2020 NBA return: What to know about NBA's health protocols and player handbook

2020 NBA return: What to know about NBA's health protocols and player handbook

The NBA on Tuesday put out a memo on health and safety protocols as well as a player handbook for when the league attempts to resume its season.

The agreed upon format will feature 22 teams and will be played at Disney World in Florida. The league hopes to start playing its eight seeding games by the end of July.

Here’s an overview of some of the key points and possible concerns from the memo and handbook, which were obtained by NBC Sports:

Safety and testing

With the coronavirus pandemic ongoing, safety and testing measures will be highly scrutinized. That’s why the NBA’s memo on the subject is 113 pages long.

From June 23-30, all players that are choosing to play will have reported to their teams and will start being tested. By July 7, teams will begin traveling to Orlando. By July 9, training camps will begin with teams playing in multiple “scrimmages” to get ready for the seeding games.

When players and staff arrive, they’ll have to quarantine for 36 hours and test negative twice in tests that will be at least 24 hours apart. Players and coaches will be subject to “regular” testing, though the memo does not provide specifics. Face coverings will be required outside of when players are eating, in their hotel rooms, when they’re outside or when doing athletic activities. When not playing, players and staff are required to practice social distancing.

If a player does test positive, the league will not necessarily shut down. That player will be forced to quarantine in “Isolation Housing” separate from where team personnel are staying. The player will be retested to be sure the result wasn’t a false positive.

According to the memo, there will not be a specific amount of time someone will have to remain quarantined after a positive test. Instead, a safe return to the team will be based on the following:

• The infected individual is without symptoms associated with COVID-19. 

• The infected individual satisfies the CDC’s test-based strategy for resolution (which, as of the date of these Protocols, requires returning at least two consecutive negative PCR test results more than 24 hours apart).  

• The infected individual undergoes and is cleared following a medical evaluation by an NBA-designated consulting infectious disease physician (and, for any player or team staff member, in consultation with a team physician), including any additional testing or isolation period that the physician may require.

Players can leave the campus, but if they do so without team and league permission, they’ll be subject to a mandatory 10-day quarantine. Family emergencies and extenuating factors will allow players and staff to leave “the bubble.” Individuals with an approved reason to leave are subject to four days of quarantine. 

Staying at Disney

The teams will stay at three hotels in Disney — the Gran Destino Tower, the Grand Floridian and the Yacht Club. As far as which teams stay in which hotels, it will go by seeding. The higher seed you are, the better hotel accommodations.

While the idea of being isolated from the outside world isn’t appealing, the NBA is taking measures to help players unwind. There will be a “Players Only Lounge” which will feature “NBA2K, TVs, arcade gaming, ping pong, and more. Resort-style outdoor spaces with shade, a set up for card games and pool access.”

Players won’t be forced to stay inside, either. In fact, the handbook is encouraging “outdoor socialization.” The league will also provide entertainment like movie screenings and DJ sets. Teams will be allowed to schedule outings and excursions as well.

The players will get personal care, too. Barbers, manicurists, pedicurists, and hair braiders will be made available by appointment. They’ll also be offered virtual chaplain services, yoga and meditation, virtual mind health sessions and mental health services.

Players will be provided fresh meals and each team will have its own separate dining area. They’ll also be able to order room service. Depending on certain safety measures, outside food could be available. 

Family members will not be allowed until after the first round of the playoffs and will also be under strict safety and testing measures.

Playing at Disney

The player’s handbook lays out where, how and when games will be played along with how practices and workouts will go.

The league has made sure teams will have adequate time and space to practice, workout and get treatment. The games themselves will be played on three separate courts at Disney’s Wide World of Sports — The Arena, HP Field House and Visa Athletic Center.

The players’ game-day schedule will be similar to a road game with a morning shootaround followed by a few hours of down time before heading to the arena. Players will arrive already dressed in uniform and will not be allowed to shower until they get back to their personal hotel room.

The NBA is discussing procedures that would allow players to be in attendance for games they’re not participating in. Limited media will also be in attendance.

Is Florida ready?

It’s clear the NBA is taking extraordinary measures to try to ensure player safety. But will that be enough?

