Nobody knows what happens next, because nobody knows where we will be as a nation in fighting the coronavirus in six weeks, 10 weeks, or even September. Not Adam Silver, not Dr. Anthony Fauci, and certainly not politicians or pundits. As Fauci puts it well, the virus determines the timeline.
That said, there is a real hunger from the NBA league office, its owners and players, to find a way to finish off this season.
“There’s still hope around the league and there’s a tremendous amount of planning and contingencies and brain-storming going on with the league office, with teams, executives, sports science, medical staffs for the league and for teams, as well as the Players Association.
“But there’s also a level of realism that is starting to sink in it, that it’s going to be difficult to return to play this season, that a runway for how many days it would actually have to be able to have a representative rest of the season, a few regular-season games at minimum and then a playoffs that would crown a legitimate champion, that would have a playoff structure, that would be enough to have someone to wear that crown and do it without an asterisk, that’s the challenge around the league right now. And they know they’re up against it, they’re up against the clock and there’s certainly a lot of concern about whether this league will be able to return to play or not.”
The sense I get talking to people around the league is the regular season is all but dead. As much as the league wants to play even a few regular-season games, getting 14 teams to go through everything it would take — getting the players and staffs to self-quarantine for a couple of weeks, get tested, then go through a three-week training camp — to play five or so games that will not change the standings much at all is asking a lot.
There is still discussion of trying to create a “bubble” somewhere and doing a condensed playoffs, but as Wojnarowski notes that would come with an implied asterisk, something the league doesn’t want. Even if the league only brings in 16 playoff teams — or 12, or 8 — the logistics of creating a bubble in Las Vegas (or wherever) are daunting. There would have to be COVID-19 tests for everyone involved (not just players but coaches, trainers, equipment managers, cooks and cleaning staff at the hotel, and many more), and there is a big concern about false negatives in existing tests. Would player families be allowed in the bubble or are you going to separate players from their families for at least a month, likely longer? There would need to be medical staff on-site for these games, is that a good use of medical resources?
Those questions are just the tip of the iceberg, and yet that model is a much faster way to get games going again — who knows when we can have games in front of 18,000 fans again?
We all want to see basketball back as soon as possible, but it’s hard to keep the optimism about this season up right now.