Andre Iguodala: The No-Stats Hall of Famer

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NBC Sports

Andre Iguodala: The No-Stats Hall of Famer

Andre Iguodala is not your prototypical Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame candidate. In his 15-year career, he’s made only one All-Star game and has never been named to an All-NBA squad. 

Based on those two pieces of information alone, you might think Iguodala is wholly undeserving of Springfield immortality. But those who doubt Iguodala’s Hall credentials are losing ground in the debate by the day. 

The 35-year-old’s game-sealing, series-tying 3 with 5.9 seconds left in Game 2 added yet another gem to his incredible career. With the clutch shot, Iguodala is three wins away from earning his fourth championship, solidifying a fascinating Hall of Fame case that will surely be debated in TV studios, barbershops and group chats across the world. 

But in Steve Kerr’s book, there is no question that Iguodala belongs in Springfield.

“It depends on your version of the Hall -- if it’s based on stats, maybe not,” the Golden State Warriors coach says. “If it’s based on champions and winners and brilliant basketball minds and impact on the game and impact on championship teams … he’s a Hall of Famer.”

Iguodala is a perfect representation of what the traditional box score misses. He has never led the NBA in a major category in any season, except for games played (82). More damning, he’s rarely thrived as a go-to scorer. How could a wing who averaged 12.1 points per game in his career be a Hall of Famer?

A decade after the New York Times dubbed Shane Battier as The No-Stats All-Star, we have found The No-Stats Hall of Famer in Iguodala. 

And we have modern metrics to prove it.

* * *

It’s fair to say that Kerr is the Kevin Bacon of the NBA. He has played with Michael Jordan, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal, Scottie Pippen, David Robinson, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Dennis Rodman. He has coached Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. In Phoenix, he was the GM for Steve Nash, Grant Hill and Amare Stoudemire. He has brushed shoulders with just about every great of the last three decades. 

When it comes to sizing up the all-time greats, Kerr has nearly peerless perspective.

“I think he’s a Hall of Famer,” Kerr said. “To me, he’s on par with Scottie Pippen as a defender. Unbelievably smart. He understands the game as well as anyone I’ve been around -- Scottie included.”

Bob Myers moved mountains just have a chance at bringing in Iguodala. As the general manager overseeing a capped-out Warriors team back in 2013, Myers traded away Richard Jefferson, Andris Biedrins, Kareem Rush and five draft picks just to create enough cap space to acquire Iguodala. 

Myers knew it was a gamble. The Warriors had just faced him in the playoffs when he was a member of the Denver Nuggets, averaging 13.0 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.4 assists for the surprise team that season. Solid numbers to be sure, but enough impact to attach an unprotected 2014 first-round pick, an unprotected 2017 first-round pick and three second-rounders to get him? Enough to waive Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry -- two contributors to the Warriors 52-win team in 2012-13 --  simply to carve out the necessary cap room?

Three championships later, it’s hard to argue with Myers’ roll of the dice.

“If you think about the Warriors, he saw it before everyone else did,” Myers said. “He took a gamble. He came here and turned down better offers elsewhere (in Sacramento and Denver). He saw something in the team that we didn’t see. He chose us, waited on us and believed in us.”

What Myers acquired wasn’t an MVP player. Turns out, Iguodala was an MVP slayer, and defense is where Iguodala has set himself apart. 

In 2015, Iguodala won the Finals MVP after throwing a blanket on LeBron James. A year later, in the 2016 Western Conference Finals against OKC, Kerr called for Iguodala’s rescue again against MVP Kevin Durant. Down 3-2 in the series after Durant scored 40 points in Game 5, Kerr inserted Iguodala into the lineup to start the second half in Game 6 over Harrison Barnes to maximize Iguodala’s time on KD. (The Warriors won Games 6 and 7 to clinch the 3-1 comeback, with Durant held to 40 percent shooting over the last two games.)

“Every time, every series,” Kerr says. “He guards the hardest guy time and time again.”

In the 2019 playoffs, Iguodala did the same for reigning MVP James Harden, putting the clamps on the best scorer the league has seen since Jordan. Thanks to modern-day analytics, we are now equipped with the tools to shed a light on Iguodala’s impact. 

Over the last two seasons, Harden has averaged 40.3 points per 100 possessions against the Warriors and shot 41 percent from the floor, but those rates tumble to 29.0 points per 100 possessions and 31 percent in the 124 possessions he’s been guarded by Iguodala, according to NBA.com matchup data

If you question his role in that matchup, consider the fact that, including postseason matchups, the Warriors are now 8-5 over the last two seasons when Iguodala starts against the Rockets and 2-6 when he doesn’t.

With James, Durant and Harden on his list of vanquished MVPs, Iguodala could have stopped there, but he wasn’t done. It was Iguodala who bottled up Damian Lillard at the end of Game 1 in this year's conference finals. He also stole the ball on the final play to clinch the victory. It’s no coincidence that Lillard had his best game, putting up 28 points and 12 assists, when Iguodala skipped Game 4. 

Here are the five players that Iguodala has defended the most this postseason: Harden, Lou Williams, Kawhi Leonard, Chris Paul and Lillard. 

That’s the leading scorer for each of the Warriors’ four opponents and a nine-time All-Star in Paul.

