Former NBA coach and current ESPN/ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy has always been one to offer his honest and well-thought-out opinions on anything NBA.
He doesn’t believe the 2019-20 season will resume. Games were halted after the night of March 11 after it was revealed that Utah’s Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus.
The league is working hard to develop a plan to resume the season and finish with a full slate of playoffs, but Van Gundy, a former Knicks and Rockets coach, doesn’t see it happening.
“I have to say, I’m completely pessimistic about NBA basketball taking place again for a long period of time,” he said this past week. “The NBA, the NHL, Major League Baseball, those will not take place. And I don’t think football — college or the NFL — will start on time because, until we start developing a herd immunity to it, we come up with a protocol to treat it, or a vaccine becomes available, I don’t see games being played.”
The NBA has hopes of picking up play by June. Van Gundy said the possibility of that is slim considering there is no plan if another player tests positive.
“Let’s just say NBA basketball, at the most optimistic, starts July 1, what are we doing because the virus is not going to be eradicated by then?” he said. “What are we doing when the first player, coach, referee comes down with it? Are we going to cancel, like Japan [basketball league] just did. They had a couple of guys get fevers and the fear factors shut the league down again.
“I understand how you can start again, but what’s the plan if the next person gets sick, like another Rudy Gobert-type of situation, we’re going to play through it? We’re going to cancel it again? That to me is why I don’t see any of these things taking place.
“It’s overtly overly optimistic. Somebody said June 1? Really? Again, I hope I’m wrong. We’re looking at national tragedy with no end in sight. But what I’d like to know is what would make them cancel again?”
The entire league is not only shut down, but players aren’t able to practice at team facilities or have organized activities.
“It seems to be that it’s beyond optimistic that no one else in the NBA, if we start back up, will contract the virus,” Van Gundy said. “I think we’re all underestimating the fear the players are going to feel about this, just like what happened in Japan.
“What if a Fred Hoiberg-type situation [when he was displaying flu-like symptoms during a recent game] comes up? Is that going to cause widespread panic and then we have to give a test?
“I have no idea how they can pull off the season, and I have no idea what’s going to happen, and I hope next season isn’t impacted."
Like all of us, Van Gundy said he is more preoccupied with world events than NBA basketball. Several players have made contributions to the COVID-19 effort or funds that will help employees of stadiums and arenas who are out of work.
“I guess I’m just so preoccupied with the other stuff that I really don’t miss basketball,” Van Gundy said. “I miss our way of life and the freedom of if you like basketball to watch it or see it. It’s not basketball, it’s just adjusting to this different way of life. It’s like cultural stamina to have the ability to keep on living like this for a long period of time. It’s challenging.”
It’s safe to say that NBA fans won’t take the game for granted after this. An Indiana-Charlotte game on a Tuesday night will be treated like the Super Bowl when the season returns. The game is meaningful for all of us fans, but we’re interested in something that is much more significant.
“I don’t know what the NBA would say its fanbase is, but it’s a small percentage of the people who live in our country,” Van Gundy said. “I am worried about so many things, but right now basketball is down the list. But I do miss it. To be able to flip on a game would be so great right now. It would. Any game. I can’t wait for the game to come back.
"I hope I’m wrong in thinking it won’t happen this season. I really hope I’m wrong.”
With the first selection in the NBA Draft . . .
The NBA has yet to determine how the draft process is going to go, which will depend on when or if the season resumes. The biggest question is who will get to pick where.
The Celtics have Memphis’s first-round pick, but the Grizzlies (32-33) would make the playoffs as the eighth seed in the Western Conference if the rest of the regular season is canceled. Boston also has its own first-round pick, as well as Milwaukee’s first-round pick through Phoenix by virtue of the Aron Baynes trade.
There are plenty of intriguing prospects, especially for talent-hungry teams such as the Knicks and Cavaliers. Let’s take a look at the group of potential top-10 picks.
Anthony Edwards, SG, Georgia — He was hovering in the top five before scintillating performances, including a 37-point effort in the Maui Classic against Michigan State and a 36-point effort in an overtime loss against South Carolina. Edwards is a legitimate 6 feet 5 inches, powerful, and has premium athleticism. He has the ability to attack the basket with force as well as score around the rim. Edwards’s primary weakness is the lack of a consistent 3-point shot — sounds a lot like current Celtic Jaylen Brown — and he went 1 for 11 on 3-pointers in his final college game in the SEC tournament against Mississippi. Defensively, like most players his age, Edwards isn’t always engaged, but he has the tools to be a plus defender, although it will take time. The question for Edwards is where does he best fit? The Warriors, who currently hold the No. 1 pick, are already set with their guards, while the Knicks, at No. 6, have been taking Edwards-types of players – R.J. Barrett, Kevin Knox — the past two lotteries.
James Wiseman, C, Memphis — He was supposed to be the No. 1 overall pick and then he left Memphis because of an NCAA suspension and decided to prepare for the draft. Scouts only got to see a snippet of the 7-1 Wiseman at the college level (a total of three games). And the fact that he won’t get to work out for teams until the suspension is lifted may hurt him. Wiseman has all the physical tools to be a dominant big man but, again, he played in three college games. Teams looking for a franchise big — such as the Warriors — are likely going to have to wait a few years because his skill set is still raw. But his physical tools, and his ability to run the floor and serve as a rim protector, are too good to pass up, especially for a team that doesn’t need him to play heavy minutes immediately.
LaMelo Ball, SG, Australia — We are going to hear from LaVar Ball again because his third son could be the truth in the NBA. We remember LaMelo as the skinny shooting guard taking 40-footers in high school, but he has grown to 6-7 and decided to skip college and play in Australia to prepare for the draft. He has now turned himself into a skilled swingman who needs to be taken seriously. It seemed LaVar hyped his first son, Lonzo, so much that it would have been impossible for the point guard to meet expectations. Perhaps his father will tone down his Don King act and let LaMelo mature and develop without distraction.
