As the NBA found a way back to action for 22 teams, the Atlanta Hawks ownership and executives were one of the most vocal of the also-rans pushing for inclusion for all teams.
With a 20-47 record, four losses in their last five games before the season was suspended — including an overtime loss to the Knicks that marked the final basketball played before the shutdown — it might seem that the Hawks had enough of the season. But with a young team they wanted to play.
"Nine months is too long without organized basketball," Hawks owner Tony Ressler told ESPN.
So the Hawks and some of the other eight teams on the outside are seeking a way to keep playing before the 2020-21 season begins, either on December 1 as proposed by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver or a pushed-back date that the National Basketball Players Association is lobbying for now even as they restart this season. An ESPN report described plans that included a possible summer league or minicamp session to give these teams a chance to get back on the court and into some semblance of competition.
But not all teams are in favor of this and the Knicks are believed to be one that was OK with ending this season and working on their own to prepare for next season. They are, like many of the eight teams left out, in flux.
Leon Rose took over officially as team president less than two weeks before the season was suspended. He has begun remaking the front office and now is embarking on a coaching search. The NBA Draft Lottery will be held August 25 and he can begin prepping in full for his first draft once he knows what selection the team will have (the Knicks currently have the sixth-best odds in the lottery with the NBA freezing the standings for the lottery at the time the season was suspended).
But if the Knicks weren’t anxious to be part of the field in the bubble in Orlando, serving as a warm-up opponent for the teams with real championship aspirations, they also aren’t anxious to put their few assets of value — RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson — in a situation where they would risk injury for a meaningless summer league.
If, for example, the Knicks bring on Tom Thibodeau as head coach, the preference might be to have the players, who have gotten whiplash from coaching changes, to simply work with Thibodeau to learn his system and what expectations he has for players. In that situation, the team would be able to control the intensity, dictate the contact and focus on learning.
The Knicks and the other seven teams that are left out of the bubble won’t go away empty-handed. The league will share revenue from the Orlando venture among all 30 teams.
The question of age
While the league has tried to implement safety protocols, some still being formulated as more is learned about COVID-19 (particularly strange was the switch from a 14-day quarantine for any player testing positive to a 7-day quarantine) one issue that was brought up when Silver spoke of the restart in an appearance on TNT Thursday immediately set off alarms.
“[T]here are also people involved in this league, particularly some of the coaches, who are obviously older people,” Silver said. “And we also know people at any age who have an underlying condition are vulnerable. So we’re going to have to work through protocol, and it may be, for example, certain coaches may not be able to be the bench coach. They may have to retain social distancing protocols, and maybe they can be in the front of a room, a locker room, or a ballroom with a whiteboard, but when it comes to actual play we’re not going to want them that close to players in order to protect them.”
Dallas Mavericks’ head coach Rick Carlisle, head of the Coaches Association, reacted immediately, telling ESPN, “I just spoke to Adam Silver and he admitted that he jumped the gun with his statement to TNT. The health and safety of our coaches is first and foremost. It’s entirely possible that an NBA coach in his 60s or 70s could be healthier than someone in their 30s and 40s. The conversation should never be solely about a person’s age. Adam assured me that we would work through this together to help determine what is both safe and fair for all our coaches.”