“What gets play out [in the national conversation] is points,” Myers said. “That’s what it’s been and may always be. But when you’re trying to win a game, you ask, can this player provide the best defense against some of the best players in the world? And what’s the value of that? Realistically, what is the value of that? Is he more valuable going out there and scoring 20 points and being a non-factor defensively? Or is he more valuable being the factor that he is and scoring 11 points? 

“To me, it’s pretty simple.”

Says Kerr: “When you factor in winning -- which should count, that’s the whole point -- Iguodala is a Hall of Famer.”

If only there was a simple metric for an individual’s impact on winning. Enter plus-minus. 

* * *

Iguodala’s traditional numbers may not pop off the page, but a more comprehensive modern metric screams Hall of Famer. Plus-minus represents the raw point margin for a player’s team when the player is on the floor. If a team outscored the opponent by five points with a player on the floor, that player is a plus-five. If the team got outscored by five, that player is a minus-five.

In theory, this is where a player like Iguodala will shine. If he’s making winning plays, in the long run, it’ll show up in plus-minus. Turns out, Iguodala shines. Guess who has the Warriors’ best plus-minus in the five Finals series? It’s not Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green or Klay Thompson. 

That’s right, it’s Iguodala. And by a fairly wide margin.

NBA Finals plus-minus
Since 2015

Andre Iguodala        plus-164
Draymond Green    plus-145
Stephen Curry          plus-124
Kevin Durant            plus-119
Klay Thompson        plus-60
Data: NBA.com advanced stats

In fact, once you broaden the scope and look at all players in the Finals since 1997 when the NBA began tracking plus-minus, Iguodala is second only to Ginobili and just ahead of Duncan. 

NBA Finals plus-minus
Since 1997

Manu Ginobili           plus-177
Andre Iguodala        plus-164
Tim Duncan              plus-157
Draymond Green    plus-145
Stephen Curry         plus-124
Data: NBA.com advanced stats

If that doesn’t sell you on Iguodala’s immense value, consider the flipside of the equation. In the last four Finals, the three-time champion Warriors have imploded without Iguodala, getting outscored by 25 points in 423 minutes with the Iguodala on the bench. No other Warriors All-Star has such a strong impact that the team couldn’t outscore the Cavs when he was on the bench— not Curry, Green, Durant or Thompson. 

Legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has a term for guys like Iguodala, one that Kerr has adopted for his own locker room: Amplifiers. The so-called “glue guy” pieces things together, but amplifiers do more than that. They make others better by amplifying their skills.

“Andre does that at the highest level,” Myers says.

He’s a battery for his teammates. In the Rockets series, putting Iguodala on Harden freed up Curry and Thompson to allocate their powers elsewhere. Thompson could check Paul and Curry could save his energy for torching the nets. Though Thompson has held his own guarding Harden, the Warriors as a whole were far more porous defensively with Thompson  guarding Harden (116.5 points allowed per 100 possessions) compared to when Iguodala checked the reigning MVP (104.0 points per 100 possessions).

“(Andre) makes the game so much easier for us,” Kerr says during the team’s fifth straight Finals, the first team to do that since the 1960s Celtics. “He’s an integral part of a team that just accomplished something that nobody’s done in 50 years.”

* * *

Channing Frye, who has played with Iguodala as a college teammate and as a Finals opponent, is convinced that Iguodala is toying with us. 

“I think he’s like, ‘How much impact can I have without even being in the box score? I don’t even need to score one point to win. My challenge is to do everything else absolutely flawless.’”

Frye remembers when he first played with Iguodala. Back in 2002, on the University of Arizona campus when they were teammates for the star-studded Wildcats, a teenage Iguodala walked into the practice gym and just started dunking on an open basket. Frye was a grade above Iguodala and heard about his hops but to see his dunking prowess in person was a different experience.

Boom,” Frye shouts over the phone. “Boom. Who is this kid?” 

To Frye, it was an elaborate plan to fool the gym. Oh, you think all I can do is dunk? The pickup game started. Iguodala played point guard and brought the ball up the floor. He started alley-oops more than he finished them. He defended everybody and hit open shots almost just to prove a point. He was everywhere.

“He’s the fixer,” Frye said. “If you have a house, you need someone who knows that house inside and out who can take care of everything. Your pool is broken? Andre’s got it. Your door is off the hinge? Andre’s got it. Cable? Dishwasher? Andre’s got it.”

In Iguodala’s second season, he led the Wildcats in rebounds and assists per game. Frye contends that if Iguodala played in today’s positionless era of basketball, he’d average a triple-double in college. After two seasons with Frye at Arizona, Iguodala entered the NBA draft and was picked ninth overall by the Philadelphia 76ers. ESPN’s Dick Vitale said leaving college was a huge mistake

Iguodala’s career in Philadelphia was a rocky one. After the team traded Iverson, the Sixers never reached the Finals again and many blamed Iguodala as a bust. In 2013, the Sixers traded him to Denver in a three-team deal primarily to acquire Los Angeles Lakers big man Andrew Bynum. Iguodala’s run in Philadelphia didn’t end on a high note, but he left his mark with teammates. One of those, Evan Turner, shared this opinion on Sunday night.

To Myers, Iguodala’s stint in Philadelphia is an essential part of Iguodala’s story.

