GROWING PAINS OR BAD SIGNS?
Positive tests, quarantined players raise questions about NBA bubble
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.”
ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World in Orlando, Fla., is hosting the rest of the NBA season.