Despite the rising COVID-19 numbers in Florida, the NBA is determined to resume its season on July 30 and has reached full agreement with the National Basketball Players Association, although not all players are going to return to play.
At this point, the NBA feels so fortunate to have an opportunity to resume the season it is content to accept hiccups in the process, such as the 16 positive COVID-19 tests released Friday of the 302 players tested.
The league fully realizes players are going to test positive, considering the various environments in which they spent the past three months. But none of the COVID-19 cases for NBA players has required hospitalization or been considered serious.
The league expects that after these players quarantine and return to their respective clubs, they will return to full health. As commissioner Adam Silver said Friday, they will be tested on a daily basis.
While the numbers in Florida have escalated in recent weeks — a record 8,942 cases alone Friday — Silver is hoping the NBA environment is safer than the outside world. Players will not be allowed to leave the bubble unless they are tested and quarantined in return.
“No options are risk-free right now,” Silver said. “As we see with millions of people and their health care, shutting down the economy is also a big risk, just as reopening without appropriate safeguards. We ultimately believe it will be safer on our campus than outside it. But the signal that we are sending is that it’s definitely not business as usual. This is far from an ideal way to end our season.”
Despite some concerns brought by players such as Kyrie Irving and Dwight Howard, the league has the approval of the Players Association. The NBA is ready to go forward, hoping for the best but understanding it could also turn into a debacle if multiple players test positive.
“I think it’s sort of like what Adam said in that we don’t really know,” NBPA president Chris Paul said. “Like everything that’s happening right now is — it takes time. We never pictured ourselves playing in a situation like this, and I almost think from the day after the league kind of shut down and stopped, we didn’t know. We didn’t know that when the situation happened in our game against Utah that that was going to bring everything to a halt.
“Like we’re so lucky to have so many players who are aware and conscious and know what’s going on and aware of everything that’s going on. So I think given any scenario, we would do as we do in any situation, we would talk about it and see what it looks like.”
It’s apparent some players will play in Orlando but actually prefer not to, pushed by team obligation, money, and reputation. Who would want to be labeled a quitter or someone who walked away from a team that’s ready for a playoff run? Paul acknowledged the players didn’t agree on everything, but they approved the terms of this return.
“As players, you show me a league or anything like that where everybody has the same views,” Paul said. “We have 450 players, and it’s always hard to get on the same page. But one thing about it is that we’ve learned to communicate better with one another. None of us are perfect, but what we’re learning is that if we communicate with each other, for the guys that choose to go play, we’ll support those that choose not to go play, and vice versa. I think what’s been probably the most eye-opening thing through this entire experience is that everyone doesn’t have to agree, but we all are a big family, and the more that we can support each other and listen to each other, more than anything, I think the better we are as a community.”
The players do feel an obligation to return. The American public is desperate for high-level professional sports. The NBA realizes it can take the lead on returning to action, as well as making a statement on the recent racial upheaval and quest for true racial equality.
“A lot of people in America don’t have jobs right now, and we have the opportunity to be a beacon of light, not just for that one particular thing but the social injustice,” NBPA vice president Andre Iguodala said. “We’re going to shed light on that, people being away from their families, understanding that sacrifice, but just the greater good of everything that our players stand for, including the game of basketball, and the future of the game of basketball, and the future relationship between the players and governorship going into the future negotiations, and all this is a way for us to continue to strengthen the partnership between the players and the league office.”
So the league will move forward. There are plans for various social statements in Orlando. There is a 113-page plan to keep players, their families, and team officials healthy, and there appears to be an accord between the league office and players that matters of diversity need to improve and unity is essential during these times.
“I’ll just say that we think this is a unique opportunity for many reasons,” Silver said. “I can say that over the last month we, as the league, have had more discussions with our Players Association around the issues of social justice than at any time that I’ve been in the league. I am reluctant just to make promises because I think ultimately we should be judged by our actions.
“We, as the NBA, have a partnership with essentially a large cohort of the best-known Black people in the world — including the greater family of the WNBA, too, and some amazing women who have been speaking out on these issues. So I think this is incumbent on us to not lose this moment and this opportunity.
“I know [NBPA executive director Michele Roberts] and Chris can speak for themselves, but I certainly believe that the world’s attention will be on us in Orlando. One benefit of the enormous time that the players will have is opportunities to meet among themselves, have meetings with league officials like myself . . . so that we can begin making plans for what we can put in place this fall.”
Pistons say Weaver is the right fit
The Pistons on June 18 hired Troy Weaver as general manager, as the franchise tries to move forward after a decade of lottery appearances or first-round playoff eliminations. Weaver, a longtime assistant GM in Oklahoma City (12 years) and responsible for helping draft Russell Westbrook, gets his first GM job.
The hiring of Weaver was long overdue, and it seems as if the Pistons are thrilled that he was still available. It’s uncertain why Weaver remained in Oklahoma City so long with the revolving door of GM jobs available — some interviews he turned down — but the Pistons appear ready for another rebuild and resurrection.
“We really needed to look at how we bring in the best talent and Troy Weaver is one of the best talent evaluators out there,” Pistons owner Tom Gores said. “We felt it was time to go big or go home. It was important [coach] Dwane Casey and Troy had chemistry.”
Speaking of Casey, the Pistons’ brass is dedicated to him as coach, despite a disappointing season. The injury-riddled club was 20-46 and was able to trade onetime franchise center Andre Drummond and waive point guard Reggie Jackson to clear salary-cap space.