“I think that shaped him,” Myers says  said. “In the media and in life, what the NBA means. That early indoctrination that he experienced in Philly, (was his) ‘Welcome to the NBA.’ And he got that at a young age. I think it probably shaped him, hardened him in a way that is somewhat necessary in today’s NBA. It was a fast education. Dropping yourself in Philly with Iverson and then post-Iverson. I definitely think it was a part of his growth.”

Frye understood quickly that Iguodala was different, playing a thinking man’s game. His sophistication wasn’t limited to hoops. Frye remembers Iguodala carrying books in his gym bag to pass the time.

“When we were in college, he was actually interested in reading and doing stuff like that,” Frye says said. “He was the most talented guy on our team and getting straight A’s in class. To this day, he has books all over the place.”

Recently, Iguodala walked up to Myers and asked him if he’d seen Barack Obama’s best books of 2018. Myers said he hadn’t. Iguodala kept moving. To Myers, it felt like Iguodala was testing him and Myers had failed. A couple hours later, Myers got a text. It was Iguodala with a link to the Obama list. His GM needed to be informed.

“He’ll enlighten me in many areas mostly things outside of basketball,” Myers says. “He’s constantly educating me on race. Andre has got some ... there’s an edginess to him sometimes. There’s a great depth to him. There’s layers to Andre. It took me years until I feel like I had a sense of Andre. And I think it’s a compliment. The easiest people are the ones you figure out in five minutes. The ones you question, and wonder, and develop equity and trust, he’s definitely one of those guys.”

Frye doesn’t think Iguodala’s intelligence gets talked about enough. 

“Andre challenges everybody,” Frye says. “Not just his teammates, the media, everybody. Andre’s going to make you work for it.”

When I bring up Iguodala’s plus-minus record as an illustration of his genius and making opposing MVP’s work for it, Frye laughs.

“It’s an 'F you' to everybody,” Frye says. “Listen, I can have the biggest impact on the court and I don’t even need the ball.”

* * *

The Hall of Fame doesn’t have a cut-and-dry criteria. But they do follow a fairly predictable path. Basketball Reference has tracked voter data and developed a trusty algorithm to estimate a player’s chances at Springfield based on his NBA career alone. Voters typically look for championships, All-Stars and interestingly, height (the taller the better).

Put Iguodala’s NBA career in the Basketball Reference machine and it spits out a discouraging number. It suggests that Iguodala has just a 6.1 percent chance of getting the nod.

That’s not a strong endorsement, to be sure. When future voters assess his credentials, many will consider that to be a deal-breaker. But that lens admittedly provides just a limited view of Iguodala’s body of work. The model is clear in that it does not account for international play where Iguodala has an Olympic gold medal (2012 in London) and a FIBA World Championship gold medal (2010 in Turkey).

“For us, Andre’s been one of our best players,” Krzyzewski said of the 2012 Olympics. 

Despite what the math says, international play matters (see: Dino Radja’s induction). It also matters that, with the exception of Boston’s Cedric Maxwell, every Finals MVP since its inception in 1969 has either made it to Springfield or is well on his way (yes, Chauncey Billups, Paul Pierce and Tony Parker will get in). Furthermore, the Basketball Reference model bases its judgment as if the player’s career ended today. That isn’t the case with Iguodala.

He may lack the All-Star accolades, but Iguodala has had a pretty incredible career by more modern measures. Interestingly enough, Iguodala ranks 96th all-time in career win shares (96.4) and is about to pass Iverson on that list, who ranks 91st with a 99.0 figure

Actually, if you include playoff win shares, Iguodala’s combined total of 107.4 win shares has already eclipsed Iverson’s total of 106.3. This isn’t suggesting that Iguodala is better than Iverson. Iverson had much higher peaks, but Iguodala’s longevity with five Finals appearances and three championships cannot be ignored.

Already, Iguodala finds himself in esteemed company in career totals. Not only is 100 win shares a tidy round number, it also serves as a pretty handy barometer for Hall of Famers. Of the 25 players eligible for the Hall of Fame who have between 100 and 120 career win shares (playoffs included), most of them, 15 to be exact, are already in, including Iverson (106.3), Vlade Divac (105.0), Grant HIll (102.5) and Tracy McGrady (101.8). The handful of those who aren’t in the Hall in that range -- Detlef Schrempf, Kevin Johnson and Eddie Jones to name a few -- lack Iguodala’s multiple championships and gold medals.

Iguodala has gone on the record to say he doesn’t think of himself as a Hall of Famer. But a more comprehensive look says he has more than a reasonable case considering his longevity and uncanny ability to win at the highest level. If he continues to limit Leonard and win another title, it may not be a debate anymore.

Will Iguodala get in? To Kerr, there’s no question.

“He’ll make it,” Kerr says. “He may not make it the first time, but he’ll make it.”

But to get there, voters will have to change their balloting behavior. 

To those voters, Myers has some advice: 

“Look a little further than points per game.”

Follow me on Twitter (@TomHaberstroh) and bookmark NBCSports.com/Haberstroh for my latest stories, videos and podcasts.

Steph Curry, NBA world facing harsh reality of coronavirus lockdown

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NBC Sports

Steph Curry, NBA world facing harsh reality of coronavirus lockdown

Brandon Payne is looking at RV rentals. Daily rates, weekly rates -- anything to help him get through the NBA’s COVID-19 hiatus. 

