Ranking the 10 greatest lineups in NBA history

NBC Sports

Ranking the 10 greatest lineups in NBA history

Free agency begins next week. Chapters will close and others will open. With Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson set to be free agents, we may have witnessed the end of one of the greatest chapters in NBA history. 

When Durant joined the Warriors in the summer of 2016, Golden State’s already infamous “Death Lineup” got a serious upgrade. 

The “Hamptons Five,” as it became known in honor of Durant’s free agency hub, featured a current or former All-Star at every position, including two former MVPs still in their prime in Durant and Curry. One of them, Curry, was the first-ever unanimous MVP, and the other, Durant, is a two-time Finals MVP. Then there’s Iguodala, who is also a Finals MVP and a two-time All-Defense recipient. Thompson, meanwhile, is a two-time All-NBA player and one of the greatest shooters ever. And to top it all off, Green is a former Defensive Player of the Year and two-time All-NBA player.

That’s a lot of hardware, and it got me thinking: Has there been a lineup that good in NBA history? 

Answering that question was a mammoth undertaking that required hours and hours of research as well as the expertise of NBA historian Curtis Harris, who runs the delightful @ProHoopsHistory Twitter account. Go follow him if you haven’t already.

With Harris’ help, I whittled down the list to 10 five-man lineups. To qualify, these lineups had to play substantial minutes with each other but did not necessarily have to start games together (though all likely finished). One obstacle was that lineup data wasn’t kept until 2000, but with Harris’ expertise and some common sense, we have a pretty good idea of which 20th-century lineups actually played together. 

While winning a title helps, it’s not a requirement to be on this list; some juggernaut lineups fell apart due to injury, not ability. It also matters if lineups played together in the players’ prime years (ahem, 2003-04 Lakers). This isn’t just a collection of Hall of Famers that just so happened to play on the same team. They also had to actually play together as a five-man group.

This is also not a list of superstar duos (shouts to the 1990s Chicago Bulls) or incredible trios (LeBron’s Heat with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh; LeBron’s Cavs with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love). It’s also not about Big Fours with a so-so role player or teams with deep rosters that won a ton of games. Though the San Antonio Spurs sported some incredible teams, they were rarely built on a starry five-man unit with multiple players firmly in their primes. This is a look at the all-time best five-man lineups, with an emphasis on five.

Lastly, some notes on the honors listed: the Defensive Player of the Year award started in 1982-83 and the Finals MVP award began in 1969. In other words, Bill Russell’s zero in each category is not a typo; he might have won more of each award than any other player in history if they were invented before or during his career. They literally call it the Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award.

Now, with all that throat-clearing out of the way, let’s take a stroll through memory lane and rank the best five-man lineups of all-time. 

10. 2010-11 Boston Celtics

PG: Rajon Rondo
SG: Ray Allen
SF: Paul Pierce
PF: Kevin Garnett
C: Shaquille O’Neal

Total All-Star appearances: 54
MVP players: 2
DPOY players: 1
Finals MVP players: 2
Titles won together: 0

Look at that lineup. Despite Shaq laboring through right-leg injuries in what became his final season, this group was just about invincible when the Big Aristotle was on the court. In 266 minutes on the floor, this lineup outscored opponents by a whopping 18.3 points per 48 minutes, by far the largest differential of any Celtics’ Big Four lineup during that era. Crazy fact: With this five-man crew on the court, the Celtics shot 58 percent as a group, the highest field-goal percentage of any unit in the NBA (minimum 250 minutes played) since NBA.com began tracking lineup shooting percentages in 2007. Fifty-eight percent! Unfair.

The Celtics went 19-3 when Shaq played more than 20 minutes that season, but his body couldn’t hold up. After a series of injuries and cortisone shots, he shut it down for good in the playoffs and called it a career. Who knows what would have happened if Shaq was healthier, but this lineup featured jaw-dropping starpower, and did enough damage in his 37 games to deserve a spot on this list. No team on this top-10 list featured a five-man unit that accumulated more than 40 All-Star appearances in their respective careers ... except this one, which totaled 54. 

