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Report: NBA may require teams hit hard by COVID to sign replacement players

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.

This was the season NBA owners were going to start making money back — a full 82-game schedule with fans in the building and a return to something approximating normalcy.

The pandemic had other plans and has hit the NBA hard in recent weeks — 71 players have been put in health and safety protocols in December.

Last season, 30 games were postponed. The league desperately wants to avoid that kind of schedule shuffling again, so it may require teams down multiple players due to COVID protocols to sign replacement players, reports Baxter Holmes and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

On an NBA Board of Governors call Friday, there was an overwhelming sentiment among NBA owners to do whatever is necessary to avoid postponements and cancellations this season, league sources said. In the backdrop of that view, the outlines of a plan regarding replacement players were approved by the Board of Governors during a meeting Friday, league sources said...

In the proposed plan, after the first case of COVID, a team would be permitted to add a 10-day player, league sources said, but after a second, third and fourth case, teams would be required to add a 10-day player. Teams would be limited to three replacement players, but the new plan would, overall, require teams to maintain enough depth so that the league wouldn’t be forced to cancel or postpone games because some teams didn’t have the league-required eight healthy players.

Those replacement players would not count against the salary cap or luxury tax. That matters to teams deep in the tax, such as the Lakers, who just signed Isaiah Thomas (and he played well), and the Nets, who just signed Langston Galloway. These replacement players are on 10-day contracts.

The league is bracing for an uptick in cases when it returns to daily testing after Christmas, both because of the testing and the fact players will have been inside with family and friends celebrating, which is expected to lead to an increase in cases nationally. Two Chicago Bulls games have already been postponed because 10 players went into protocols.

About 97% of NBA players are vaccinated, and more than 60% have gotten the booster (a lot of players got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because it was just one shot, but that has shown fading effectiveness and is less effective against the Omicron variant compared to other brands).