Since 2011, Payne has been Stephen Curry’s personal trainer and coach for Curry’s Underrated international tour, staying by the star’s side and coaching him through the highs and lows of his storied career. When Payne can’t be with Curry in person, the 40-year-old father of two sons, Carson, 12, and Collin, 9, uses text messages to stay connected from across the country. 

Payne doesn’t know when he’s going to be with Curry again. Payne’s company, Accelerate Basketball, is based in the Charlotte suburbs of Fort Mill, S.C., where Payne and his family live, just outside where Curry grew up and attended college at Davidson. Curry is currently following California’s stay-at-home order at his Bay Area home, a mandate that will likely last beyond April, according to California governor Gavin Newsom.

It’s a rainy Monday night in Charlotte and Payne can’t believe how quickly things have deteriorated. Less than four weeks ago, Payne had flown out to San Francisco to help prepare Curry for his return from a broken hand and then to Dallas for Curry’s next Underrated tour stop. 

Now, Payne is thinking about how to keep the lights on at Accelerate. 

Over the years, with Payne having to spend more and more time in Oakland and San Francisco working with Curry, hotel stays stopped making financial sense. In 2016, Payne signed a lease on a no-frills, one-bedroom apartment in Walnut Creek, Calif., that costs him about $3,000 a month -- a relative steal in the Bay Area, home to some of the priciest rental markets in the country.

With the NBA season in jeopardy and money getting tighter, Payne is trying to break that month-to-month lease and recover his belongings, a transaction that must be done in person. Months ago, that task seemed simple and straightforward. Get in an Uber, go to Charlotte International Airport, hop on a cross-country flight, snag a hotel. 

But in this climate, each stop on that itinerary makes Payne’s skin crawl. How do I get across the country without potentially exposing myself to the pandemic? 

To Payne, airports, planes and hotels are out of the question, so he’s researching RV rental rates so he can have a place to sleep on the 2,700-mile trek from Charlotte to the Bay Area. 

“I’ve learned very quickly, it’s not a cheap venture,” Payne says of the RV option.

The economic realities of the coronavirus pandemic are setting in. Curry is just one of Payne’s clients, ranging from six-year-olds to NBA draft prospects to NBA superstars. On a typical week, he and his staff will train hundreds of local young athletes at the small halfcourt gym housed inside a nondescript warehouse district. But with coronavirus spreading around the country, Payne had to take precautions to protect his clients from getting sick.

Normally, Payne supplies jump ropes, basketballs and tennis balls for his athletes. But on Monday, he texted, emailed and made phone calls to parents about an updated protocol. If anyone in a client’s household had traveled in the past 14 days or gotten sick in any way, Payne kindly asked them to stay home. He assured them that their paid sessions and packages would be honored in full at a later date.

If they were able to come, he wrote to them, be prepared for a different environment.

“We had a staffer standing at the door with hand sanitizer so that every person that walked in was hit with hand sanitizer,” Payne says.

The athletes were instructed to bring their own basketball, their own jump rope and be ready to do drills in a socially-distant manner, separated 6-to-10 feet from other athletes and receiving hands-off instruction from trainers standing across the room. Under normal circumstances, the players would train with two basketballs, dribbling with each hand. 

These weren’t normal circumstances. Only one ball, your own, to be safe. After each training session, Payne closed the gym and his staff wiped down every inch of the place to disinfect it. Then, they opened up the doors and repeated the process for the next round of workouts.

That was Monday night.

On Tuesday morning, after seeing the coronavirus spread in his county and news of a shelter-in-place rule being enforced in 48 hours, Payne closed his doors. He laid off four of his six staffers. Temporarily, he assured them. He’d reassess every two weeks.

“Very tough, emotional day,” Payne texted me.

The Walnut Creek apartment never seemed so far.

* * * 

Ask NBA athletes and coaches about whether they’ve experienced anything quite like this and most will point to the 2011 lockout. For months, players waited in limbo as the league and the NBA Players Association negotiated a new collective bargaining agreement. 

During the lockout, players were free to engage in grassroots pick-up games, train with personal coaches and work on their craft as long as they weren’t using NBA facilities. They stayed in shape by playing in regular five-on-five charity games around the country. At one point, LeBron James and Kevin Durant faced off in a “Team LeBron vs. Team Durant” flag football game at the University of Akron that was streamed online.

That’s actually when Curry and Payne first met at Accelerate, introduced by one of Payne’s clients and former NBA player Gerald Henderson, who was a member of the Charlotte Bobcats at the time. Curry has been with Payne ever since.

Of course, “social distancing” wasn’t exactly part of the cultural lexicon in 2011.

Players these days can only dream about such gatherings. Late last week, after several NBA players and staffers tested positive for COVID-19, the NBA sent a league memo to its 30 teams ordering them to close their training and practice facilities to all players and staff. The league also prohibited players from using public facilities like high school or college gyms to train. 

The NBA is not a social-distance friendly sport. As such, the basketball world has been in the spotlight during the coronavirus pandemic. For at least one epidemiologist, the NBA’s decision to suspend its season on March 11 became a pivotal moment in the United States’ battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, signaling the severity of the crisis. NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s decision at least partially inspired other leagues, including the NHL and MLB, to put their seasons on hold, while the NCAA canceled March Madness entirely.

