The NBA is spending these hours reconsidering and reassessing its COVID-19 protocols after being adversely affected by the recent outbreak, one with Boston at the center.
The Celtics had their second consecutive game postponed because they lack the minimum number of players to play the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday. Forward Jayson Tatum, who coincidentally was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week, tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday, the third Celtic to test positive since the pandemic began.
Forward Robert Williams tested positive last week while guard Marcus Smart tested positive last March but recovered and finished the season with no issues.
A Monday game between the Dallas and New Orleans was also postponed because Mavericks forward Maxi Kleber tested positive. The NBA fully understood positive tests were going to occur, and commissioner Adam Silver said Dec. 21 that he thought the league was prepared for a heavy load.
“Our confidence that we’ll be able to complete a 72-game season, we’re confident that we can do it, and if we weren’t, we wouldn’t have started,” he said a day before the season began. “I will say, though, that we do anticipate that there will be bumps in the road along the way. It’s one of the reasons, for example, we issued the schedule just as a first half of the season. Waiting to see sort of how this plays out before we issue the second half of the season, knowing that it’s possible that we may have to reschedule games along the way, knowing that this is something very new.
“While it’s true we made it through the bubble without any cases, we had no idea well — I wouldn’t say no idea — but we didn’t think that it was necessarily going to be that successful when we went in. It was something new, something that had not been done at that scope and magnitude before.
“I think we have some of the same trepidation going into the season, that while we’ve learned a lot from baseball and football, we’re an indoor sport, so potentially different issues than those leagues well, baseball plays essentially every day, and that caused more disruption in their schedule.”
The NBA is facing the perils of being an indoor sport that is trying unsuccessfully to control the actions of its players off the floor. The NBA has determined that the chance of passing COVID-19 during a game is minuscule, according to league officials, because of the lack of exposure time. So they are focusing on behavior on the bench, in locker rooms, and between games.
For example, Wizards guard Bradley Beal was held out of Saturday’s game against the Heat because of tracing with Tatum. Beal and Tatum are close friends but it wasn’t that the guarded each other on the floor that caused Beal’s removal, but contact prior to the game.
Beal was back in action Monday against the Suns, which is a good sign because it indicates he wasn’t infected by Tatum. It’s uncertain how long Jaylen Brown, Semi Ojeleye, and Javonte Green, who were placed in COVID-19 protocol because of potential contact with Tatum, will miss.
But the league is expected to intensify its COVID-19 rules for players over the next few days, with suggestions such as eliminating morning shootarounds — which would eliminate a team trip to arenas — and requiring mask-wearing on the bench by players who are not playing.
Team officials and coaches are currently the only people mandated to wear masks on the bench. It was a bad look Friday following the Celtics’ win over the Wizards when Beal, Tatum, and Brown had face-to-face conversations without wearing masks.
The players test daily and if the results are negative, then they feel no reason to wear masks when interacting with other players, but that may soon change.
The league may also add more regulations to players dining out on the road and guests in hotel rooms. In the bubble, the players were not allowed family visitors until the playoffs and those limited number of family members had to quarantine prior to visiting Orlando, and then test daily when they arrived.
Such is not the case outside the bubble. Kevin Durant had to miss a week with the Nets because a family member tested positive for COVID-19. Green, the Celtics’ swingman, missed a week last month because of contact tracing.
The situation is not dire enough to postpone the season, but new rules need to be implemented because it’s obvious players are unknowingly contracting the virus by trying to live their everyday life. But normal everyday life has changed and the NBA has to impose restrictions for off-court behavior.
The players may not like such changes, but the last thing the players and league wants — especially financially — is a postponement of the season. They want the games to go on and if that’s going to happen, the players need to better monitor their actions because the coronavirus has required all of us to change and make sacrifices.