Even With Some Teams Nearly Unrecognizable, NBA Has No Plans to Take a Coronavirus Break

As more NBA teams struggle to get eight healthy players into uniform amid coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreaks, one of the first solutions most consider is hitting the pause button on the season. At least one report says that’s not on the table at this point. As of this writing, two postponements for the Chicago Bulls had been the only NBA games delayed before Dec. 19.

The Brooklyn Nets, Milwaukee Bucks, Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, New York Knicks, and Sacramento Kings are in roster flux due to the number of players in the health and safety protocols. The Cleveland Cavaliers reportedly joined that number on Dec. 19, the morning after visiting Milwaukee. Should the NBA consider a brief shutdown?

The Cavaliers are the latest team hit by the coronavirus

According to a tweet from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, five members of the Cavaliers tested positive for the coronavirus on Dec. 19. Per Wojnarowski, the NBA later postponed their scheduled Dec. 19 game against the Atlanta Hawks.

Cleveland’s timing couldn’t be worse, which has won six straight games and 10 of its last 12 to surge to third place in the Eastern Conference.

But the Cavaliers are far from alone in their plight. Besides the teams currently losing players left and right into the protocols, the Philadelphia 76ers, Denver Nuggets, and the Bulls dealt with the same issues earlier this season.

The NBA allows teams to sign players to 10-day contracts as emergency replacements. Brooklyn had eight available players in their loss to the Magic on Dec. 18. They started Blake Griffin, Patty Mills, rookie Cam Thomas, and two-way contract players David Duke Jr. and Kessler Edwards. Their three reserves were all emergency signees.

The timing is terrible for the NBA as well. Its Christmas Day showcase of five premier matchups is less than a week away. At this point, it looks like that big Nets-Lakers matchup will feature superstars Kessler Edwards and Jay Huff. But stopping isn’t an option, according to a report.

The NBA ramps up coronavirus protocols but keeps playing

The NBA postponed three games on Dec. 19 due to coronavirus outbreaks on several teams. But there are no plans to put the season on hold.
The NBA postponed three games on Dec. 19 due to coronavirus outbreaks on several teams. But there are no plans to put the season on hold. | Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

During an ESPN broadcast last week, former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy speculated the league would pause the season because of the spike in players entering health and safety protocols.

But according to Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today, that option isn’t in play for the NBA. At least not yet.

“The plan remains to complete an 82-game season while postponing games if necessary and staying on the NBA’s normal October-June schedule. Last season, the league postponed more than 30 games but made them all up, and all teams played 72 games.”

Cases have risen dramatically over the last two weeks. The NBA did respond Sunday by postponing three games. According to Wojnarowski, besides the Cavaliers-Hawks postponement, Brooklyn’s next two games — Sunday against the Nuggets and Tuesday against the Washington Wizards — will be rescheduled,

The 76ers added two players to the health and safety protocols on Sunday. Combined with injuries to Joel Embiid, Tyrese Maxey, and Danny Green, Philadelphia struggled to get to eight available players for their game with the New Orleans Pelicans, which was also postponed, per NBA.com.

Even emergency additions are more of a challenge right now, as well.

NBA has logistical problems adding players on emergency contracts

As the coronavirus ravages NBA rosters, the primary source for emergency replacements became more problematic.

The NBA G-League is the primary source for teams to draw from for extra players to fill roster spots vacated by players in the health and safety protocols.

But the G-League Cup began Dec. 19 in Las Vegas. The event runs through Dec. 22. As ESPN’s Bobby Marks pointed out in a tweet:

“The majority of players that fall under the hardship umbrella are in Las Vegas for the G-League Cup. The travel logistics present a challenge to get extra bodies in uniform by tonight.”

Many teams have their G-League affiliates near their home markets to facilitate easier moves. But if your team is in Atlanta and the G-League players are in Vegas, getting players signed, running them through physicals, and coronavirus testing in time for an evening tipoff three time zones away is problematic.

Christmas looms large as well. It’s one of the biggest days for the NBA’s television partners, and the league is hesitant to butcher that particular cash cow.

But as the pandemic prepares to roll into its third calendar year in the U.S., the NBA — and other sports leagues — may have no choice but to consider more dramatic action, including a stop and restart.

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