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NBA, players’ union discussing return to daily COVID-19 testing

Zion Williamson's foot injury is concerning, but the buzz out of New Orleans is that they still want to win now. With Williamson eligible for a max contract extension in the offseason, big decisions loom on the horizon.

The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association are in the process of enhancing their health and safety protocols in response to rising coronavirus numbers around the league, said a person familiar with the negotiations.

Among the biggest changes: The league and the union are working to finalize a plan to return to daily testing for players and coaches, at least in the short term, said the person who spoke to The Associated Press Wednesday on condition of anonymity because nothing had been finalized or publicly announced.

Fully vaccinated players have not needed daily testing this season. The league and the union were already prepared to start daily testing on Friday for those who have yet to receive booster shots, and now may simply widen those plans.

The league has said about 97% of players are vaccinated, and just over 60% of those are boosted. But there were 33 players known to be in the league’s health and safety protocols as of Wednesday evening, along with two head coaches - Indiana’s Rick Carlisle and Sacramento interim coach Alvin Gentry - and a number of other staffers.

Among the big-name players currently sidelined: Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brooklyn’s James Harden. The league has postponed two games this week involving the Chicago Bulls, who have a league-high 10 players currently in protocols.

“I’ve got a feeling we may go back to some of the stuff we did last year, which was clearly no fun,” Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers said Wednesday. “But we got through the season, so I guess that’s the sacrifice. If that’s what we have to do, we have to do it.”

Another big change that’s already certain: The Toronto Raptors will have to limit attendance to 50% capacity, at least for now.

Officials in Ontario on Wednesday ordered the attendance limit, which will affect the Raptors, the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs and others. The Raptors were already planning to begin a new initiative called “Operation Mask Up (or out)” on Saturday, requiring “all attendees to strictly adhere to all mask-wearing protocols or risk ejection from the building.”

The Raptors’ ownership group also said it “strongly encourages all fans to get vaccinated and closely follow all public health protocols to protect each other and our community at large.”

The NHL also is planning enhanced protocols into early January, in response to the rising numbers. Multiple NFL teams have also been affected this week, with some forced to work remotely after multiple positive tests.

“Yeah, I’m worried. I’m just worried in general,” Rivers said. “You see football and hockey and us, basketball. It’s just a lot of it right now. It’s a lot of it nationwide. Obviously, outside of sports, as well. It clearly is a concern, for sure.”

Some players were removed from protocols in recent days, including Charlotte point guard LaMelo Ball. He was ruled out for Wednesday night’s game against the San Antonio Spurs and is continuing to work on conditioning.

Players in the health and safety protocols must be sidelined at least 10 days or record two negative COVID-19 tests in a 24-hour period before they can resume basketball activities.