With 75 NBA players in the coronavirus (COVID-19) health and safety protocols as of this writing, the NBA and its players’ union took steps to help teams navigate roster shortages. It won’t make the product on the court any easier to watch. But it should allow teams to avoid any more postponements. Even so, Brooklyn Nets analyst Richard Jefferson managed to perfectly sum up the current situation in the NBA during a weekend broadcast.
The Nets, with eight active players, hosted the Orlando Magic. Orlando had only nine players dressed. Injuries played a role in the number of players unavailable, but the Magic also had five players in protocols. Brooklyn listed nine in protocol status. To say the teams deviated from their regular rotations would be the epitome of understatement. More than a quarter of the minutes played went to guys who had spent less than 48 hours on their respective rosters.
The NBA and players union settle on a temporary fix
On Dec. 19, after five games were postponed, the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association announced a short-term solution to the player-availability problems experienced by many teams. According to Tim Bontemps of ESPN, the temporary rules are effective until Jan. 19.
Teams were already allowed to replace players entering the health and safety protocols. The new agreement provided some salary cap and luxury tax relief. Replacement players signed under the temporary rule won’t count toward the cap.
That’s big for Brooklyn. Signing Langston Galloway, Shaquille Harrison, and James Ennis to 10-day emergency contracts cost $354,144 in salary. That’s based on Galloway and Ennis receiving $126,528 and Harrison $101,088 — the prorated scale of minimum contracts based on each player’s years of service.
But the luxury tax implications would make each contract’s total cost closer to $500,000. The temporary plan requires teams to sign at least one replacement if they have two positive coronavirus cases, at least two players with three positives, and at least three with four or more players returning positive tests.
Additionally, players on two-way contracts had an active-list cap of 50 games. That cap is gone; players will receive additional compensation for each game over 50 active.
During a fast-developing roster crisis across the league, Richard Jefferson found time for some dark comedy.
Gallows humor by Richard Jefferson sums up the NBA’s plight perfectly
While what remained of the Orlando Magic beat the remnants of the Brooklyn Nets 100–93, the game was not one the NBA will save for its all-time great-games library.
The Magic won despite 16 turnovers and 41.5% shooting, including 32.3% from 3-point range. That was partly because Brooklyn also coughed the ball up 16 times and declared war on the orange paint covering the rims with a barrage of bricks.
The Nets shot 38.2%. That included a ghastly 9-of-46 showing from behind the arc. Yes, Brooklyn shot 46 times from the great beyond and made 19.6% of their attempts.
Robin Lopez played a team-high 38 minutes for Orlando. Before the outbreak in the Magic facility, he had averaged 14.6 minutes. Patty Mils logged 40 minutes for the Nets, and two-way player Kessler Edwards played 39. He’s played 116 minutes in Brooklyn’s last three games after logging 11 in the team’s first 27 contests.
Richard Jefferson has made a name for himself since retiring in 2018 for his analysis and sense of humor. The latter was undoubtedly on full display in the first quarter when he quipped:
“This is a little-known fact. This is the most fans that have ever watched a G-League game.”Richard Jefferson
There were 16,292 in attendance at Barclays Center for the game. And that’s where Jefferson’s comment became both funny and incorrect.
On Dec. 5, 2017, Raptors 905 hosted the Rio Grande Valley Vipers at the home arena of the parent Toronto Raptors, then called Air Canada Center (now Scotiabank Arena). According to the G-League website, the game set a single-game G-League attendance record with 18,900.
What the new coronavirus roster rules mean for the league and players
Ultimately, the new roster rules should enable the NBA to navigate the latest outbreak of coronavirus cases spurred by the new omicron variant without further disrupting the schedule.
The league shortened its schedule in 2019–20 and 2020–21 and played in empty or nearly empty arenas for much of last season. The financial impact was enormous. The NBA hasn’t released economic data for last season, but Commissioner Adam Silver reported in October that revenue was down roughly 35%, per CNBC.
Players had money withheld due to the shortened seasons and understandably have little appetite for additional financial losses. Teams don’t want to lose any more television revenue than they’ve already lost over the last two years, either. One of the NBA’s biggest days financially is its five-game Christmas Day showcase slate. The league should now be able to navigate the next month without postponing any more games.
The matchups may not be as attractive, however. Brooklyn has a league-high 10 players in health and safety protocols, including its trio of superstars, Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving. The Nets visit the Los Angeles Lakers on Christmas Day. Five LA players are in the protocols, and it won’t be the only Christmas game potentially affected.
The Atlanta Hawks have star Trae Young in protocols. The Boston Celtics are down six players, two members from the Dallas Mavericks and Golden State Warriors are out, and four Milwaukee Bucks are sidelined, including NBA Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. The New York Knicks have six players in the protocols.
Of the 10 teams scheduled for Dec. 25, only the Phoenix Suns and Utah Jazz are protocol-free. It’s been a rough few weeks for the NBA. The revised roster rules should help to a degree.