The Pistons have enough cap space to add a maximum player, in addition to having Blake Griffin (expected to be healthy), Derrick Rose, and a likely top-five pick.
“We didn’t have a lot of cap room and we really feel like we needed to clean things up,” Gores said. “We felt like we needed to get the final piece. We needed to have the best team in place. We’ve got cap room, an early draft pick, and we knew we had to get that right if we’re going to turn the franchise around. Troy is as good as you get there. Troy really represented the ability to leverage a team. We’ve got a lot of work to do, and we feel very fortunate.”
It’s not that Detroit hasn’t tried to win. It gave the keys to Stan Van Gundy in 2014 and that failed. The Pistons tried John Kuester, Lawrence Frank, and Maurice Cheeks as coaches. Nothing has worked. Jackson couldn’t stay healthy or live up to his contract. Drummond put up big numbers but could never develop into the difference-making defender he was projected to be.
They drafted Stanley Johnson and Henry Ellenson in back-to-back years, traded a young Khris Middleton to Milwaukee. There have been a plethora of swings and misses. Weaver still sees the storied past as an aid for the future.
“There’s a tremendous amonut of greatness in the walls,” he said. “This isn’t a rebuilding. It’s a resorting. The culture was reset when Coach Casey was hired. I looked at where the Pistons were at this time and trying to surge forward and becoming a competitive team again. I’ve been in those situations. I always had an eye over here in Detroit because of the way the program is moving. The way the team was trending, my skills and talent were a great fit.”
Team president Ed Stefanski, who served as GM following Van Gundy’s firing, said the team didn’t wait too long for a rebuild. He blamed injuries for why this season’s Pistons couldn’t follow their playoff appearance in 2019.
“Our second unit staying healthy with Derrick Rose and Luke Kennard, they were a lethal combination,” he said. “We had Markieff Morris coming off the bench with Christian Wood. If injuries didn’t happen, I could argue we could have been in the sixth seed battling for more.”
The hope is Griffin and Rose return completely healthy next season. Griffin has two years left on that massive extension he signed before the Clippers sent him to Detroit a few months later. Rose played well in his first season in Detroit, so much so the Pistons refrained from trading him at the deadline. He has one year left on his contract.
“Two veteran big-time players who are looking to restore their careers, Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose,” Weaver said. “They’re looking to bringing their careers back. The young players on the roster. We feel like we have a good mixture of young guys with those two staples. There’s no doubt that there are serious basketball players who want to win. Both of them our job will be to hold them back.”
It’s imperative the Pistons score with their first-round pick.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do with the draft and free agency,” Weaver said. “What we need are big-time competitors. That will be the No. 1 trait we’re looking for for future Pistons here. When you’re drafting what we’re drafting, we want to make sure we get the person right. Someone that will be committed to working, a fierce competitor.”
Gores said Weaver’s race and the quest to diversify weren’t lost on the organization. Casey and Weaver give the Pistons the only Black coach-GM combination in the league. But Gores maintains the seasoned Weaver was the best candidate.
“We want Troy to lead, run the basketball side of things,” Gores said. “There was a side of selling it. We sell the truth. We’re not going to tell you it’s warm in Detroit when it’s not. We haven’t won as much as we wanted to. We have made mistakes.
“As a team we always want to cultivate diversity, and we did speak about it. The most important thing was to make sure we evaluated everybody. It’s exciting that Troy was the best answer for the job.”
The Knicks made an interesting move by claiming forward Theo Pinson off waivers from the Nets. To clear roster space for that move, they waived former second-round pick Allonzo Trier, who had his moments in his two seasons with New York. In 88 games, Trier averaged 9.7 points in 19.9 minutes with four starts. It’s a curious move because the shooting guard shot 38.4 percent from the 3-point line over his stretch. But after being a component off the bench for coach David Fizdale, Trier’s playing time suffered under interim coach Mike Miller, playing in only four of the team’s last 23 games. He won’t likely be a free agent long, especially since there are teams looking for scoring punch off the bench . . . Former Celtic Avery Bradley is not playing for the Lakers during the return, bypassing perhaps his best shot at a championship since entering the league in 2010. Bradley said he wouldn’t be able to bring his oldest son, born during his time with the Celtics, to the Orlando bubble because of health concerns. Bradley also considered sitting out because of the current social upheaval. While it seems as if Bradley has been in the league for 15 years, he doesn’t turn 30 until November. After a couple of difficult stops after Boston with the Pistons and Clippers, Bradley resurrected his career with a strong stint with the Grizzlies and became a valuable asset defensively for the Lakers. Bradley had been represented as a player by former agent Rob Pelinka, who is now the Lakers’ GM. Los Angeles is expected to go after ex-Cavalier and LeBron James teammate J.R. Smith. Smith, who will be 35 in September, has earned the reputation of being a mercurial player and unreliable, but the Lakers could use shooting off the bench. They signed former Heat guard Dion Waiters, who has yet to appear in a game. With the potential of Smith and Waiters in a locker room that grew extremely close as the season progressed, the Lakers will have to develop a new chemistry with Bradley gone . . . Forward Trevor Ariza, acquired to help the Trail Blazers make the playoffs, will sit out the resumption so he can spend time with his son during his allotted custody time. Ariza underwent a resurgence for Portland, averaging 11 points in 21 starts on 40 percent shooting on 3-pointers. He will be missed by the Blazers, who are 3½ games behind the Grizzlies for the final playoff spot.