On Sunday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo spoke at a press conference and urged New Yorkers to exercise outside in solitude rather than participating in team sports.

“You want to go for a walk? God bless you. You want to go for a run? God bless you,” Cuomo said. “There (should be) no group activity in parks. All sorts of kids playing basketball (on Saturday). I play basketball; there is no concept of social distancing while playing basketball. It doesn’t exist. You can’t stay six feet away from people playing basketball. You can, but then you’re a lousy basketball player and you’re going to lose.”

How do basketball players stay in shape when the simple act of playing basketball violates nearly all social distancing rules?

It’s a riddle that Payne is trying to solve for his NBA clients, most notably Curry. 

* * *

Inside the confines of a reported $31 million home he purchased last summer, Curry is keeping busy. 

Alongside his wife Ayesha and three young kids home from school, Curry is using his platform for philanthropic and civic causes. On Thursday, he hosted an Instagram Live Q&A with NIAID Director Dr. Anthony Fauci, who may be the most sought-after doctor in the country (Barack Obama, Justin Bieber, Andre Iguodala and Common were just some of the names who dropped by). Two days after the NBA suspended the season, Curry and his wife Ayesha posted a video announcing their donation through their Eat Learn Play foundation to help ensure 18,000 Oakland children would have meals after schools were shut down. 

But Curry’s athletic pursuits have been minimal. Last Friday, while wearing a hoodie, sweat shorts and house slippers, Curry holed a trick shot with a wedge, ricocheting a golf ball off the inside of his front door and into a clear, plastic cup -- a video that generated almost 2 million views. Basketball hasn’t been on his mind much, according to Payne.

“To be honest with you, we’ve talked more about the Carolina Panthers’ quarterback situation than we’ve talked about anything else,” Payne says with a laugh. “We talked a little bit about workouts and what he can do, but it’s not a whole lot right now.”

Curry does have a workout-friendly basement that rivals a luxury hotel fitness center, but he doesn’t have an indoor court on which he can do basketball-specific training. Contrary to popular belief, almost no NBA players do. 

According to league sources, players are scrambling to find private indoor gyms in their cities during the lockdown. One NBA team, multiple league sources say, had to reprimand one of its players after seeing a social media post of him working out with several athletes in a private gym over the weekend, a violation of the league’s and public health officials’ social-distancing guidelines.

“Stephen is fortunate because he’s got a larger home with a workout area with some pretty nice equipment in it,” Payne says. “He’ll be able to maintain things physically pretty well because he’s got the tools to do so. Some of the other guys I’ve been talking to? They’re a little bit more challenged.”

Most of Payne’s NBA clients are younger and live in luxury apartment complexes or condo buildings in their team’s city, not in spacious homes in the suburbs. Payne has asked his clients to send photos and videos of their living areas in order to customize workout programs for their limited space. 

One young NBA player sent him a video of his apartment complex’s fitness room. Not an option, Payne told him, strongly discouraging him from using that space due to concerns of infection. To try to compensate, Payne has been on the phone with players’ agents working to get his clients the athletic equipment they need during the layoff. At the top of the list are home-friendly TRX resistance bands and stationary bikes “where they’re able to get some hard cardio in without disturbing the people under them.”

“Even if you have a common area where you can get shots up, we’re learning that this thing can live on surfaces, sometimes days at a time depending on the type of surface,” Payne says. “You don’t know who’s been in there and who they’ve been around. It’s just very uncertain.”

Across the NBA, it’s becoming clear that the biggest obstacle -- beyond being limited to the space in your own home -- is uncertainty. Not just in the nature of the virus, but also the NBA’s undetermined schedule. 

As the coronavirus crisis unfolds across the country, players have no idea when the season will restart -- if at all. Silver said last Wednesday it was too early to speculate on a return date. Looking at other top basketball leagues around the world dealing with the pandemic, prospects of a quick return aren’t good. 

The Korean Basketball League canceled the rest of its season and the Chinese Basketball Association has pushed back its possible return date again to May 15, which would make for a four-month hiatus from play. For perspective, such a layoff would mean a mid-July return for the NBA. 

It could also be sooner. ESPN recently reported that NBA owners and executives viewed a possible mid-to-late June return “as a best-case scenario.” One such owner, Mark Cuban of the Dallas Mavericks, said on Tuesday he was hopeful the NBA season would resume in mid-May based on his conversations with the CDC. 

Without a hard return date in mind, players trying to stay in shape are essentially shooting in the dark.

“The target date is what sets everything,” Payne says. “It’s your North Star. It’s what you base everything off of. You set your work schedule, your rest periods, how heavily you load, how lightly you load, how many days off you get. Everything is based off that date.”

* * * 

There was speculation that Curry wanted to return during the regular season so he could prepare for the Summer Olympics, but Payne insists that wasn’t a factor. Curry has never participated in the marquee global event, which was set to take place in Tokyo from July 24 to August 9, but has since been postponed to 2021. Curry did win gold medals with two World Cup teams in 2010 and 2014 but sat out in 2016 Olympics in Rio to fully recover from ankle and knee issues.

This time around, Curry is rehabbing back from a different kind of injury, luckily not to his ankle and knee joints. In October, Curry broke his hand and required surgery and an additional procedure to make sure his bones were in place. He has since experienced mild numbness as a result of some lingering nerve damage.

