The time for the planning and plotting is over, and Tuesday will mark the beginning of the NBA’s trek to Orlando to slip inside the bubble.
The league’s five-step plan to restart the season, which was suspended on the night of March 11 because of the coronavirus, has reached what they term Phase 3A. It’s a transition from Phase 3, in which teams began to work out at their own practice facilities and were tested regularly for the virus, to Phase 4, when they begin workouts at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando.
But there certainly has been no assurances that the league will get to the July 30 start date for the resumption of the season or that the teams can get to the finish line in October. As cases of the virus have risen across the country, seven of the 22 NBA teams have had to shut down practice facilities because of positive tests among players or staff, the most recent coming this weekend as the Milwaukee Bucks and Sacramento Kings canceled their workouts and closed their facilities.
Two coaches, Lakers assistant Lionel Hollins and Pelicans associate head coach Jeff Bzdelik, opted not to travel with their teams on the advice of medical staff.
Yet just a handful of players have decided not to play. None cited the risk of infection for himself as the primary reason, instead focusing on injuries that provide risk or not wanting to endanger family members.
“We haven’t worked through every scenario, but the notion would be that if we had a single player test positive, frankly, whether that player was an All-Star or a journeyman, that player would then go into quarantine,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a conference call 10 days ago.
“We would then be tracking any players or other personnel that that player had been in contact with and even potentially supplement the daily testing just to ensure that others had not been contaminated, but then we would continue.
“That team would be down a man, and we would treat that positive test as we would an injury during the season, so we would not delay the continuation of the playoffs.
“Of course, if the larger question you’re asking, if we were to have significant spread of coronavirus through our community, that ultimately might lead us to stopping, but we’re working closely with the [National Basketball] Players Association, with Disney and public health officials in Florida as to what that line should be, and it hasn’t been precisely designed.
“I think we just want to get down on the ground and start to see how our testing is working and how the protocols are working, and then we’ll make decisions as we go.”
When the players arrive in Orlando, the safety protocols set forth by the NBA and the NBPA will put them on hold. For players flying on a team chartered flight (or bus), there will be a COVID-19 test taken upon arrival, along with restrictive safety measures of hand-washing and distancing, as well as receiving their MagicBand (a device that will allow them to open rooms and register for testing) as well as the optional Oura Smart Rings, which will provide early warning of symptoms.
If a player flies privately on his own, he must have two negative tests before resuming basketball activities. If a player travels on a commercial flight, it will require three negative tests to resume basketball activities. A player with a positive test must quarantine and then test negative.
All players must quarantine in their rooms for approximately two full days while awaiting results of the check-in COVID test and a second test 24 hours later.
Team activities at the practice courts are scheduled to begin on a staggered schedule Thursday through Saturday. Any player who tests positive will not be permitted to participate until he fulfills recovery protocols, including quarantine, testing and a cardiac screening.