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Drew Gooden says NBA plan will be 'tough' on Wizards, Trail Blazers

Drew Gooden says NBA plan will be 'tough' on Wizards, Trail Blazers

The NBA’s return-to-play proposal was approved by team owners Thursday, putting the wheels in motion for 22 teams to finish out the regular season in Orlando beginning July 31.

Although fans, players and owners alike will all be excited to see the NBA return in some form more than four months after the season was put on hold due to the coronavirus outbreak, the structure of the salvaged season and health protocols surrounding it will each present their own sets of challenges for players to overcome.

Fourteen-year NBA veteran and NBC Sports Washington’s Wizards color commentator Drew Gooden appeared on Lunch Talk Live with Mike Tirico on Friday to discuss the approved format. His first reaction was similar to that of many: excitement for basketball to start back up again.

“As a player, I’m excited especially if I’m with the Wizards,” Gooden said. “Losing John Wall beginning of the season and Bradley Beal had a great season with an All-Star snub. Hopefully he will be an All-NBA player. This is the second season. They are having second life.”

However, Gooden admitted that it’s going to be challenging to start back up again after months of inactivity. For two teams, however, there are a set of mental hurdles to overcome as well.

“As a fan you’ve got to be happy with the structure,” Gooden said. “I think it’s a great situation. The season was on the brink of being canceled. As a player it’s tough. It depends on which situation you’re in as a player and what team you’re on…With winning teams it’s easy to stay in shape because you have the eyes on the prize.

“The Wizards and Portland [Trail Blazers] have it tough because of having to stay in shape. The uncertainty of the outcome of the regular season. As a player you can have three mindsets: in the playoffs on the cusp of the playoffs or out of the playoffs. That’s how you have to take on and train and prepare for these games.”

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The eight teams that didn’t make the cut for Orlando already have their lottery odds locked in, while the Wizards, who currently have the ninth-best odds, cannot improve their chances of landing a top pick. The Trail Blazers were the lone team to vote against the 22-team proposal, reportedly citing “more competitive and innovative formats on the table.”

But the plan is set and 22 teams will have to start training again in order to prepare for the July 31 start date. With everyone playing in a healthy-conscious neutral setting, things are going to feel very different than normal for the players involved.

“There’s no easy way to cut it,” Gooden said. “If you want the season to continue you can’t be picky. I think this setup is going to be great. Partnering with Walt Disney and having a place to stay with your family outside of the team hotel is great. There will be a lot of protocol on the maintenance in care of the players. To protect them and the staff. It’s not just the players but the personnel around the players. The biggest thing is the safety of players and people that work around the NBA and media personnel.”

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Many Wizards players plan to wear social justice messages on back of jerseys

Many Wizards players plan to wear social justice messages on back of jerseys

The NBA's initiative allowing players to wear social justice messages on the backs of their jerseys, instead of their last names, in Orlando is being fully embraced by members of the Washington Wizards.

Ian Mahinmi and Moe Wagner have said they will wear 'vote.' Troy Brown Jr. and Jerome Robinson will wear 'Black Lives Matter.' Shabazz Napier says he has chosen 'equality' as his message.

RELATED: WAGNER TO WEAR 'VOTE' ON JERSEY

Every Wizards player who has been asked during media availability from Disney World so far has committed to participating. Their reasons are specific to the person, but they are in unity when it comes to the overall message.

"I play 82 games with my name on the back of my jersey," Brown said. "To have an opportunity to put something that I truly believe in and that needs to be addressed on the back of my jersey, I took that opportunity and am definitely going to make the most of it."

"I think for me, I will put 'Black Lives Matter' on the back of my jersey just because that is the biggest symbol of representation of what we have going on right now," Robinson said. "Through the whole quarantine, with the George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the amount of people that were murdered for no reason at all, or for terrible reasoning; I think it's the biggest symbol on one of the biggest platforms."

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In asking the players, it's clear they thought deeply about which message to choose. The NBA gave them options that also include 'justice' and 'I can't breathe.' 

For Napier, there were many layers to his decision to wear 'equality.'

"I think in this world, in this moment right now, we're fighting amongst each other, whether it's black or white or women or men. I think for us to understand that everybody should be held at an equal standard, no matter the race and no matter the gender. That speaks loudly to me. I was raised by my mother only, so I understand the trials and tribulations that women go through on a daily basis to a certain extent," he said.

"I think that it's very important that as much as the [racial issues] we are dealing with at the moment, it's the same for gays and their equal rights. I think equality means a lot. I think if we get that down, sooner or later things will come to fruition and we will live in a positive world."

There has been some debate about whether the NBA returning will be a negative distraction to the social justice matters percolating around the country. But the Wizards plan to make the most of their platform in Orlando, hoping to raise more awareness for the causes they believe in.

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Wizards players react to teammates contracting coronavirus

Wizards players react to teammates contracting coronavirus

Though the percentages may be lower for young, well-conditioned athletes, coronavirus remains a real threat to NBA players and the Washington Wizards were served a reminder of that this week with the reported positive tests for Thomas Bryant and Gary Payton II.

Forward Troy Brown Jr., who is close with Bryant, said he has talked to his friend and teammate since he came down with Covid-19. He believes Bryant will be able to join the team in Orlando before too long.

"I talked to him a little bit. It's just more so day by day," Brown said. "I don't think it was anything other than just him doing normal stuff [when he contracted it]."

Guard Jerome Robinson is with the Wizards at Disney World, taking their team flight down on July 7. But he says the decision to play was not a simple one.

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Robinson felt uneasy about the risk of being around people and playing basketball during the worldwide pandemic.

"There was some thought [of not going]. For the most part, for me my concerns were just the safety of it all. It's a deadly virus and we don't have a vaccine," he explained.

"It was kind of scary being around my family and things like that. I don't want to get put in a circumstance where we all get it our I get it or things of that nature, [especially] any elder. The biggest thing is how can we be safe during this whole thing."

Robinson is 23 years old and an NBA player in tip-top shape. But he has read enough of the news to realize, though the odds are lower, the possibility remains for someone of his age and health to be affected by the virus.

"Even us, being young people, you don't want to be that one because it can happen. It's a deadly virus and it's something that we have to take seriously," he said.

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