The NBA is taking meticulous steps toward a return to the season as the country slowly begins to reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some practice facilities have reopened for player workouts without coaches — official practices are not yet allowed — as the league begins preparations for resumption at one or more centralized locations.
Many details are yet to be determined, such as how many teams will actually return to finish the season, how many more regular-season games will be played, and how the players will be housed.
The league hopes to have a month-long training camp at each team’s practice facility, followed by the resumption of the season, likely at Disney World in Orlando.
Why Orlando? 1. ESPN/Disney is a major NBA sponsor; 2. The area has ample hotel space and also athletic facilities where teams can hold practices. The league does not want to risk extensive travel during the pandemic.
So, the playoffs are likely to be held in Orlando with few or even no fans. Also, every player will be tested for COVID-19 and the league is trying to develop a strategy in case a player tests positive. The Jazz’s Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell and the Celtics’ Marcus Smart tested positive in March but have been cleared.
The league’s plan is to remove any player who tests positive and quickly resume the season, regardless of the player. That will encourage players to limit interaction with others during the resumption.
There is an agreement between the players and owners to resume the season, and there are financial incentives for both. The league was in the middle of one of the most exciting seasons in recent years. With the Warriors rebuilding, there was no definitive favorite, and the Bucks, Lakers, and Clippers were front-runners for the title.
LeBron James was experiencing a renaissance after an injury-plagued first season with the Lakers. Giannis Antetokounmpo was putting up even better numbers this season than in his MVP 2018-19 season for the Bucks, while Paul George and Kawhi Leonard were beginning to gel for the Clippers.
The NBA hesitated taking a major step toward a return until it found a method to conduct widespread testing of players without taking those tests away from the public. The plan is for the players to be tested once a week, with each player also having his temperature taken before entering arenas and practice facilities.
The hope is to finish the playoffs in early September, avoiding conflict with the NFL regular season. Of course, that would guarantee that the 2020-21 season would be pushed back, potentially to a December start. Would the NBA extend next season into August, meaning players couldn’t suit up for the Tokyo Olympics?
For now, the goal is resuming this season. As for the Celtics, they will wait for clearance before resuming workouts at the Auerbach Center. Beginning in early June, teams are expected to be allowed to call for players to return to their home cities to begin training.
So, as far as the league is concerned, the Celtics could begin official workouts as early as mid-June. It is uncertain whether the Auerbach Center would be considered in Governor Charlie Baker’s Phase 3 plan of reopening along with other gyms and recreational facilities.
After that, the plan would be to travel to Orlando, stay at a hotel perhaps on the Disney campus, and then prepare to finish the regular season and enter the playoffs. The league is still devising a plan for how to finish the regular season and determine playoff spots.
Would all 30 teams resume the season, even though some already have been eliminated from playoff contention? Would there be a play-in tournament for the final two playoff spots in each conference? Are the Celtics locked in to playing the 76ers in the first round?
These are questions that are going to need to be answered over the next several weeks, but for now, the NBA seems on track to resume the season in July.