Given Covid-19 – the Corona Virus – has been detected in 105 countries, including the US, it was simply a matter of time before the Pandemic affected the NBA.
The league, as it often has been under Adam Silver’s stewardship, was ahead of the curve in taking action, even before the positive diagnosis of Utah Jazz All Star centre Rudy Gobert. Whilst Gobert’s situation was the catalyst in Silver temporarily shutting down his league, his Board of Governors had previously been considering options up to and including playing games behind closed doors. The league had already instigated some measures, such as removing the media from locker rooms post game, instead establishing a playoff style ‘podium/press conference’ set up. Of course, that has led to this at the time playful, but now morose scene….
So, now that the league is on an indefinite hiatus, what does that mean?
The obvious is that there are no games for the foreseeable future. Given the medically recommended isolation period for Covid-19 is 14 days, that will be the minimum amount of time that we’ll be without NBA matches. But it’s reasonable to expect as more players – Utah’s recent opponents especially – coaches, officials and staff get tested, there will be exponentially more confirmed cases. It wouldn’t surprise me if over the next few days we end up with somewhere close to 50 confirmed infections. Each and every confirmed case will reset the 14 day quarantine clock. That could realistically extend the league’s break for an extra 2 weeks, taking us through to mid-April before we see a return to action. However, given the league’s hyper caution in this instance, I’m sure that they will want to see as close to humanly possible to 100% of the league test negative to the virus before allowing players to take the court. Does that take us the end of April, perhaps? And that’s assuming that no late cases, or other unforeseen circumstances pop up.
So let’s assume that the league is ready to resume in late April. Most teams currently have between 14 and 18 games left to play on their schedule – about 4 to 5 weeks worth of games. Does the league simply abandon those games? Logistically that makes the most sense, but it also means that fast charging teams like the Blazers, Kings and Pelicans will not get to compete for the final playoff spot. It means that out of form sides like Utah and Miami get to hold on to their 4th seeding and the 1st round home court advantage that accompanies it. It means that Orlando can’t catch Brooklyn, and will therefore be stuck getting ground into dust by Milwaukee. It also means that teams start the playoffs without any competitive basketball for 6 weeks, which will likely result in some pretty disjointed performances and – at worst – injuries. The league will surely try to play at least some games – likely on a compacted schedule – once we resume.
The lottery odds are upset as well. Golden State are a mortal lock for the worst record, but 5 teams (Minnesota, Atlanta, New York, Cleveland and Detroit are all within 2 losses of each other for the 2nd lottery seed: that matters. Three of those 5 teams will join the Warriors in having a shot at landing the #1 pick. As things currently stand, the Bulls and Knicks (of course it’s the Knicks!) will fall outside of that coveted top 4 slot in the lottery.
What happens to the playoffs itself? Does the league cancel the opening round & let the higher seed progress? That seems extremely unlikely – a #5 seed would complain to high heaven about the injustice of such an arrangement. My guess is that the league will play all playoff rounds, but with 5 games per series, rather than 7. Even with something like that in place, the finals themselves would still likely push into July (NB: it’s been reported that the NBA are asking teams to advise of arena availability though to the end of July), and that of course affects the draft and free agency, which would also have to be pushed back to accommodate a late finishing season.
How does the Corona Virus effect scouting and workouts for draft prospects? Do teams try to do much more of their research remotely, for fear of spearing the virus? Does the draft spectacle as we know it happen at all? Or is this years draft an event where teams stay at home & phone their picks into Adam Silver directly?
Free agency will also be affected, and not just by starting the FA period later. Players with team options have guarantee dates in their contracts that I would expect have to be renegotiated to align with whatever the new version of July 1st is.
Teams will also experience some pretty serious cap ramifications. Between Daryl Morey alienating China, declining TV ratings, and now this (by the way, the theories circulating the Twitterverse about China creating and releasing Covid-19 specifically to get back at Daryl Morey is precisely the reason I love Twitter) the NBA will experience a hefty income deficit this season and that will of course directly effect the 2020-21 salary cap.
The longer this drama goes on, the deeper and more varied the effects on the NBA season. I’m absolutely sure that there are ramifications that we haven’t yet thought of.
But that’s a look at the broader league and at the games themselves. What about the human element to all of this?
The players, of course, are likely going to be fine. As per a release from the Australian Commonwealth Department of Health, over 80% of the people infected with the Corona Virus will ‘have mild disease, not requiring any specific health intervention’. That’s good news for the majority of us, and the players will of course have access to all the care that their status as multi million dollar investments grants them – Gobert himself was ready to play against the Thunder, should his diagnosis have proven negative. But there is a whole universe that surrounds the NBA. And those people have lives that they lead away from the game.
Let me paint you a picture:
At the Jazz’s recent game in New York, Rudy Gobert signs autographs and poses for photos with various fans before and after the game. Unbeknown to anybody there, he infects a 7 year old child with the virus. That child catches the subway home with his Dad. The person sitting next to them on the train unwittingly contracts the virus. The next day, the youngster goes to school and infects 3 of his class mates when they were playing tag on the playground. That night, his grandparents are over for dinner. The child sits on his grandmothers lap and tells her all about the game, showing her the photo of he and Gobert on his Dad’s phone and he tells her all about how ‘the tall Utah man’ put his arms around them both. Next thing you know, his Grandmother has Covid-19.
In the space of 24 hours, that boy has unwittingly infected 5 people. Only one of those would be considered ‘vulnerable’, but think about the other 5 people? Who will they come into contact with? If one person can infect 5 people in the span of 24 hours, how many cases can be traced to that little boy in the space of a week? It’s like Amway, but instead of selling detergent, you’re passing on a potentially deadly virus.
For those of you complaining about the games being postponed, this is why Adam Silver has done what he has done. It’s not a basketball decision – it’s a humane decision. And kudos to The Commish for doing the right thing.
I’d like to close with a plea to the common sense in all of you. Please take action – stay out of public places as much as is possible for your specific circumstances. Self quarantine so that you don’t pick up the infection and pass it on to loved ones. If you already have the virus – and lets face it, plenty of us will but not yet realise it – don’t put yourself in places where you can unwittingly infect others. If you want to know why self quarantine is so important, please read this.
The NBA will come back from this. And we will all be perfectly fine without the NBA in our life for the next few weeks. So let’s make sure we do the right thing and try to curb the spread of Corona Virus.
Stay safe and stay healthy, everyone.