9. 2010-11 Dallas Mavericks

PG: Jason Kidd
SG: Jason Terry
SF: Shawn Marion
PF: Dirk Nowitzki
C: Tyson Chandler

Total All-Star appearances: 29
MVP players: 1
DPOY players: 1
Finals MVP players: 1
Titles won together: 1

Don’t be surprised. This group didn’t just take down James, Wade and Bosh in the Finals. It annihilated everybody in its path. After taking down the Blazers in the first round, the Mavs swept Kobe Bryant’s Lakers and then took care of the OKC Thunder in five games. With four All-Stars and Terry, who won Sixth Man of the Year that season, this Mavs lineup wasn’t short on starpower or veteran poise.

Don’t believe this lineup deserves a spot on this list? Know this fact: This five-man unit had easily the best point differential of any lineup since 2000 if we look at lineups that played at least 300 minutes together. In 351.1 minutes on the floor, this Mavs lineup outscored opponents by a whopping 195 points, which translates to a margin of plus-26.7 every 48 minutes. That’s mercy-rule type stuff. 

Who knows what would have happened if the Mavs didn’t let Chandler sign with the New York Knicks in free agency. Maybe the aging crew doesn’t bounce back after the long 2011 lockout layoff even with Chandler manning the back line. But for that one season, the stars were perfectly aligned. 

8. 1970-72 Milwaukee Bucks

PG: Oscar Robertson
SG: Jon McGlocklin
SF: Bob Dandridge
PF: Greg Smith
C: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Total All-Star appearances: 36
MVP players: 2
DPOY players: 0
Finals MVP players: 1
Titles won together: 1

This was the rare time when two players in the G.O.A.T. discussion played on the same team. But don’t think this was just a two-man unit. McGlocklin and Dandridge were both All-Stars at one point in their careers. Though Smith never made it to an All-Star Game himself, he averaged an impressive 10.0 points and 8.3 rebounds in a Finals sweep over the Baltimore Bullets. He’s no slouch.

Robertson -- who was traded by the Cincinnati Royals in 1970, marking one of the most lopsided deals in history -- was just coming out of his prime, while Kareem was just entering his. With Oscar and Kareem at the helm, the Bucks beat the living daylights out of opponents, going 66-16 in the regular season -- the second-most wins in NBA history at that point. They also went 12-2 in the playoffs that year and won at least 60 games in each of the next two seasons. 

Though Smith was only a member of this version for one-and-a-half seasons, the 1971 championship team was won of the most dominant in NBA history. With four All-Stars, two all-timers and an elite role player in Smith, this represents one of the greatest lineups of the 70s.

7. 1971-74 New York Knicks

PG: Walt Frazier
SG: Earl Monroe
SF: Bill Bradley
PF: Dave DeBusschere
C: Willis Reed

Total All-Star appearances:27
MVP players: 1
DPOY players: 0
Finals MVP players: 1
Titles won together: 1

How good was this lineup? In 1973, it helped take down the mighty Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals and then the juggernaut Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals,  despite Wilt Chamberlain playing every single minute of the series. The Stilt was so spent, he decided to retire after the Knicks were done with him. (Maybe he should have gotten a breather, after all). 

This five-man unit delivered the Knicks’ only championship after 1970, but that’s not the reason it’s on here. The 1973 team featured three players that suited up in the All-Star Game that year (Frazier, Bradley and DeBusschere) with Earl the Pearl and Reed rounding out the unit. All five players went onto the Hall of Fame, with Hall of Famer Jerry Lucas also part of the supporting cast. No wonder New York won it all.

The 1973 championship was also memorable because it was Reed’s final full season in the NBA. After winning Finals MVP, he played just 19 games in the 1973-74 season due to an assortment of injuries and hung it up for good after that. You can argue the 1969-70 Knicks team was better top to bottom, but Monroe’s addition in 1972 created this vaunted lineup.

6. 1982-85 Philadelphia 76ers

PG: Maurice Cheeks
SG: Andrew Toney
SF: Julius Erving
PF: Bobby Jones
C: Moses Malone

Total All-Star appearances: 40
MVP players: 2
DPOY players: 0
Finals MVP players: 1
Titles won together: 1

The Fo, Fo, Fo Sixers didn’t actually sweep their way to the 1983 title like Hall of Fame big man Moses Malone predicted before the playoffs, but Dr. J and Big Mo were good enough to go Fo, Fi, Fo, dropping just one game along the way to finally destroying the Lakers in the championship. 

