Select NBA practice facilities reopened Friday, but a conference call between the league office and the players’ union provided little clarity on professional basketball’s return-to-play timeline amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
As the Cleveland Cavaliers and Portland Trail Blazers became the first teams to allow players to use their facilities for individual workouts in accordance with loosening stay-at-home restrictions in Ohio and Oregon, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told the players that a decision on resuming the season still could be more than a month away, according to multiple people with knowledge of the call who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it publicly.
During the hour-long call, which included National Basketball Players Association Executive Director Michele Roberts and President Chris Paul, Silver said the NBA remains committed to resuming play once it’s deemed safe. The hope is to hold the usual playoff format, with four rounds of best-of-seven series, by using single-site locations such as Las Vegas and Orlando to provide the safest environment and reduce the need for travel. Silver acknowledged the possibility that teams fighting to get into the playoff picture might not get the opportunity to participate in the postseason if the shutdown continues deep into the summer.
Silver, according to people on the call, told the players that the pandemic was an unprecedented financial challenge for the league, with fan attendance accounting for 40 percent of the NBA’s revenue. Fans would not be allowed to attend games this summer, and their absence could linger into the 2020-21 season. If the league is able to resume play this summer, he said, players would be tested daily to ensure their safety and isolated if they tested positive. More than 10,000 tests would be required to play the rest of the regular season and the postseason.
“Adam was transparent, and it was productive [because] players were able to hear the latest information directly,” said one person who was on the call.
On the big questions, though, Silver hasn’t developed and provided firm answers. There is still no timetable for a return to play, nor a drop-dead date for making a decision whether to resume or cancel the rest of the season. In an interview with ESPN.com, Roberts raised questions about housing players at a single-site location and the mechanics of handling the testing process. Those topics went largely unaddressed during the call.
After the call, one agent said there were “only so many answers [Silver] can give us because there’s so much uncertainty,” while another said “nothing new” was shared.
For players accustomed to regimented schedules and concerned about their personal health, a frustrating wait continued.
“When [Utah’s Rudy Gobert] tested positive, we just ended everything,” said an NBA player on the call. “The questions and the concerns are [about] what if another player tests positive. Are we going to take the same precautions? I think they’re optimistic that the season will resume. From a personal standpoint, I don’t think that it will be smart just to run the season back and there’s no vaccine.”
Teams preparing to open their facilities next week, such as the Denver Nuggets, Orlando Magic and Toronto Raptors, have exercised maximum caution. In a statement Friday, the Raptors announced they would open only their practice court, leaving the rest of the facility, including the weight room, closed. Only one player and one coach would be allowed in the facility at a time, and the entire space would be thoroughly cleaned before and after every workout. Everyone entering the building would be subjected to temperature checks, and players would be required to wear masks during workouts.
The NBA’s guidelines allow for teams whose local governments have loosened stay-at-home orders to open their facilities to as many as four players simultaneously as long as they maintain a proper social distance. Head coaches are barred from workouts, which are intended to be individual work rather than team activities. Silver reiterated on Friday’s call that workouts at team facilities are optional and that players should not feel pressured to attend if they are uncomfortable.
While trepidation about the pandemic, which has claimed more than 76,000 lives in the United States, is widespread, at least one player was excited to return to work. Alongside an Instagram picture of the Cavaliers’ suburban practice facility, forward Cedi Osman wrote simply, “Great to be back!!!”