As 22 teams prepare to head to Orlando and resume the season, some of the eight teams left on the outside of the playoff push inside the bubble want to play games of their own.
The Knicks though, are not one of those teams.
It’s understandable why teams left outside of the resumption of the season would want to get their players back in action. With the season suspended after games of March 11 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, even if next season somehow manages to start on the NBA’s hopeful date of December 1, it would mean nearly nine months without a game for those teams. The teams inside the bubble get the benefit of a training camp, an eight-game regular-season schedule and a playoff run that could last all the way into mid-October.
But the Knicks, a franchise in flux with a new front office staff, a new head coach on the way and the possibility of a drastically remade roster, have little interest in a summer league for also-ran teams.
For new team president Leon Rose the choice is to get back on the court for work but to do it without risking the health of the two young players that he sees as centerpieces to any rebuild, RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson.
“With regard to our current players, I’ve personally watched a lot of film, had a lot of discussions with [general manager] Scott [Perry] and with others in order to get up to speed and to be in a position to be able to make the best decisions that I can. Hopefully, we’re going to have the eight teams that aren’t in it, we’re now discussing having OTA’s, other team activities that will potentially allow us to get together and get some work in.”
That is believed to be the preferred option of Rose and the Knicks, an NFL-type of offseason training activities during the time that the 22 teams are in action. For the Knicks, getting on the court for a mini-camp with a new head coach would provide a learning opportunity for the young players without risking the uncontrollable environment of games against other teams.
“Candidly, while I appreciate that there will be a bit of a layoff, I think there are some things these teams can do to get the guys that are not playing some [benefit] by their not being involved in Orlando,” National Basketball Players Association Executive Director Michele Roberts said on a conference call last week. “But unless we could replicate in every way the protocol that’s been established for Orlando, I’d be — I’m being tame now — suspicious.
“I think there are conversations that could be had if there’s anything we can do with the other eight teams. I know there are some players, particularly young players, that seem concerned they’re not getting enough [opportunities]. I think our teams are incredibly smart and creative and can come up with ways to get their guys engaged, if not now, before the season starts. But I am very concerned and frankly, my concern aside, our players, our teams are very concerned about any — in terms of play that doesn’t have the same guarantees of safety and health that we’ve provided for the teams in Orlando. So yeah, never say never, but there’s a standard. It’s a standard that’s got to be met, and if it’s not met, next question, as far as I’m concerned.”
Mark Tatum, the NBA Deputy Commissioner, said, “I couldn’t agree more with Michele, that we want the same standards to be met, and there have been conversations that we’ve been having with the Players’ Association on how to present and whether or not we can do that. We know it’s something that our teams would love to do, that some of the players would love to do, but as Michele said, it has to be done in the right way, and we’ll continue having those conversations with Michele and her team on what that looks like.”
For the Knicks, who saw their players scatter to their hometowns after the shutdown, bringing players to New York might be safer than Florida with the virus spiking in the area around Orlando in recent days. While there has been some talk about getting together with another of the shutdown teams even that brings more risk than the Knicks might be willing to absorb right now with nothing to play for this summer.