On one of the greatest teams ever, this five-man group played prominently together with Jones filling the Iguodala role as the defensive menace who popped in and out of the starting lineup. For perspective on how good this lineup was, Cheeks, Erving and Malone started the 1982-83 All-Star game with Andrew “The Boston Strangler” Toney coming off the All-Star bench. Meanwhile, Jones had been on the previous two All-Star teams and became the Sixth Man of the Year for the ‘85 season. Four Hall of Famers in their prime and a two-time All-Star in Toney. Not bad. 

Oh, and then a rookie named Charles Barkley joined them in 1984 just as Toney’s career was derailed by foot injuries. Though Barkley’s inclusion looked superior on paper, the team undoubtedly peaked in 1983 with Toney and the rest of the group in its prime. Take it from Barkley, who once declared, “Andrew Toney is the best player I ever played with.” OK, that’s settled.

5. Philadelphia 76ers 1966-67 

PG: Larry Costello 
SG: Hal Greer
SF: Chet Walker
PF: Luke Jackson
C: Wilt Chamberlain

Total All-Star appearances: 37
MVP players: 1
DPOY players: 0
Finals MVP players: 1
Titles won together: 1

This squad was stacked, starting the season 38-4, with all five players being All-Stars and an eventual championship ring in its bag. Costello, a six-time All-Star point guard, was limited due to injury for a chunk of the season, but the Sixers had enough talent to take down a San Francisco Warriors team featuring Rick Barry and Nate Thurmond in the NBA Finals. 

Walker, Greer and Chamberlain were each Hall of Famers, clocking in with 30 All-Star appearances between them. Jackson may have had the least decorated career of this championship bunch, but he was an All-Star and a member of the 1964-65 All-Rookie team. What’s downright mean is that this group had young Hall of Famer Billy Cunningham as the sixth man off the bench. This is Harris’ pick as the greatest lineup ever, though he admits, as the proprietor of @SixersHistory, he has a strong personal connection. “I’ve talked to almost all the guys from that team so I’m probably super biased in their favor.” 

4. 1978-83 Los Angeles Lakers

PG: Norm Nixon
SG: Michael Cooper
SF: Jamaal Wilkes
PF/PG: Magic Johnson
C: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Total All-Star appearances: 36
MVP players: 2
DPOY players: 1
Finals MVP players: 2
Titles won together: 2

Like the great Celtics teams of the 60s and 80s, it’s hard to pick which five-man group is the best of this Lakers era. But this one has it all: two players in the GOAT discussion in Magic and Kareem; a two-time All-Star point guard in Nixon, a Defensive Player of the Year in Cooper and a three-time All-Star in Wilkes. Together, they won two championships in 1980 and 1982 before Nixon was traded to the San Diego Clippers for Byron Scott. 

The Showtime Lakers would go on to win three more championships under coach Pat Riley with a different iteration of this core, but in terms of 1-through-5 talent, this group with Nixon, Wilkes and Cooper formed the pinnacle lineup. The 1986-87 team that won the title after going 65-27 might have been the best roster with the addition of James Worthy, but there wasn’t a five-man group that could flaunt the kind of starpower that the 1980 and 1982 teams did. Though Scott, Kurt Rambis and Mychal Thompson were great players, none of them ever received an All-Star bid during their fine careers, and A.C. Green was just starting his Ironman tenure. 

3. 1984-88 Boston Celtics

PG: Dennis Johnson
SG: Danny Ainge
SF: Larry Bird
PF: Kevin McHale
C: Robert Parish

Total All-Star appearances: 34
MVP players: 1
DPOY players: 0
Finals MVP players: 2
Titles won together: 2

Of the 1980s Celtics teams, this lineup was the best. It featured four Hall of Famers and Danny Ainge, who made a record-breaking 148 3-pointers in the 1987-88 season, earning a spot on the All-Star squad that year. No Celtics team has won as many games since this team’s 67-15 record in 1985-86, largely on the back of this powerful starting unit that began regularly playing together after the 1984 championship.

All in all, this formidable Celtics group went 137-37 (.787) as a starting lineup over four seasons from 1984-85 to 1987-88 and won the 1986 title with another former MVP and Hall of Famer, Bill Walton, coming off the bench to win Sixth Man of the Year. If Walton made more than one start with this group, he’d be included on this list of all-time great fives but Parish, a freakin’ nine-time All-Star and two-time All-NBA center, will just have to do. What a group.