As our country — and really the world — is still dealing with COVID-19, states have begun to reopen to varying degrees. Florida has been one of the more aggressive in terms of reopening and has seen a recent spike in positive cases. While increased testing is a part of that, the percentage of positives per test isn’t encouraging.

NBC Sports NBA insider Tom Haberstroh wrote a piece last week about the concerns facing the NBA’s return to play plan. He spoke with two epidemiologists from the Emory University Rollins School of Public Health, Dr. Zachary Binney and Dr. Neel Gandhi.

Gandhi’s quote at the end of the article is startling:

We’re still very early in this pandemic. It’s important that we be clear: we’re not bringing sports back because things are better now. We’re bringing sports back because we’re tired of not having them.

Commissioner Adam Silver has been steadfast in his message about using data over a date. Gandhi's quote seems to indicate an NBA return goes against Silver's sentiment.

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Sixers vs. Spurs: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Sixers vs. Spurs: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

The Sixers (39-27) and Spurs (29-36) will meet Monday over eight months after their first matchup this season, a 115-104 Sixers win on Nov. 22. It’s technically a home game for the Sixers, the team’s first since March 11. They were 29-2 at Wells Fargo Center. 

Mike Scott (right knee soreness) is out and Glenn Robinson III (left hip pointer) is doubtful.

Here are the essentials for tonight’s game:

When: 8 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 7 
Where: Visa Athletic Center
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch: 

An outlier opener? 

In several ways, Saturday’s defeat to the Pacers wasn’t like most for the Sixers this season.

The team outscored Indiana by a point in nine Joel Embiid-Al Horford minutes but saw their 10-point fourth-quarter lead evaporate when Horford stepped in at center, the opposite of the trend this year. The starting backcourt combined for four points on five field goal attempts. Turnover problems that had characterized seasons past resurfaced as the Sixers gave it away 14 times in the first half and 21 times in the game. They’d been 10th in turnovers (14.2 per game) before the hiatus. Ben Simmons’ defense was not anywhere close to as great as it’s been for much of the season. 

A loss is a loss, but perhaps the Sixers on Monday will look more like the team we saw in their first 65 games. 

Another size disparity 

Jakob Poeltl is the only traditional frontcourt player in San Antonio’s starting lineup, which means the Sixers will again have plenty of size advantages. With LaMarcus Aldridge out for the season after right shoulder surgery, DeMar DeRozan is the Spurs’ second-tallest starter at 6-foot-6. Shake Milton and Josh Richardson are the Sixers’ shortest starters at 6-5. 

The Spurs have opened well at Disney World, winning their first two games and moving into ninth in the Western Conference, but the Sixers will present a unique challenge. 

'Walking that line'

Brett Brown doesn’t generally have an endless level of patience with younger players. He’s sometimes quick to pull the plug when they make mistakes or have trouble adjusting to a new situation.

Following Milton’s poor first game in the new starting lineup (no points, three assists, three turnovers, five fouls), it will be interesting to see Brown’s approach if Milton struggles again early. 

“The tolerance level … whether it’s trying to persevere and grow Shake, whether it’s the distribution of how you actually use Ben Simmons, all of those things are always on my mind,” he said Sunday. “It’s the launching pad that we have now where you’ve got some games before you enter the playoffs. And life moves quickly where you get stuck in this current where you’re going to blink and the playoffs are going to be right at your doorstep. 

“Walking that line of persevering and patience vs. gut feel — you like it or you don’t — that ecosystem is my job.”

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Brett Brown's approach with Al Horford-Joel Embiid minutes, Alec Burks' 'lightning in a bottle' role, more on Sixers

Brett Brown's approach with Al Horford-Joel Embiid minutes, Alec Burks' 'lightning in a bottle' role, more on Sixers

Updated: 5:37 p.m. 

Brett Brown said in May that he hopes to play Joel Embiid approximately 38 minutes per game in the playoffs, a figure he’s since admitted is “probably ambitious” but nevertheless doubled down on. 

The Sixers may have won if Embiid had hit that mark in their first seeding game Saturday night, based on how well he performed and how much the team struggled when he was off the floor. Embiid was plus-21 in 34 minutes and had 41 points and 21 rebounds in the Sixers’ 127-121 loss to the Pacers. A 10-point lead when Embiid exited with 8:38 remaining in the game was a two-point deficit by the time he returned with 5:04 to go.

