As May Opens, Where Does The NBA Stand?
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The NBA planned to hold off on making any decisions about the future of the 2019-20 season through the month of April. Though commissioner Adam Silver has resisted any concrete date on when he would decide on the future of the league, he seemed to imply that by May the league should have a better grasp of what the summer holds.
While the league doesn’t appear any closer to announcing an official return date, the tea leaves surrounding the coronavirus seem to be optimistic. The scales appear to show that the NBA is trending in a positive direction for a summer return.
First and foremost, the NBA hasn’t felt rushed to make a decision to end its season. Make no mistake, though the financial impact would be disastrous, the easiest decision the league could have made would have been to cancel the remainder of the year, failing to crown a champion, and returning for the 2020-21 season.
The league would have been able to proceed with their regularly scheduled summer activities, including the NBA draft. It could have used the summer league as a testing ground for how to return to action next season in a location like Las Vegas or Orlando in the bubble city scenario.
Instead, the league continues to examine the data surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, while working on a multitude of contingency plans in hopes of bringing the season back. That alone might be the best sign of optimism basketball fans can point to in terms of finishing the current season.
Players Returning To Practice Facilities
Secondly, the NBA is already broaching the idea of reopening its practice facilities for players to return to the floor. Though it won’t be a leaguewide requirement for teams to open their doors, franchises in cities and states with loosening stay-at-home orders (including Utah). Those franchises could start welcoming players back to court as soon as May 8.
Though the number of players allowed in the facility at one time will be limited, and group activities of any kind will be prohibited, bringing players back to the floor is a cause for optimism. Opening practice facilities will help players maintain their physical shape, a vital step towards returning to action.
Positive League Logistics
Third, when it comes to the basic logistics of returning to action, the NBA has a significant upper hand compared to other sports leagues.
Major League Baseball carries an active roster of 25 players each game, while the NFL has 53 active players. The NBA has a maximum roster size of 17 spots including two-way players, and a maximum of just 13 active players to begin each game.
Though the game is inherently intimate, the lower number of players required to resume the season should give the league a better opportunity to prevent the spread of the virus through frequent testing. Additionally, should the NBA choose to return, with nearly three-quarters of the regular season completed, the league could likely return to action without the teams have been eliminated from playoff contention. The fewer number of players that return, the lower number of tests will be needed to prevent exposure.
Additionally, with the shortest run time of each individual sport, the league could realistically complete a large number of games in a relatively short period of time.
The Geographical Solution
Fourth, the geographic hurdles seem to have more answers than questions.
As it stands, it seems two cities have already made themselves available to the NBA should it decide to complete its season. Both Las Vegas and Orlando, specifically the Disney World resorts, seem to be appropriate suitors. Both locations have the number of available courts, broadcast sights, and hotel rooms required to satisfy the league when it returns to action.
Las Vegas already hosts the NBA each July during the 30-team summer league, proving it has the infrastructure to house such an event. Disney World hosts some 50 million visitors each year — thus hosting a league of roughly 450 players, plus the necessary staff would be a relative drop in the bucket.
With locations already lining up to host the games, the league has a major piece of the puzzle already worked out should it return this season. Another sign the NBA is trending in a positive direction for a summer return.
Fifth, likely the best news overall even beyond the world of sports is the emerging advancements in the treatment of the virus. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading physician on infectious diseases, touted a recent study of remdesivir in its effectiveness in shortening the recovery time of those infected by the virus.
While the treatment is in its early stages and is by no means a vaccine, its a step in the right direction. Any improved treatment is a cause for optimism for the future of the pandemic and could help to reduce future risk towards the end of the year.
Despite the appearance of the scales shifting in the NBA’s favor, significant hurdles remain before the NBA will return.
The most glaring question that must be addressed is what happens if a player tests positive once the league returns. Within hours of Jazz center Rudy Gobert’s positive test, the NBA shuttered its doors with no set return date. While only a handful of players have publically announced their positive tests, Silver says the actual number was “greater than the initial report of seven.”
If even one player tests positive should the league return does the NBA feel comfortable it can quarantine that player and identify other carriers through testing, or would the entire league have to go on another hiatus? Any further suspensions in league play would likely interfere with future seasons, meaning the risk could be greater than the reward.
A Second Wave
If the season were canceled after a second wave of positive tests, would the league lose its positive momentum heading into next season making a return later this year less likely?
Does the league feel it can effectively isolate its players and staff in a bubble scenario? Even if the NBA were only to return for six weeks, could it limit all of its personnel from being exposed to the virus, and would the players approve such a schedule that could take them away from their families during a worldwide pandemic?
Jazz guard Joe Ingles has already spoken out about the difficult decision he would face if he was asked to leave his young family for an extended period of time.
“I don’t know how much I am willing to do that,” Ingles said of the proposed bubble scenario, “As much as I love playing basketball.”
Playing the remainder of the season at Disney World, rather than Las Vegas may help limit the temptation of leaving a controlled environment to find entertainment, and could potentially allow NBA families a location to spend time together in the bubble scenario.
Even if commissioner Silver has yet to give a clear cut nod one direction or another, the odds of returning this season appear to be trending in the league’s favor. By allowing the league to sit in hiatus rather than canceling the season early on, the NBA has shown a clear desire to return to the floor to crown a champion.
With potential bubble city locations lined up, and the league reopening its doors to players over the next 30 days, fans should feel a sense of optimism that NBA is trending in a positive direction for a summer return.
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