2. Golden State Warriors 2016-2019

PG: Stephen Curry
SG: Klay Thompson
SF: Andre Iguodala
PF: Kevin Durant
C: Draymond Green

Total All-Star appearances: 25
MVP players: 2
DPOY players: 1
Finals MVP players: 2
Titles won together: 2

This lineup has everything you need, except for maybe elite rebounding. Shooting, passing, dribbling, defense and high basketball IQ. Among the 138 lineups that have played at least 500 minutes together since 2000, the Warriors’ Hamptons Five lineup was the third-most unstoppable five-man unit on record, outscoring opponents by 19.9 points per 48 minutes in the regular season and playoffs, per an analysis of lineup data from Basketball-Reference.com. 

So, which lineups fared better? 

Turns out, the original Death Lineup and the Andrew Bogut version, by a hair. Plot twist! Bogut, playing in Durant’s spot, posted the best-ever differential (plus-20.8) and Harrison Barnes in Durant’s spot (plus-20.6) tops the Hamptons Five by a smidge. But the Hamptons Five won two championships as a unit while the others only won one.

The Hamptons Five is one of the few lineups of the modern era that features an All-Star at every position, complete with four players in their prime. Though Iguodala is 35 years old, he remains a vital piece of the puzzle. Coach Steve Kerr tasked him with defending reigning MVP James Harden this postseason, and Iguodala had enough energy to average 13.5 points on 59 percent shooting on the other end, mimicking the performance that won him a Finals MVP. When the fifth guy is a Finals MVP, it’s clear we may never see a group like this ever again.

Though Durant is a clear upgrade over Barnes as a player, it’s notable that the original Death Lineup and the Bogut version fared better on the scoreboard overall. This postseason, the Hamptons Five only outscored opponents by 12 points (406 to 394), nothing to write home about. Cumulative fatigue and aging may have dented their performance, but they could have three-peated were it not for the injuries to Durant and Thompson. Then again, injuries have wrecked plenty other historic lineups on this list.

1. 1954-1961 Boston Celtics

PG: Bob Cousy
SG: Bill Sharman
SF: Frank Ramsey
PF: Tom Heinsohn
C: Bill Russell

Total All-Star appearances: 39
MVP players: 2
DPOY players: 0
Finals MVP players: 0
Titles won together: 4

Take your pick of any Celtics team from 1955-56 to 1968-69, a 14-year period in which Boston won 12 championships. You can’t really go wrong. This particular five-man group featured five Hall of Famers that won four of five championships together before Sharman retired at the end of the 1960-61 season. An absolute machine.

If there’s a knock, it’s that Ramsey was never an All-Star, but The Kentucky Colonel was a Hall of Famer and is credited as being the first star to voluntarily play in the sixth-man role under legendary coach Red Auerbach. John Havlicek would later embrace that position for Auerbach, but by the time he hit his prime, Cousy had already retired. Iguodala, Terry and Manu Ginobili built championship legacies by coming off the bench, but it was Ramsey who started it all.

The 1963-64 Celtics with Sam Jones, K.C. Jones and Havlicek alongside Russell and Heinsohn deserve honorable mention here as Harris calls it “probably the best defensive iteration of the dynasty.” But Cousy, Sharman, Ramsey, Heinsohn and Russell won four championships together and featured Hall of Famers at every position. They get the nod for both starpower and longevity.

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

COVID testing priority a potential issue for NBA

NBC Sports

COVID testing priority a potential issue for NBA

With teams making their way into the Orlando bubble this week, the NBA is surely crossing its fingers, or perhaps even looking for some divine assistance.

“There are no atheists in the league office right now,” one team executive told NBC Sports.

Months of planning have led to this moment. All 22 teams have successfully arrived in Orlando. The early arrivers have started practicing and the others hope to follow shortly. Inter-squad scrimmages are set to begin in less than two weeks. The season officially resumes by the end of the month. It may be one of the most critical times in NBA history. 

If the coronavirus seeps into the Disney World campus and spreads throughout, the NBA will have no choice but to shut it down, commissioner Adam Silver confirmed on Tuesday. A shutdown could activate a force majeure clause in the collective bargaining agreement, negating the current CBA and leading to a potential work stoppage. Yes, the 2020-21 season could be in danger as well if this doesn’t work. 

With so much riding on this resumption, I spoke to  public health experts and epidemiologists about the core issues at stake with the NBA going to the bubble. 

