Danny Ainge hopes it’s a matter of time before Boston Celtics players can return to the team’s practice facility in Brighton, as the NBA plots a return to play in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Massachusetts has been one of the slowest in opening things up, so our next phase is we’ll open up our facility,” Ainge, the Celtics’ president of basketball operations, told ESPN in a podcast interview released Thursday evening.
“We’re hoping to do it next week,” he added.
Ainge’s comments come as Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker prepares to announce the first phase of the hard-hit state’s reopening plans on Monday, though it remains unclear which specific businesses that were deemed nonessential will be able to reopen their workplaces — and when.
In other states where the impact of COVID-19 has been less concentrated, NBA teams have already begun letting players back into their gyms for voluntary, individual workouts that adhere to league and local safety rules. According to Ainge, coaches will be required to wear masks and gloves and the gyms must be disinfected between workouts.
NBA games have been suspended since March 11 due to COVID-19 concerns. During a CNN interview this week, Celtics guard Jaylen Brown said the consensus among players is that they want to resume play, as long as the proper safeguards are in place.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens also told NBC Sports Boston on Thursday that the team is “targeting” Monday, May 18, for reopening facilities, but added that it is “certainly subject” to what the Baker administration says.
“Not all of our players here in Boston are in this area,” Stevens said. “They’re all over the country and so we’ll hopefully be able to open up and let them in one at a time, or four-at-a-time with one staffer assigned to each [as NBA rules permit].”
Asked about Ainge’s comments, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh acknowledged that there is “a lot of anticipation leading up” to the May 18 announcement and said he expects the governor’s reopening guidance to determine whether the Celtics can bring players back.
During a press conference Friday afternoon, Walsh said the city does not plan to lift its public health emergency “next week or in the near future,” but expressed hope that local professional sports teams could resume limited operations.
“What we’ll ask them to do is to put a plan together, submit the plan, let us see what the plan is to protect their employees and protect all the folks associated with it,” Walsh said. “I don’t see a time any time soon where we’ll be going back to sports in stadiums as far as fans, but … I would like to see if they could do it — some of our sports teams potentially coming back and playing without fans.”
Ainge told ESPN that he hadn’t heard any concerns from players about resuming play — especially when it came to returning to practice under the distancing and sanitation rules.
“I don’t think anybody’s afraid of that,” he said. “If I said we’re two or three weeks away from playing, I’m sure there would be some players who would have some trepidation, but I think everybody’s just really anxious to play right now.”
Ainge said he is among those itching to finish the 2019-2020 season. He also expressed openness to playing games in one single “bubble” location, such as Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, which is a concept that has reportedly gained momentum in league circles. Ainge noted that there’s still a lot of uncertainty.
“I don’t know if I want to go either,” he said. “I don’t know where I’m going to sit. I don’t know if I’m going to be in the gym, if I’m going to be watching it on TV. I don’t know. I’m not really afraid, but I don’t think that’s in our best interest at this moment. I’m hoping that in the next two months we have things that make it easier and more comfortable.”
Ainge added that he “absolutely” wants to finish the season.
“These are the times that guys play for,” he said. “It’s almost like we played 60 games and it doesn’t mean anything. I think that I would like to finish the season and I think that most of the players, if not all the players, would like to finish the season and move on to the next year whenever.”
ESPN reported earlier this week league owners and executives are optimistic about resuming games in some shape or form, following a conference call with NBA commissioner Adam Silver.
From a management perspective, Ainge noted that a postponed season has complicated offseason events like free agency and the draft. But he has continued to work. In March, after Massachusetts issued a stay-at-home advisory and required nonessential businesses to close, Ainge told the Boston Herald that he was the “only one” working at the Celtics facility.
“We’re trying to do all we can right now,” Ainge told ESPN this week. “I mean, I’ve got a lot of time on my hands.”