It was hard to tell that it affected him at all in his Mar. 5 return from a 58-game absence. Curry tallied 23 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in just 27 minutes of action against the Toronto Raptors.

“For Stephen, the silver lining for him is that that hand gets a little bit longer (time) to round back into form and get that thing feeling exactly how he wants it to feel before he gets back out there,” Payne says. “And he gets more time with his family. That’s what we all really need to be thinking about.”

Payne has been splitting his time between taking care of his sons and getting to the Accelerate office, where he’s working to digitize his business. 

Last Friday, he gave a 75-minute Powerpoint talk on a virtual basketball coaches clinic site detailing Curry’s workout regimen, focusing on neuromuscular development, proprioception and strategies to game-ify workouts. Beyond virtual clinics, Payne is putting together workout video breakdowns on social media of Curry’s past training sessions with Luka Doncic and other star players. Everything is going online.
 
“As a coach, you’ve never had this amount of time to sit down and improve,” Payne says. “For most (coaches and trainers), this is going to be a really difficult time. It’s going to be extremely difficult. The hard point is, there’s going to be the temptation (to hold workouts and practices) because there’s going to be some players that are going to want to work out no matter what. And you have to balance the responsible decision with the decision that most affects your pockets.”

On Thursday morning, Charlotte-Mecklenburg county implemented a stay-at-home order, ensuring that most of Payne’s Charlotte-bound clients would be limited to virtual sessions, none at Accelerate. It’s not certain when they’ll be allowed to return to the gym or when Payne can re-hire his staff. Or when he can get to Walnut Creek to retrieve his things.  

Or when he can train Curry again in person.

“There’s so much uncertainty right now, not only with my business, but are NBA players going to get paid past this next pay period? What does that look like? What do my clients have (in their savings)? Will they continue to pay me? Those are the questions I have. If I can save that money for the next three to six months, then that’s what I need to do.

“For the foreseeable future, with what’s in front of us right now, money coming in is going to be pretty tight. That’s reality.”

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Why the NBA cancelled Kings-Pelicans amid coronavirus chaos

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NBC Sports

Why the NBA cancelled Kings-Pelicans amid coronavirus chaos

When the sun rose over Sacramento last Wednesday, thousands of local residents woke up with little idea that the NBA world was about to change. 

For Kings fans, the date had been circled on their calendars for months. NBA sensation Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans were in town to play the hometown team, and on national TV no less -- the only time this season the small-market Kings would be broadcast to the entire country. And then there’s this: With only a month left in the regular season, the Pelicans and the Kings were both jockeying for a playoff spot. The winner of the game would move into ninth place, just three games back of the eighth-place Memphis Grizzlies.

This game was big, but something way bigger was happening all around them. 

At roughly 9:15 a.m. local time Wednesday morning, news began to break on a global scale. World Health Organization chief Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus held a press conference at the organization’s headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, announcing that the global COVID-19 outbreak, also referred to as the coronavirus, was officially a pandemic. The WHO announced that, in the previous two weeks, the number of cases outside China had increased 13-fold.

In Sacramento, the WHO’s statement suddenly put the state of that very important Kings-Pelicans game into a different focus. Would the game -- scheduled to tip off about 10 hours later at 7:30 p.m. PT -- even be played?

The possibility of going on hiatus had been rumored in recent days as the NBA sent numerous memos to teams about its plans surrounding the evolving coronavirus situation. The day before the Pelicans-Kings game, the Golden State Warriors announced that they’d play their next game, a Thursday tilt against the Brooklyn Nets, in an empty Chase Center -- the first team to take that step. Sacramento’s arena, the Golden 1 Center, was only 85 miles up the road.

Later that afternoon, an answer: The Kings announced at 4:25 p.m. that, after consulting with local public health officials, the game would go on as planned -- with fans in the arena. 

The Kings would not take the same measures as their NorCal neighbors, but the announcement did carry the following warning: “Sacramento County Public Health guidance states that individuals considered high-risk, those over 60 years old, and anyone with an underlying chronic health condition or compromised immune system should avoid large public gatherings.”

In other words: game on, but be careful. So, the Pelicans and the Kings arrived at the arena as normal. Ninety minutes before tipoff, Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry took questions from the media as part of his normal pregame routine and was asked about the possibility of playing in front of empty arenas.

“You don’t want to play a basketball game with empty seats,” said Gentry, who, at 65 years old, was above the Sacramento County Public Health department’s recommended age threshold. “However, I think it’s also important to understand this isn’t a minor thing by any stretch of the imagination. Not just in this country, but in the world, you have to do whatever you have to, to contain it or to manage it as much as you possibly can. It’s going to take some drastic measures and this may be one of them.”

Outside of the press room, fans began to fill the Golden 1 Center. For those inside the arena, it became clear that the 17,600-seat arena was going to be packed -- coronavirus scare or not.

Only one small thing: The New Orleans Pelicans never emerged from the tunnel for pregame warmups. Instead, Pelicans players, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation, were still inside the visiting locker room, digesting what they just saw. 