Said Dr. Zachary Binney, an epidemiologist at Oxford College of Emory University: “If I was Adam Silver, I’d be white-knuckling it this week.”

Is the NBA being prioritized over the general population in a time of crisis?

The entire NBA operation sits on a foundation of daily testing and then processing results of those tests quickly. Early in the pandemic, the NBA was concerned about having enough tests to administer that daily regimen. While supply issues appear to have been resolved, processing those tests is not quite as simple.

Unlike Major League Baseball, so far teams have not seen significant delays or problems receiving test results, according to sources that spoke with NBC Sports. But there have been hiccups here and there. In the 24 hours before departure for Orlando, one NBA team had its tests accidentally sent to the wrong lab, according to league sources. The mistake forced the entire team to retake the coronavirus tests later in the day, delaying their trip to Orlando by several hours. 

“This is the new normal,” said one official of a team dealing with testing blips.

This space can be tricky at a time when the demand for tests is skyrocketing around the country and delays are becoming prevalent. The testing provider is central to everything. The NBA began using BioReference Laboratories to run their tests once they arrived in the bubble, sources told NBC Sports. That’s a different provider than their previous arrangement for in-market testing prior to the bubble. In the 113-page Health and Safety Protocol handbook distributed to teams last month, the league listed only one provider, Quest Diagnostics, as a preferred vendor. The league used Quest for the bulk of its tests around the country during Phases 2 and 3 of the resumption of the season. Phase 3, which is the transition into the bubble, concludes this Saturday, according to the document.

The shift away from Quest is notable considering that on Monday, Quest Diagnostics issued a worrisome press release. Quest stated a recent surge in demand for coronavirus testing had caused delays in processing, with 4-6 day average turnarounds on COVID-19 tests for populations that do not fall into their “Priority 1” group. That group includes “hospital patients, pre-operative patients in acute care settings and symptomatic healthcare workers.” Average turnarounds for Priority 1 would be one day, the lab company said.

It’s difficult to see how the NBA and its personnel would be considered Priority 1 in the Quest designation. Being put in the normal population group, with 4-6 day turnarounds, would lead to significant delays and could jeopardize the league’s entire testing operation.

“Let’s say you’re defending Stephen Curry,” Binney says. “If you take your eyes off Curry for one second, maybe you can still recover and stop him from scoring. But if you take your eyes off him for three seconds and you give him time to move around, he’s going to wreak havoc on you before you know what’s happened."

The hope for the NBA is that BioReference would be able to facilitate their testing in quicker order. So far, it looks promising. The MLS, a league that has also formed a closed campus on the Disney World resort in Orlando, is also using BioReference Laboratories for processing its results, per the official MLS website. MLS is facing issues of their own (more on that later), but it appears that testing delays aren’t one of them.

For folks inside the bubble trying to resume a professional sports season, that’s good news. 

But for those outside the bubble mired in a public health crisis, the swift processing for MLS and NBA may be problematic.

BioReference is experiencing serious delays with the general public. As of Thursday morning, patients attempting to access test results on the BioReference website would be met with an alert that reads: “If you are looking for your COVID-19 PCR (swab) results please note that these may not be available in the patient portal for up to 5-7 days after collection. As always, we appreciate your business and thank you for your patience during this unprecedented time.”

The local stories in Orlando involving BioReference are alarming. Last week, Central Florida’s CBS affiliate WKMG reported that a 74-year-old cancer survivor, along with several senior citizens at a nursing home, waited over a week for their results after being tested at the Orange County Convention Center (OCCC), one of the busiest testing sites in the state of Florida. The OCCC’s testing provider: BioReference.

In response to backlogs, the Florida Department of Health provided a statement confirming BioReference’s testing and that the state was informed by BioReference that the lab was experiencing serious nationwide delays. The state made the decision to switch from BioReference to a lab called Genetworx “to prevent a further delay in individuals receiving their results.”

A separate report from Orlando’s ABC affiliate WFTV9 confirmed the state chose to find reinforcements once BioReference saw widespread delays.

“In my professional opinion, and this is a personal opinion, a test that takes five days in infectious disease to come back, it becomes irrelevant,” Dr. Raul Pino, an Orange County health official, told WFTV9.

Sports leagues looking to get games going need quick turnaround times, much faster than a week. As of now, it appears that the MLS has jumped to the front of the line without issue.

