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NBA players eager to return to the court, but best way to make it happen remains unclear

Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie dribbles the ball against

Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie dribbles the ball against the Chicago Bulls at Barclays Center on Sunday, March 8, 2020. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Once the National Basketball Players Association began polling players — unofficially — on Tuesday, a return to action in some form seemed to move Giannis Antetokounmpo-length strides closer to it actually happening.

As The Associated Press reported and players quickly took to social media to affirm, there is an overwhelming desire by players to get back on the court. But the question for NBA commissioner Adam Silver and the players is to figure out the best way to make it happen.

Silver reportedly told players on Friday’s conference call with the rank and file of the league that if a positive COVID-19 test would force play to be shut down, then returning to action right now is not a path the league should pursue.

That is an important dose of reality because the contagious nature of the virus presents the risk that teams could lose a player — or multiple players — for a long quarantine in the midst of the schedule.

A cautionary tale could be seen with the Nippon Baseball League in Japan, which shut down briefly, then returned to play exhibition games without fans and had to shut down again when three players quickly tested positive for the virus. While it was earlier in the pandemic, it tested the appetite for play versus the need for safety.

Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie, speaking on Yes Network’s “We’re Here” on Wednesday, spoke of the plan he had tweeted earlier in the shutdown, pointing to it as a reasonable option.

“Basically, what I was talking about earlier during the COVID situation, I was assuming we would get back to some sense of normalcy. That probably is not going to happen,'' Dinwiddie said. "So now they’re kind of talking about this ‘bubble’ concept. With that being said, obviously, it looks like Disney World is a preferred location. That’s what is being floated into the media.

“I don’t know anything more than you guys do in terms of that, but if I were going to do this, I would make it a huge tournament. All 30 teams get in. you have some single-elimination to start and kick off the playoffs to get you to really the small best-of-three round before you get to the 16 best teams. Then you play the traditional best-of-seven. The one thing you’re not going to want to do in this kind of environment is to have kind of a cheapened championship.”

Yahoo reported Tuesday that eight of the league’s biggest stars —   Antetokounmpo, Chris Paul, LeBron James, Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Stephen Curry — participated in a private conference call to form a united face for players desiring to return to play. Paul is the president of the union, although he was the lone member of the NBPA’s nine-player executive board on the call.

Las Vegas and Orlando have been spots named as possible destinations for an isolated return and on Tuesday, Arizona  Gov. Doug Ducey said professional sports can return to his state this weekend.

Teams have begun reopening practice facilities while adhering to strict guidelines set down by the league. By next week, more than two-thirds of the teams are expected to have opened their facilities. The Knicks will be one of the few NBA teams not to reopen their practice facility, following the state’s stay-at-home direction.

 Teams such as the Knicks, who are not officially eliminated from postseason contention but are far out of the race with only 16 regular-season games left, have no idea if they would be playing games or if the NBA would just skip to the postseason.

"We'll be good soldiers. If the league asks us to play more games, we'll play," Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr said in an interview on 95.7 The Game in the Bay Area. "I don't anticipate that happening, but we'll be ready if it does. And in the meantime, you know, it's not my decision, it's not our decision — it's the NBA's decision, what to do, when to do it.”

With Greg Logan

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