Only five days before the Knicks' first preseason game, Tom Thibodeau embarked on his initial full practice session as their new coach on Sunday. And maybe the fact that there were no notable issues, injuries or halting of workouts was a small victory.
Across the country, the Portland Trail Blazers announced that they were shutting down their practice facility temporarily after having three positive COVID-19 test results within the organization in the last four days. So on Day One for Thibodeau, a minor success came in simply getting through the day.
With only a handful of days to blend the pieces of a newly constructed roster into his system, that might be as important as anything right now.
"MSG has really been on top of it," Thibodeau said. "Dr. [Lisa] Callahan has been leading that for us — obviously, our athletic training staff and [head trainer] Roger Hinds. There are constant reminders it is important. Everything they’re asking us to do, we’re trying to do it. I think the league is very concerned and aware. I think everyone understands what’s at stake here."
"I’ve heard there’s a lot of new rules coming out," said rookie Obi Toppin, who noted that he is living in an apartment with his girlfriend and limits his other interactions to seeing his mother, who lives nearby. "We’re all still learning from it. I heard that when we go on the road, we’re not going to be able to go to certain restaurants, leave hotels. There are certain protocols that we’re not going to be able to do. I’m still learning all the rules and I think I’ll be ready for it when the time comes to know what I can and can’t do."
Beyond the fear of a shutdown, teams have been set back by the absence of a summer league and the inability of players to get together for the usual weeks of pickup games before official practices begin.
"It's different," Thibodeau said. "When you say conditioning, there's the conditioning of running and working out individually, and we know that's a whole lot different than in an NBA game. There's a different intensity level when you put an athletic, strong player on somebody . . . That takes a lot out of you, and you have to condition for that.
"As I mentioned, normally the fall is a time where players ramp it up pretty good and they're going with contact, so I think you have to be aware of that, you have to look at how people are feeling and you're concerned about strains and pulls and that sort of thing, so the stretching component and the recovery part and all that, that's a big part of this."
"It’s annoying," RJ Barrett said. "You love playing pickup, you love competing, just getting up and down the court. It also helps you learn your teammates a little more. The summer workouts we just did were great. We got in great shape. So when practice started today, we were ready to go."
Toppin noted that his work with assistant coach Kenny Payne got him ready to handle the workload and added that some of the system that Thibodeau is implementing is not that different from what he was accustomed to at the University of Dayton. But he also got a message that likely will be repeated often.
"Honestly, just playing defense," Toppin said. "Playing defense is going to help us win games."
"That first meeting is a critical meeting," Thibodeau said. "You’re setting the standards and goals of the organization for the year. I think that’s the most important part of the season. It’s a long season with a lot of different challenges we’re being faced with, but the biggest thing is how quickly we adapt to everything. That holds true for every team in the league."
Notes & quotes: Trail Blazers general manager Neil Olshey issued a statement announcing, "Over the past four days, we have had three positive COVID test results within our organization. Out of an abundance of caution, having completed contact tracing, we are closing our practice facility today for deep cleaning while we run confirmatory tests. While teams are not disclosing individual results, 48 out of 546 tests conducted upon players’ arrival at camps came back positive last week."