“We are honored to be providing testing solutions to Major League Soccer as it prepares to restart its season,” said Jon R. Cohen, M.D., executive chairman of BioReference Laboratories said in a press release on Thursday. “The leadership of MLS worked diligently with us to develop a COVID-19 PCR and antibody testing strategy with the goal of providing the safest possible environment for the players, coaches and staff to begin to play again.”

For Dr. Binney, prioritizing sports leagues over the public health at a time when the virus is “exploding” is a troubling development.

“We should be thinking very, very carefully about whether that's something we want to be doing right now,” Binney said. “Diverting desperately needed testing capacity to support pro sports, which is what seems to be happening right now, is extremely questionable.”

The NBA has not officially announced their testing provider for the bubble and the Health and Safety Protocols document only mentions a provider (Quest) for Phases 2 and 3. For testing in Orlando, the document only says “All testing (through the duration of the season) will be conducted through a program coordinated by the league.”

It’s unclear if the NBA is being placed in a Priority 1 group or a similar class ahead of the general population. Dr. Angela Rasmussen, a Seattle-based virologist at the Center for Infection and Immunity at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, expressed caution about using testing capacities for sports leagues.

“Certainly, we’re not in a good place (as a country), especially in the hardest hit areas,” says Rasmussen, a season-ticket holder for the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks. “And this is where, to me, the question of sports becomes an issue.

“At what point does it become unethical to reserve tests that would be available to the public otherwise for professional sports players just to facilitate having an NBA season? In Florida right now, that’s an especially relevant question.”

To Rasmussen, the optics of the NBA and MLS using BioReference as its provider while the general population waits on the sidelines is troublesome.

“You’re putting an additional burden on an already burdened testing system,” Rasmussen says. “That’s probably not going to go over very well from a public relations standpoint, at the very least.”

There are elements in the NBA’s resumption plans that could offer public health benefits. For one, the NBA and National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) have partnered on a research study using Yale University’s SalivaDirect test, which could have positive implications on the NBA’s future and the overall national public health. It is less invasive, less expensive and less taxing on healthcare workers, but the test needs more validation from a research standpoint.

The SalivaDirect test, which requires an individual to spit into a tube as opposed to using a nasal swab, would be secondary to the NBA’s testing protocol and it is not mandatory for players to participate. Rasmussen is hopeful that NBA players opt in.

“It has the potential to actually speed up the testing process and address some of these backlogs but not all of them,” Rasmussen says. “In my opinion, that’s what makes the NBA’s plan beneficial and kind of overrides any ethical concerns I have over, ‘Why are using these tests for professional athletes that don’t need to play?”

In addition to the Yale study, the NBA is planning to offer community testing, according to the Health and Safety Protocol handbook, but it’s unclear what form that takes.

For Binney, the moral quandary around testing should give the NBA serious pause about its plan.

“If BioReference or Quest is unable to return tests to the general public in less than 3-5 days, then I think the NBA (receiving priority) is causing a problem,” Binney says. “The NBA has only two choices. One is to jump to the front of the line with sick people in the hospital or they have to wait an unsatisfactory amount of time to get their results that gives the virus space to move throughout the bubble. Neither of those choices are acceptable.”

With the virus surging around the country and, more importantly for the NBA, in the Orlando area, the league could outsource its own partnered labs or own privatized lab for the general public.

“If you’re setting up your own internal lab, then the only question you really have is could the testing capacity you’re using for NBA players be more morally or ethically used elsewhere?” Binney asks. “Could you assist BioReference or Quest? Could you redirect all of that testing to the community rather than some of it? Is that something morally or ethically you have to do? I think that’s a value judgment. That’s a moral judgment.”

It remains to be seen where the NBA, which has at least $1 billion on the line, goes from here.

What about hospital and ICU beds in Orlando?

Beyond testing capacity, there is another critical issue in the NBA’s resumption. Hospital beds are filling up in the areas immediately surrounding the NBA bubble. If a player or staffer gets seriously ill or needs medical attention, where do they go?

A reporter posed that question to Silver, the league office and the NBPA on a call late last month. The NBA’s lawyer, David Weiss, stepped in and answered that the league will have an on-site clinic through the league’s partnership with AdventHealth.

“If someone gets sick and needs to go to that clinic, and needs to go to the hospital, they’ll be able to go to AdventHealth,” Weiss said.

What happens if that clinic isn’t equipped to deal with a specific injury or illness inside the bubble? In the two weeks since Weiss’ remarks, the situation around the bubble has turned grave.

