020-21 season without any stoppage, collaborating over the weekend and through Tuesday to release new, stricter health and safety guidelines that are intended to decrease players' and team staffers' physical contact. 

"They are going to try to power through the next few weeks," says one high-ranking team official. 

And the sentiment many fans have shared, that the league's new protocols are more for optics than anything else, has been echoed by several team personnel contacted by B/R.  

When the NBA forged forward with plans to begin this campaign in December, it was with the idea that vaccinated fans could be in arenas by as early as the springtime. We are watching a multibillion-dollar spinning wheel, one that would take immense efforts to whirr back into motion if the calendar were to ever halt. It took four months for the NBA to restart the 2019-20 season, and the hailed success of that experiment in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, also came with huge profit losses.  

There is optimism among many team executives and league officials that the NBA's recent spike, which has seen several games postponed due to teams' inability to field a full roster, has rendered far more players ineligible due to contact tracing, not actual positive tests. That appears to be the main reason only stricter guidelines have been issued, rather than anything of more substantive measure, despite the Celtics, Heat, Sixers, Mavericks, Wizards and Bulls all sporting significantly thinned rosters due to known contact with individuals who tested positive.  

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Elise Amendola/Associated Press

It remains to be seen, of course, how the NBA would respond if the number of positive COVID-19 tests were to increase as the calendar flips to February. But league sources suggest there has been very little discussion regarding potential doomsday scenarios.  

Talks to expand rosters beyond the current 17-player limit have fallen short. A main goal of any conversation, dating back to restarting the 2019-20 season, has been limiting the size of team traveling parties as much as possible.  

And while some organizations have supported introducing a concept similar to MLB's "taxi squad" setup from last summer—where teams could essentially carry extra players for road trips—there has been significant pushback on that idea as well. "More players means more COVID risk," Dallas Mavericks governor Mark Cuban told Bleacher Report in an email. 

A large portion of the players with the talent level and availability to serve as potential replacements will be headed to the February G League bubble near Orlando. 

That irony there is quite palpable. And where these new stricter health and safety guidelines seek to limit players from intermingling pre- and postgame—they'll be restricted to touching elbows or bumping fists—those athletes of course sweat and breathe on each other for the 48 minutes between those meet-and-greets. "The new protocols are a joke," one assistant coach told B/R.  

Players will no longer be allowed to have guests in their hotel rooms, but why were they allowed in the first place? Now during flights, teams are required to make a seating plan where players are assigned seats closest to who they sit next to on the bench for games. It's curious why that straightforward logic was not already being applied. 

The NBA season, alas, continues. While Boston and Chicago's game Tuesday night has been postponed, six other contests will be in action. And until an even greater health risk presents itself, there doesn't appear to be anything else changing anytime soon.