League, unionstiffen protocols
With five games called off this week already and more teams dealing with virus-related issues, the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association enacted additional rules Tuesday in the hope of keeping the season going safely.
For “at least the next two weeks,” the league and union said, players and team staff will have to remain at their residence when in their home markets and are prohibited from leaving their hotels when on the road— with exceptions primarily for practices and games.
“I’m all for anything we possibly can do to ramp up the safety,” said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra, whose team had the NBA-minimum eight players in Philadelphia on Tuesday night, missing eight for COVIDrelated reasons and another with injury. “Just because we want to proceed with our profession doesn’t mean that there isn’t a reality of what’s going on in the world. The virus is still very much out there.”
Utah’s game in Washington on Wednesday was postponed because contact-tracing issues among the Wizards meant they wouldn’t have eight available players for that matchup. Orlando’s game in Boston on Wednesday is also off, the third postponement involving the Celtics since Sunday.
Boston’s most recent list showed eight players as unavailable because they are adhering to the NBA’s health and safety protocols, which means they either tested positive or contact-tracing data showed they may have been exposed to someone who is positive.
“I’m for whatever the NBA wants us to do,” Washington coach Scott Brooks said.
All that is permitted in home markets, for now, is “to attend team-related activities at the team facility or arena, exercise outside, or perform essential activities,” the league and union said. On the road, team activities and emergencies are the only allowable reasons for leaving hotels.
NBPA executive director Michele Roberts said “it would be irresponsible and unacceptable” to not seek better ways to keep players safe.
“No one wants to see more restrictions imposed,” Roberts said. “No one also wants to see the infection rate increase if there are steps we can take to mitigate the risk. Our experts have concluded that these new procedures will add to our arsenal of weapons against the virus.”
The new rules add to a challenging time in the NBA, especially when dealing with the mental strain of playing in a COVID-19 world. And the flurry of virus-related issues in the last few days have only made matters tougher.
“I feel like I’m living my life in a box,” Portland guard Damian Lillard said. “I go to practice, I go back home, I don’t go anywhere else.”
When teams started testing in late November prior to the start of training camps, 48 players had positive COVID-19 tests. In the last four weeks, the league has announced a total of seven positive tests, part of the reason the NBA has not paused play.
Additional actions taken Tuesday include a new rule prohibiting any pregame meetings in locker rooms from lasting more than 10 minutes; when those meetings take place everyone must wear a mask.
Players have been told to limit oncourt interactions with fellow players to elbow or fist bumps, with no extended socializing. And when a player is subbed out of a game, he can sit in a “cool down chair” without a mask— but must put amask on when he returns to the bench and sits in his assigned seat.
There were at least 36 players in the league dealing with virus-related issues or protocols when Tuesday began, based on information released by teams. That number went up in part because of the Wizards’ situation; it was not clear howmany are affected there.
Most current player issues are believed to be related to contact tracing. Contact tracing has gotten more high-tech in recent days, with a requirement that everyone wear an electronic device that tracks proximity to one another. The data from those devices is part of the determination whether a player needs to quarantine because of possible exposure.
Nets: Brooklyn and the league are looking into Kyrie Irving’s actions after a video showed the point guard at an indoor family gathering while not wearing a mask.
General manager SeanMarks said that the team is reviewing the circumstances with both Irving and the league to determine his compliance with health and safety protocols.
Marks added in a statement that a date for Irving’s return to the team has yet to be finalized.