* * *

At 6:27 p.m., just over an hour before the scheduled tipoff, a bombshell hit the NBA world via Twitter and reached the Pelicans’ locker room within seconds. Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert had tested positive for the coronavirus and the game between the Jazz and the Oklahoma City Thunder, which had been delayed for unknown reasons, was immediately called off. As the Pelicans began to wrap their heads around what was transpiring, it occurred to them that their next stop on the road trip was, as luck would have it, Utah.

Things moved too quickly for that thought to linger much longer. Four minutes later, the NBA announced a monumental decision to suspend the season indefinitely. Madness ensued across the league. 

The league statement said the NBA would close its doors at the conclusion of the night’s remaining games. Four games were ongoing, including Nuggets-Mavericks, which, at the time, was on the TVs in the Pelicans’ locker room. It was the ESPN lead-in for their own game.

With Utah-OKC nixed, the Pelicans realized that only one game remained on the night’s schedule, their own. 

In effect, the league decided that Pelicans-Kings was worth playing despite the positive test. Twelve minutes after the NBA announced it was suspending the season, the Pelicans’ official Twitter feed announced the game would still go on, citing the league’s statement.

But behind the scenes, something was awry. Fifty-five minutes after the Pelicans’ tweet stating that the game was on, the Pelicans tweeted that the game was off. 

* * *

NBA referees have a demanding schedule. Like players and teams, they jet around the country during the season working multiple games a week, totaling up to 60-plus games a season. But  NBA officials aren’t afforded all of the luxury accommodations that teams and players have. NBA teams fly via private charters; NBA referees fly commercial. 

On Wednesday night, Pelicans-Kings would be staffed by three referees who flew in for the game: crew chief Marc Davis, Courtney Kirkland and Justin Van Duyne. Referees stick together on the road and largely keep to themselves. In every NBA arena, the referee crew is given their own private locker room and are collectively ushered to, and from, the court by local police for security purposes. 

Inside the bowels of the Golden 1 Center, news about Gobert’s positive test began to spread as staffers stood around discussing what it meant for the night’s game. Multiple sources confirmed that shortly after the Gobert news broke, two referees emerged from the referee locker room and it was communicated that a third referee hung back because he had officiated the Jazz just two days prior, on Monday night. 

The Pelicans’ security personnel were alerted, sources said, and they immediately began communicating that information to the team’s front office members, who were congregated elsewhere in the arena.

Pelicans executives huddled up and grabbed their phones, quickly looking up recent Jazz box scores to confirm the information that had been relayed to them. And there it was: On Monday night, two days prior to this game, Courtney Kirkland had officiated the Toronto Raptors and Utah Jazz game in Salt Lake City.

That wasn’t just any game. In that heated contest between championship hopefuls, Gobert was ejected by officials after a late-game scuffle with Raptors guard O.G. Anunoby. When a physical confrontation between Gobert and Anunoby started to escalate, two officials, one of which was Kirkland, sprinted into action and physically intervened to separate Gobert and Anunoby, prying the two players away from each other. 

At that moment, the Pelicans’ executives weren’t aware of that ejection sequence where bodies mixed together, but in their minds, it didn’t matter. If Kirkland officiated Gobert recently, the risk of infection was too great.

“We have to shut this down,” a Pelicans executive told his fellow staffers. 

There were only about 20 minutes remaining until tipoff, according to those present. Upon learning of Kirkland’s exposure to an infected player, Pelicans staffers walked to the visitor’s locker room and informed the players. One player wondered aloud, according to sources, “What’s the point of even playing this game?” It was decided as a team that they wouldn’t participate in the game, according to sources. Remain in the locker room, team officials instructed.

Meanwhile, on the court, the Kings continued to warm up. Referee crew chief Marc Davis and his colleague Justin Van Duyne stood at the scorer’s table, noticeably without Kirkland present. Davis spoke into a cell phone while Van Duyne waited at his side. From that nucleus at the scorer’s table, word began to trickle out that the game would be canceled due to Kirkland’s exposure. Both the national and local broadcast teams discussed Kirkland and the game’s postponement openly on air.

Suddenly, Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball walked out of the tunnel and began warming up with an assistant coach, creating the impression that perhaps the game would go on. Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram later joined him on the court. Two Kings ballboys rebounded for Ball. Blue latex gloves covered their hands as they passed him the ball.

Moments later, Gentry emerged from the Pelicans’ locker room. He walked with a member of the Pelicans’ media relations team who had crossed his arms to signify to the surrounding media and game personnel. The game was off.

At center court, Kings public address announcer Scott Moak was handed a piece of paper. Moak began to read from the document, speaking into the microphone for the packed arena to hear.

“Ladies and gentlemen, out of an abundance of caution, at the direction of the National Basketball Association, tonight’s game has been postponed,” the announcement began to bellow in the arena. “We ask that you please exercise caution when leaving the arena.”

The Golden 1 Center crowd booed, nearly drowning out the audio from the on-air broadcasts. Security personnel herded the Kings players and Ball off the floor. With the announcement becoming official, the two Pelicans players walked back into the tunnel. Williamson and the rest of the team never took the court.

In the stands, a young girl in a Zion Williamson Pelicans jersey was shown in tears. There would be no game that night. Everyone went home.

* * *

How much risk is too much? It’s a question the Pelicans asked themselves inside at Golden 1 Center and in the hours and days since leaving Sacramento. It’s a question that we’re all asking ourselves. At what point does the risk of infection outweigh the benefit of proceeding with everyday life?

