We have a loose timeline. We have the makings of a coronavirus testing program. We (potentially) have a host site. Much is still shrouded in uncertainty, but the NBA has recently made marked strides towards a return to action.
Here’s the rundown:
The makings of a testing program
On Thursday, Shams Charania of The Athletic reported that the league has begun prepping teams for a coronavirus testing program that will be essential to any resumption bid.
In a later tweet, Charania added names of test providers the league is in talks with: BioReference Laboratories, LabCorp, Quest Diagnostics and Vault Health/RUCDR Infinite Biologics at Rutgers.
Testing capacity remains one of the biggest hurdles facing the league in its bid to resume the season. To maintain the integrity of a hypothetical “bubble” site, daily testing will reportedly be essential, although commissioner Adam Silver has said he hopes to not have one positive COVID-19 test shut the league down entirely — as it did when Rudy Gobert tested positive on March 11.
Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer recently did a well-sourced breakdown of potential options for rapid testing the league is looking at, which is well worth a read. In it, O’Connor reported that those that test positive would be required to quarantine off-site (from the “bubble”), detailed the realistic odds of false-negative tests and reported “group testing” as an option the league is considering to limit the number of tests used.
A timetable begins to materialize
Making the above reports so noteworthy is that they come on the direct heels of multiple reports elucidating a loose timeline for the NBA to resume play — really, for the first time since the season was suspended.
How that timetable exactly breaks down will likely be more clear when the league distributes fresh guidelines to teams “around June 1” — a date reported by Wojnarowski. With those guidelines in hand, teams are reportedly expected to be permitted to recall out-of-market players, which dovetails with an expectation that commissioner Adam Silver will greenlight a relaunch plan in June that would involve games starting in July. A report from The Athletic authored by Charania and Sam Amick called a scenario where players begin fully training in mid-June and playing games in mid-July “the most popular and possible scenario discussed” by multiple sources.
Spencer Dinwiddie hopped on Twitter and corroborated the above timeline, responding to a tweet that said “June 21st NBA Back” by saying: “That’s (June 21) just practice… I heard those last five games at bubble site start July 15th.”
The New York Times’ Marc Stein confirmed league-wide “buzz” around that period:
The natural follow-up: Well, how late into the year would the season extend?
That is yet unclear until we know exactly how many games the NBA will look to salvage. Brian Windhorst reported that completing all 259 currently-postponed regular season games and a full four playoff rounds would take “roughly three months” — 88 days to be exact (33 for the regular season, 55 for the playoffs). Assuming a July 15 start date, that scenario would take the NBA Finals into mid-October, hypothetically smack dab in the middle of the NFL regular season and MLB playoffs.
Finishing out an 82-game regular season and full playoff slate feels improbable. Bringing all 30 teams into a potential bubble would exponentially increase the difficulty of maintaining quarantine integrity, from an influx of athletes and team personnel, to an increased need for accommodation staff. It would also drastically extend the quarantine time window, and rub closely up against a potential Christmas Day start date for 2020-21 (remember: the league will need to fit the draft, free agency, possibly Summer League and training camp in whenever the offseason comes to pass). Financial considerations will be front of mind, to be sure; though game-night proceeds, which a recent estimate pinpointed as 40 percent of the league’s revenue, are out the window with spectator-less games a certainty, the league still has much to lose on the television frontier.
Many have floated 70 games as a benchmark for the regular season. There has also reportedly been talk of condensing playoff rounds, or even a play-in tournament (among other creative solutions) in the past.
But without public word from the league, or a cohesive string of reports, this isn’t worth speculating too much on just yet. It’s something to monitor, though — especially if you’re itching for five more games of 2019-20 Bulls basketball. More word could come at (or in advance/the wake of) a Board of Governors call currently scheduled for May 29.
Building the Bubble
Precisely what a return to play will look like also remains uncertain, aside from the fact that Orlando’s Walt Disney World Resort is reportedly the “clear frontrunner” to host. It makes sense. The resort boasts sprawling basketball and housing facilities; it’s private property, which will help in maintaining the integrity of a quarantine; and Disney owns ESPN, one of the league’s main television partners, which could help facilitate the eventual broadcasting of games.
It’s also freaking 39 square miles!
Keith Smith of Yahoo! Sports, who first speculated about the viability of Disney World as a host site in April, even reported Disney is beginning preparations:
But again, the follow-up question is the hardest, and most complex. What will the bubble look like?
As mentioned, daily testing will be crucial. But will quarantine (of all principles, from players to accommodation staff) be enforced via surveillance? Will families of players and staff be permitted in? (Those first two questions have both reportedly been sticking points with players in the past.) Will players and personnel be allowed to move freely about the property they inhabit, or be confined to hotel rooms? And moreover, who’s allowed in? Will there be media? Will rosters expand? What exactly happens to a player if they test positive? Will a separate quarantine site be in place for that event, and is one’s team expected to move on without them?
Most of those questions — and many more — are unanswerable at present, but the Lakers’ Jared Dudley added a bit of context in a Zoom call with reporters.
“You will be allowed to leave," Dudley said on the call, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.
"When you're dealing with 300 different players — if you've seen the [Michael] Jordan documentary, every team's got a [Dennis] Rodman. He just doesn't have green and blue hair… There's always someone who's outside the box, who does that, takes the risk and says, 'Hey, listen, man, I'm healthy, and I feel good.
"That's where the responsibility comes for us... Sometimes it's out of our realm, in the sense of, 'Hey, we got to stay within the bubble. Let's do this. We got to stay isolated. It's going to be hard for two months, but it's something we have to sacrifice.’”
That’s not league-announced information, so it shouldn’t be taken as doctrine. But it does line up with the sentiment that Silver “does not expect a ‘medical bubble’ — but an environment in which people can re-enter and undergo retesting,” as reported by Charania and Amick.
The rest remains to be seen, but as teams begin to trickle back into their practice facilities, the drumbeat of a relaunch continues to thump.
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