Al Horford had 10 points and six rebounds in 23 minutes and was a minus-26. In a departure from the norm, the Sixers managed to tread water in the time Embiid and Horford were together (plus-1 in nine minutes) thanks to a combination of fruitful Embiid bully ball and Horford converting a couple of open jumpers in the third quarter. They struggled, however, with Horford at center. Brown employed his original frontcourt this year for stints at the end of the first three quarters, but not at all in the fourth. 

What factored into his decision-making? He explained Sunday that he still considers his usage of the Embiid-Horford pairing to be mostly driven by matchups. It seems he’ll be more inclined to close games with Horford against larger teams that don’t put as great a strain on the 34-year-old’s perimeter defense. Not many teams have lumbering power forwards in the modern NBA, of course, but the Pacers were especially small and quick with All-Star Domantas Sabonis sidelined by plantar fasciitis. 

I just go straight to, ‘Are we going to be able to chase?’” Brown said. “For instance, last night you’re playing against a bunch of track stars. T.J. Warren at that point (of the fourth quarter) had 40 (points) or thereabouts, and it’s, what are you going to do to chase those Holiday brothers and T.J. Warren? To give you a categoric, organic answer of ‘This is Joel and Al Horford’s world,’ I can’t. … It’s who we’re playing, what is the situation? 

“You did see a little bit of Ben (Simmons), Al and Joel, and we still gave Shake (Milton) the ball on not many but some possessions last night. Shake got in foul trouble and things started to happen a little bit differently than was planned. … You’ve gotta go with the situation and make a decision.

‘Lightning in a bottle’ 

Brown had a rather high appraisal of Alec Burks’ work in his 12 minutes against Indiana. Burks did commit four of the Sixers’ 21 turnovers, but he also provided nine points, three fewer than Milton, Josh Richardson, Furkan Korkmaz, Matisse Thybulle and Raul Neto combined. 

“It’s always a defensive thing,” Brown said. “He came in, I thought he played, he looked cocky. He had the ball at times. We ran him as a two off screens. I thought he looked good. And then you get into, you’ve got to stop the Holiday brothers. T.J. Warren. … So Alec, I thought his defense was pretty good. He did have a few turnovers, like a lot of us had, just kind of careless passes to an elbow or trying to go behind-the-back pocket pass out of the pick-and-roll. 

“I feel like Alec had a really good seven or eight days in camp. I thought last night he looked good, he scored, and it’s always on my mind to try to continue to grow his role as it relates to lightning in a bottle, somebody that can come in and just get buckets quickly, especially as it relates to a playoff environment.”

Teammates call Burks “Buckets,” so this is clearly not a foreign role for him. 

Of note in the ever-evolving competition for playoff minutes on the Sixers’ bench: Glenn Robinson III participated in practice but is doubtful for Monday's game vs. the Spurs with the left hip pointer injury that sidelined him Saturday. Mike Scott will miss a second straight game with right knee soreness. 

Pushing the message 

Milton chose not to focus on basketball the day after a challenging night on the court.

He wanted to talk about racial injustice instead. 

I came out here to just say that to anybody who is out here watching me, listening to me, keep fighting and keep putting the word out about what’s going on,” he said. “Don’t let up. The iron right now is hot about what’s going on in this country, the racial injustices that are happening, so keep fighting and keep putting that word out. I just want to say to Breonna Taylor’s family that we are sorry that it has taken so long, and we know (Kentucky attorney general) Daniel Cameron has the power, so we need to keep pushing to keep making his seat hot, for him to make a decision. 

“Also, I want to say rest in peace to Breonna Taylor, rest in peace to Ahmaud Arbery, rest in peace to Kalief Browder, as well. That’s all I have to say.

Tobias Harris, Mike Scott and many other NBA players have also called on Cameron to take action in the case of Taylor, a 26-year-old Black emergency room technician killed on March 13 in Louisville. 

Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was shot to death on Feb. 23 in Savannah, Georgia. Browder died by suicide at age 22 after spending three years at Rikers Island in New York for a case that never went to trial. 

The Sixers protested Saturday by kneeling during the national anthem, and Milton said the team is working on further plans. 

“… Hopefully, along with educating people and putting that message out there, we are going to give people tangible things that they can do for action to make change in the communities where they’re at,” he said. 

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