When the news of Gobert’s positive test was publicized, the NBA had some enormous decisions to make. NBA commissioner Adam Silver, in talking to the TNT broadcast last Thursday, described the call to suspend the season as a “split-second decision.” All of 240 seconds had transpired between news of Gobert’s positive test and the season being suspended.

But the decision to let the Pelicans-Kings game go on as planned was a deliberate one. Initially, the league felt the risk didn’t reach the critical point of canceling the game. Twelve minutes after the Gobert news became public and 47 minutes before the game was set to take off, the teams had publicly assured fans that, despite the ongoing pandemic and suspension of the season, the nationally-televised game would go on. It wasn’t until word spread of Kirkland’s involvement that things began to change. 

During an interview on ESPN on Wednesday, Silver said he communicated with Kings owner Vivek Ranadive following the news about Gobert about potentially calling off the game. Silver noted being down one referee was a factor, but he ultimately decided to cancel “out of an abundance of caution,” per the league statement. The Pelicans’ refusal to take the court and risk infection more than likely forced his hand.

Like players on the court, officials are susceptible to transmit the virus. Whistles are transferred from hand to mouth and the ball is passed through those same hands. It’s not hard to see why team staffers were concerned about Kirkland’s recent assignment.

Dr. Karen Edwards, the chief epidemiologist at the University of California-Irvine, shares those concerns.

“When you have individuals in close contact with each other where bodily fluids are shared, it certainly increases the risk of transmission,” Edwards said. “I certainly think that having people fly around and coming into contact with lots of other people, this is not going to help reduce the spread of the disease.”

The good news is that the NBA referee union confirmed an ESPN report on Saturday that Kirkland was indeed tested in Sacramento and the results came back negative for the COVID-19 virus. Kirkland reportedly stayed quarantined in his downtown Sacramento hotel room for days until he was cleared.

Since Gobert’s positive test was made public, six other organizations are known to have positive tests including the Brooklyn Nets (four players, including Kevin Durant), Los Angeles Lakers (two unnamed players), Boston Celtics (Marcus Smart), Philadelphia 76ers (three members of the organization), Detroit Pistons (Christian Wood) and Denver Nuggets (unnamed staffer or player). Gobert’s teammate Donovan Mitchell also tested positive.

On Wednesday night, Silver revealed on ESPN that he wasn’t surprised that the Nets saw positive tests, calling NBA players “super spreaders” because of their travel schedule, age and the fact that they often come in close contact with other individuals and large crowds. He indicated that eight teams have been tested at the recommendation of league doctors and public health officials. 

“We looked at that group of teams that were most proximate to the (Utah Jazz) and the circle expanded from there,” Silver said.

Plenty more have been cleared, including the Oklahoma City Thunder and Toronto Raptors. Mitchell and Gobert were the only positive tests among the 58 members of Utah’s traveling party. As of now, the COVID-19 virus is known to have spread to at least seven of the league’s 30 teams, though we’ve seen varying levels of detail in those positive cases. 

There’s no word on whether other referees have been tested. Sources at the league office and referee union both declined to provide further information, indicating that tests and the results of those tests would be made public at the discretion of the applicable state and local health authorities.

Last Tuesday, the Nets and Lakers played at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, the end of Brooklyn’s string of five games in eight nights against five different opponents. We now know that between both teams at least a half-dozen players tested positive. According to league data, 15 different referees officiated that five-game stretch for the Nets. And those referees went off to different arenas and worked with different referee crews. It stands to reason that the “super spreaders” label that Silver used to describe NBA players could also be attributed to officials.

When confronted with a positive test exposure, Edwards recommended that the league rewind the calendar 14 days, which is the general incubation period of the novel coronavirus, and analyze players, staffers and referees’ risk for infection across that two-week period. 

“That’s a good rule of thumb,” Edwards said. “The problem is there may have been players or referees that are positive and we just don’t know it because they haven’t been tested. But we don’t have enough testing. This is the problem: When we see a positive case, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.”

Untangle that NBA web long enough and you begin to see why Pelicans officials were so concerned about the league’s initial decision to play the game and why infection curves are so steep.

“This is a good example (of that),” Edwards said. “This is why we see an exponential curve where you start seeing a few cases and then it grows and grows and grows. I don’t want to be an alarmist, but I’m going to guess that we are going to see more cases in the NBA. The fact that we’ve seen some, this is just the beginning.”

Edwards believes that the NBA’s decision to suspend the season will be a pivotal moment in the timeline of the United States’ attempts to contain the virus, calling it “the right move” to cancel the Kings-Pelicans game out of an abundance of fear of a recently exposed individual spreading the disease. The silver lining of high-profile players like Gobert and Durant testing positive is that it can be a game-changing lesson for the NBA world and beyond.

Said Edwards: “The message for everybody is, nobody is safe from this. There’s no determination that stars don’t get infected and others do. It’s an equal-opportunity virus and everybody is at risk.”

NBC Sports California Kings Insider James Ham contributed to this report. Follow him on Twitter (@James_HamNBCS)Follow me on Twitter (@TomHaberstroh), and bookmark NBCSports.com/Haberstroh for my latest stories and videos and subscribe to the Habershow podcast.