GROW­ING PAINS OR BAD SIGNS?

Pos­i­tive tests, quar­an­tined play­ers raise ques­tions about NBA bub­ble

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - BY MARK ME­D­INA

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — NBA teams have set­tled on this iso­lated cam­pus in Walt Dis­ney World for less than a week. For bet­ter and for worse, they al­ready have learned what it is like to live in a whole new world.

Rock­ets guard Rus­sell West­brook and Kings for­ward Har­ri­son Barnes an­nounced they have tested pos­i­tive for the coro­n­avirus, and the NBA said that two out of 322 play­ers did not clear quar­an­tine af­ter teams ar­rived July 7 in Or­lando. The Lak­ers es­ti­mated guard Ra­jon Rondo will be side­lined for six to eight weeks af­ter frac­tur­ing his right thumb dur­ing prac­tice Sun­day. And the Kings’ Richaun Holmes and Rock­ets’ Bruno Cabo­clo have to spend ad­di­tional days in quar­an­tine af­ter leav­ing the Dis­ney cam­pus.

At some point, some­one would have raised the ques­tion. So it seems use­ful to an­swer it now: Should the NBA view these ex­am­ples as in­evitable grow­ing pains? Or should the NBA con­clude they have spot­ted red flags?

The needed caveat to this an­swer: No one truly knows.

Com­mis­sioner Adam Sil­ver has said there are “no risk-free op­tions,” and those in NBA cir­cles have of­ten cited the for­mat of the re­sumed sea­son as “the best of bad op­tions.” The novel coro­n­avirus al­ready has killed more than 130,000 peo­ple. The in­fec­tion rates and deaths have in­creased dra­mat­i­cally in Florida. And as long as there is no vac­cine, Sil­ver con­ceded last month that “you can­not out­run the virus.”

Keep in mind, though, that the NBA struc­tured its re­sumed sea­son fully aware that it seemed in­evitable the league would over­see the kind of is­sues that have arisen. There­fore, the NBA max­i­mized its odds of fin­ish­ing the sea­son by en­sur­ing these speed bumps do not turn into road­blocks.

Sil­ver and Na­tional Basketball Play­ers As­so­ci­a­tion ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Michele Roberts have not dis­missed any pos­i­tive case out­right. These are hu­man be­ings, not chess pieces. Stud­ies have shown COVID-19 still can in­fect the young, leave them with long-term con­di­tions and se­ri­ously put oth­ers around them in harm’s way. So the NBA isn’t cel­e­brat­ing any in­fec­tion case. Still, they are en­cour­aged that the in­fec­tion rate has dropped since teams first be­gan test­ing play­ers June 23 (16 out of 305).

In the­ory, that would give those play­ers time to clear quar­an­tine so they can travel with their re­spec­tive teams to Or­lando or stay at home if pos­i­tive tests per­sisted. For the two play­ers who tested pos­i­tive af­ter ar­riv­ing in Or­lando, the NBA said those play­ers never left quar­an­tine. So they im­me­di­ately went home to avoid com­pro­mis­ing the cam­pus bub­ble. Though no coach wants to over­see prac­tices with a di­min­ished ros­ter, those play­ers still have time to re­cover to re­turn when the NBA re­sumes the sea­son July 30 at the ESPN’s World Wide of Sports Com­plex. They then have eight reg­u­lar-sea­son games be­fore the post­sea­son be­gins Aug. 17.

Does that mean the NBA can ab­sorb any and all prob­lems? Not ex­actly.

If a hand­ful of play­ers test pos­i­tive for COVID-19 once the sea­son starts, then the cam­pus might be ex­posed to fur­ther out­breaks. If a star player or a key role player suf­fers an in­jury dur­ing the sea­son, that could se­ri­ously com­pro­mise a team’s cham­pi­onship as­pi­ra­tions and test the league’s com­pet­i­tive in­tegrity. It only takes one player to view his food-de­liv­ery op­tions as more im­por­tant than ev­ery­one’s health.

But the NBA has mostly put ev­ery­one in a po­si­tion to suc­ceed and safe­guarded them from any po­ten­tial fail­ures.

“It’s def­i­nitely go­ing to be ad­just­ments that need to be made. But that’s one thing about our league and pro­fes­sion­als: We can make ad­just­ments on the fly as we’re able to,” Rap­tors guard Kyle Lowry said in a con­fer­ence call. “The pro­to­cols are un­be­liev­able. I think our pro­to­cols and health and safety mea­sures are top-notch.”

AP

ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Com­plex at Dis­ney World in Or­lando, Fla., is host­ing the rest of the NBA sea­son.

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