With the players on board for a return to action, the NBA reportedly is closing in on a plan to resume the season suspended by the coronavirus with the games in one location — the frontrunner emerging as Orlando.
The Athletic reported Wednesday that Orlando, Florida — specifically the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World — is the leading contender to host games. While weighing the options on a way back, the NBA had narrowed the choices for a one-location return to Orlando and Las Vegas.
The league has been considering a number of possible scenarios to resume the regular season, which was halted after the games of March 11, or skip ahead to the playoffs to name a champion. A league source said no decision has been made on a return, but with states opening up, there has been growing optimism that a way back will be found.
The most promising plan is putting all players and staff in one location and isolating them, with testing implemented regularly. NBA commissioner Adam Silver indicated that the league would need 15,000 tests and would not want to use them if they were not available to front-line workers. But other sports have moved forward, taking tiny steps toward a return, and the NCAA voted Wednesday to allow football and men's and women’s basketball to begin voluntary workouts in school facilities June 1.
ESPN reported Tuesday that the NBA is teaming with the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota to conduct a leaguewide antibody testing program, trying to determine how many players and staff members already have developed the antibodies to the virus. Dr. Robby Sikka, the Timberwolves’ vice president of basketball performance and technology, is part of a panel that Silver put together to study the virus and a way back.
More than two-thirds of the NBA has opened practice facilities, with the Timberwolves being the latest. That has given hope to those in the league that a return is coming.
“It does a couple things,” Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers said Wednesday on an appearance on ESPN’s The Jump. “For a month or six weeks, we’ve been saying, ‘Hey, keep working. We’re going to have our season. We’re going to get back at some point.’ You stop believing that. You know that. Now they’re actually on the floor working. I think this more than anything gives them hope.”
Rivers, 58, was asked if he would be worried about a return to play, given that the risk is more real for a coach of his age than a player.
“I would not, because I think by the time we do, that we have probably gone through every scenario and I feel like they would make us safe,” he said. “But if I didn’t, I would tell you and tell them. And I think it’s OK for anyone who is uncomfortable, I hope they come forward and say that they’re uncomfortable. I think that will be OK and we still can have the league and have the games with a few people uncomfortable.”
Reports have surfaced that Silver will make an announcement around June 1 providing instructions on a return to regular training camps. Last week, appearing on ESPN radio, Lakers forward Jared Dudley speculated on a mid-July return.
“If we don’t hit a spike and we don’t have a second wave of corona come back in the next two, three weeks, I am 100% confident, me personally, that we will figure out a way to have a season,'' he said. "Adam Silver has already come out and said he’ll make a decision in two to four weeks, so around that June 8 to 12 type of date, expect a decision. Hopefully the 15th, we go in to training camp . . . I could see by that second week of July us playing games, in a neutral site bubble.”
Last week, NBPA president Chris Paul of the Oklahoma City Thunder said on ESPN, “A lot of hard conversations that have to be made, a lot of hard decisions. But with the team around us, I think ultimately we'll get to where we want to. Obviously, we want to play. Oh, man, we want to play. We want to play bad, too. I think that's a consensus for the guys around the league. We want it to be, obviously, as safe as possible. But the biggest thing is we miss the game.”
Silver was the first to shut down a professional league in the United States and has expressed hope that the NBA will lead the way back. He has put together a panel to help plot a way back and to reason out the medical implications. But he also has acknowledged the importance of getting back to action, a notion that has gained support from the team owners and from the NBPA.
“I think there is a sense that we can continue to take a leading role as we learn more in coming up with an appropriate regimen and protocol for returning to business,” Silver said last month after holding a conference call with the NBA Board of Governors. “I think there’s a recognition from them that this is bigger than our business, certainly bigger than sports, and that there is great symbolism around sports in this country, and that to the extent we do find a path back, it will be very meaningful for Americans.”
But in a conference call earlier this month with the rank and file, Silver also cautioned players that if a positive test for the virus would force the league to shut down, it would not make sense to resume play now.