Isaac Okoro, F, Auburn — It would have been nice to see Okoro with the Tigers in the NCAA Tournament. He has been on scouts’ radar for a few years, and he did nothing to hurt his stock during his freshman season. Okoro could turn into the perfect 3-and-D guy, a defender first who can stretch the floor for 3-pointers. But his upside is higher than that. Okoro takes great pride in his defense and that will be his biggest strength early in his career. Okoro wasn’t the Tigers’ primary scorer. He attempted fewer than nine shots per game, so his offense needs development. He shot 29 percent from the 3-point line and 67 percent from the free throw line. But in an era where NBA teams are seeking strong wing defenders, Okoro may be the best one of this draft.
Onyeka Okongwu, F, USC — The Trojans played the entire season under the radar and this may be another case where the lack of an NCAA Tournament hurts a prospect. Okongwu was the leader of the resurgence of the tourney-bound Trojans. He is a 6-9 scorer, rebounder, and rim protector, and is considered more of a project pick because of his inexperience. While Okongwu is a tenacious rebounder and shot blocker, he may struggle at the next level because he is considered undersized for a big. Also, Okongwu is not a 3-point shooter — he took four all season — meaning that he could struggle in this generation of small ball. Offensively, Okongwu will need a lot of work and he will have to learn to shoot from the perimeter, but for now, his defense will translate to the NBA.
Obi Toppin, F/C, Dayton — NCAA fans really missed out on seeing this kid in the tournament. Dayton had a legitimate shot at winning the national championship and Toppin was the Flyers’ best and most exciting player. What scares NBA teams is that Toppin is 22 years old despite being a sophomore, and at 6-9 he doesn’t possess the size to play center full time. Toppin, however, has so many attractive offensive elements that he will go in the top 10. His athleticism and makeup remind scouts of Amar’e Stoudemire and he also shot 39 percent from the 3-point line this season. He could be the perfect stretch-5 in a small-ball offense.
Tyrese Maxey, G, Kentucky — The question for Maxey is whether he’s truly ready to make this jump. Maxey is a dynamic scorer whose numbers don’t stand out because of the team’s depth. Unlike De’Aaron Fox, John Wall, Brandon Knight, or Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Maxey is more of combo guard who gets to the rim with his athleticism. The question with Maxey is efficiency. He shot just 42.7 percent from the field and 29.2 from the 3-point line. Of course, he’ll improve those numbers with work, and nobody wants to be the NBA team that passes up on the next Devin Booker.
Cole Anthony, G, North Carolina — Anthony hasn’t decided whether to leave school, but his freshman year was marred by a knee injury and the team’s worst season in decades. Anthony was solid when he was on the floor, but there are question marks. He averaged 18.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 4 assists, but the Tar Heels didn’t win. Also, he is streaky, scoring 72 points over a three-game winning streak late in the season and then combining for 24 points in the final three games. He was considered a top-three pick before the season, but his stock may have slipped. Still, Anthony has NBA skills and he could slip to the middle of the first round, making a playoff team very happy.
Nico Mannion, G, Arizona — Mannion may be better served staying in school for another year to develop his frame and put up better numbers, but he is a fearless floor leader and has the potential to be a front-line NBA point guard. The drawback for Mannion is he lacks elite athleticism and shot just 39.2 percent from the field.
Isaiah Stewart, F, Washington — The Huskies were one of the most disappointing teams in the country. They were tabbed as a dark-horse Final Four team but then finished last in the Pac-12. Stewart was their most consistent player, turning himself into an nearly unstoppable force in the paint by year’s end. He is a legitimate 6-9 and 250 pounds with a mean streak. He averaged 17 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks. The only issue is, like Okongwu, Stewart plays primarily in the paint and lacks a perimeter game. However, he has all the makings of a glue guy who will play in the NBA for 13 years, and he is ready to play now.
While the NBA is at a standstill, players are beginning to declare for the draft. But the NBA has not yet said if the draft is going to be held June 25 in New York. There are no plans to begin any scouting or pre-draft workouts — understandably — so it’s uncertain how these prospects will be evaluated, besides college video. NBA teams are thorough in scouting prospects, although there have always been prospects who catapult in the draft through workouts. It will be interesting to see how the NBA handles the draft, whether it pushes back the summer league, and whether prospects will be allowed to do pre-draft workouts . . . For the WNBA, it is conducting a virtual draft April 17 with video shots of the picks. WNBA teams will also not have a chance to evaluate prospects, which will make the selections a potentially hairy process, especially since there are only three rounds. The New York Liberty have the first pick and are almost certain to select Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu, who could be the league’s next superstar. The Dallas Wings are expected to take Oregon teammate Satou Sabally, who left the Ducks after her junior season . . . Clippers owner Steve Ballmer has officially purchased the Inglewood Forum, the first step in the billionaire building a basketball arena for his club, escaping the shadow of the Lakers. Ballmer paid $400 million cash for the arena and has promised to contribute another $100 million in community projects and create 1,500 jobs in the city of Inglewood. Inglewood is a separate municipality and the city has long sought to return to hosting major sports since the Lakers moved to the Staples Center in 1999. SoFi Stadium, which will house the NFL’s Rams and Chargers, is directly across the street from the Forum. Ballmer’s purchase of the Forum gives him the land for a new arena, as well as the opportunity to help build a sports complex in the area. The Clippers have never been completely happy with their Staples Center deal that forces them to play the most afternoon games of any of the three professional teams that occupy the arena. Moving to Inglewood would allow Ballmer to create an identity for his franchise that is separate from the Lakers.
Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.