Dozens of hospitals across the state have maxed out their ICU capacity. Locally in Orlando, it’s dire. As of Thursday morning, two local AdventHealth hospitals’ ICUs -- AdventHealth East Orlando and AdventHealth Winter Park -- have reached full capacity with 39 total beds filled, according to data from the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA). 

The largest AdventHealth hospital in the area, AdventHealth Orlando, is at 80 percent ICU capacity, with only 40 of its 191 beds open. Overall, Orange County hospitals are at 83 percent ICU capacity and 87 percent hospital bed capacity. 

Just as NBA players are flying into Orlando, hospitals are being pushed to the brink, AdventHealth included.

If the on-site clinic can’t handle an NBA-related emergency, does the NBA feel comfortable about taking a bed from someone in the general public?

“It’s not so much that everybody who gets COVID is going to die from it,” Rasmussen says, “it’s that when the hospitals are overwhelmed and there’s no place for people to go, more people are going to die that wouldn't have necessarily died otherwise.

If you have more people dying because they can’t get an ICU bed because they were in a car accident, or they can’t get on a ventilator because they had a severe asthma attack or bacterial pneumonia, then you’re going to see a lot of other deaths not because of COVID but because the hospital system being strained to the breaking point. That’s really, really scary.”

There’s another issue here. If AdventHealth has provided staffers, facilities and resources for the NBA and those resources are going unused in the bubble, can the NBA allocate those resources to the public?

“The idea of having an on-site clinic with Advent Health is in theory a great one,” Binney says. “It limits the number of times that players and staff can leave the bubble; You have everything they need inside the bubble. That’s admirable and that makes sense. The problem would be if you’re taking away resources from the community that are desperately needed to care for COVID-19 patients.”

Binney says there could be a time when the league should not have an on-campus clinic dedicated solely for NBA personnel. In April, nurses and doctors were flown across the country to New York City to assist overwhelmed hospitals. That moment could be coming for Florida. 

“We’re not there yet,” Binney says. “They’re trending in a very concerning direction, but they’re not there yet.”

Is the NBA quarantine long enough?

Putting aside the testing backlogs and dwindling hospital beds, there’s a third concern that the NBA has on its hands. Is the league’s opening quarantine enough to prevent an outbreak? 

Transporting and isolating hundreds of players and staff on over 20 teams into the bubble is an enormous operation. This is a critical juncture in the bubble’s efficacy. If one step isn’t done correctly along the way, an outbreak could sneak in.

The MLS found out the hard way that outbreaks are hard to keep out. On Wednesday, the league kicked off its “MLS Is Back” tournament without one of its clubs, FC Dallas, who was forced to withdraw from the tournament after 10 players and one coach tested positive for coronavirus. On Thursday, a second club, Nashville SC, was eliminated after at least nine players on its squad tested positive. 

How did that happen?

MLS had been testing players since early June, when training began in clubs’ home markets. The league then ramped up testing before departure on June 28. Prior to going to the MLS bubble, all personnel were required to complete two tests 24 hours apart within a 72-hour time period before traveling to Orlando. Upon arrival, another test was administered. Still, FC Dallas and Nashville SC brought infections to Orlando.

Again, how did that happen? The incubation period for coronavirus can last somewhere between 3 to 5 days, meaning that a person could be infected and not show enough virus load to test positive for several days.

Three weeks ago, in a correspondence for a different story, Binney outlined potential problems in the current entry quarantine protocol being used by the NBA and MLS. His thoughts turned out to be prescient. 

“Consider a player on the Houston Rockets and let’s say Houston is experiencing an explosive increase in cases,” Binney wrote in an email. “If Rockets players are living at home with their families, then you're relying on the honor system for both them and their families to really limit their time outside of the house. If they don't, there's a very real risk they could get sick just before they leave; that infection may not be picked up by pre-travel tests but could reveal itself in Orlando. 

Binney continued.

“To guard against this you could require players to move into a hotel in their home market and undergo daily testing a week before they leave to decrease the chance they pick up an infection right before traveling.”

Binney sent that email on June 16, a week before the NBA began testing players in-market (16 came back positive, with several more in the coming days). On June 16, Houston’s Harris County had seen a total of 17,282 cases in the prior three months since the first test, according to official state data. Three weeks later, the total is now 39,311, meaning that Houston cases doubled in that short amount of time. With Texas seeing a massive surge in cases, Binney’s example proved to be more applicable than he thought.

“I’m a scientist and so I try to be honest when I’m right and when I’m wrong,” Binney said over the phone this week. “When I wrote that email, I didn’t think (needing an airlock) was likely. I thought an airlock would be a nice addition, not a must-have.”

Binney has since changed his mind.

“But now, with the amount of virus circulating in so many places in the U.S. and we’re seeing twice now in MLS, how teams imported outbreaks into the bubble, that has made it clear to me that an airlock is far more important than I initially thought,” Binney said.

To protect against an outbreak being brought into the system, the NBA implemented a 36- to 48-hour quarantine in which the players and staff would have to return two negative tests spaced out by at least 24 hours. Then, they can resume practice and group workouts. 

To Binney, that’s not enough time to ensure as much as possible that the virus is at bay. As the MLS example showed, multiple tests over a three-day span weren’t sufficient in preventing at least two clubs from bringing the virus into the bubble.

The NBA and NBPA did not agree to any sort of in-market airlock system for its players in their home markets. In the health and safety guidelines, players and staffers participating in team activities were required to undergo coronavirus testing every other day starting July 1 and both of the two days prior to travel. 

“MLS has shown that the most delicate and tricky part is making sure everyone who's entering is uninfected,” Binney says. “We haven't seen any evidence of widespread within the MLS bubble yet, but we're not out of the danger zone at all. I'll be holding my breath for the first week or so after each NBA team enters the bubble.”

Binney’s colleague, Dr. Neel Gandhi -- an infectious disease expert and associate professor of Epidemiology at the Emory University Rollins School of Public Health -- thinks the situation has worsened just as the NBA needed it to improve. 

“We are pretty close to the worst-case scenario from the point of view of the surrounding community,” Gandhi says. “For me, we are getting close to as scary a place as we were in March. Back then, we didn’t know what we were fighting against. Now it worries me that we know, but many segments don't want to face up to that reality.”
The NBA shut down in March after one test, Utah’s Rudy Gobert, showed up positive. How much would it take before the NBA feels it needs to shut down operations again? In talking to Fortune, Silver would not say. But he did stress the importance of this quarantine period and right after it.
“It would be concerning if once (NBA players and staffers) sit through their quarantine period and then were to test positive, we would know that there is in essence a hole in our bubble. That our campus is not working in some way. That would be very concerning … Certainly, if we had any sort of significant spread at all within our campus, we would be shut down again.”
As the situation unravels outside of the bubble, the NBA awaits its results. Amid a global pandemic and testing crisis, the NBA certainly won’t be insulated from the environment around them. “If there’s any commissioner I trust to do the right thing,” Binney says. “It’s Adam Silver.”

Follow Tom Haberstroh on Twitter (@TomHaberstroh), and bookmark NBCSports.com/Haberstroh for my latest stories and videos and subscribe to the Habershow podcast.

Sean Marshall: Jared Dudley is by far the smartest basketball player I’ve ever played with

USA Today

Sean Marshall: Jared Dudley is by far the smartest basketball player I’ve ever played with

Sean Marshall is not surprised that his co-captain at Boston College, Jared Dudley, has survived 13 seasons in the NBA.

“Jared is by far the smartest basketball player that I’ve ever played with,” Marshall said on The Habershow podcast with NBC Sports national NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh. “He’s like a chameleon. He can fit in anywhere.”

Marshall is now the captain of Team Challenge ALS in The Basketball Tournament. He discussed life in TBT bubble. 

“I don’t think people truly understand what it’s been like in the bubble in terms of taking these tests every day and literally waiting for the results the next day to see if you’re going to have a positive COVID-19 test result,” Marshall said. “So I literally take the test and then we usually get the results early in the morning. I set my alarm for around 8:00 in the morning and refresh my email every 15 seconds waiting for the results to come and hoping that none of the guys on my team have a positive result.”


Here are the timestamps for Haberstroh’s interview with Marshall:

7:40  Life in the TBT bubble 
15:30 Keeping in shape during COVID-19
19:15  Why two players had to leave his team
32:00  Why Jared Dudley gets a bad rep
36:20  Sean's advice for everyone who want to see sports again

For more from Haberstroh, listen to his conversation with Nate Duncan on life inside the NBA bubble