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Decimated Nets are in the bubble, but how safe are the players?

Nets guard Caris LeVert looks on in the

Nets guard Caris LeVert looks on in the second half of an NBA game against the Bulls at Barclays Center on March 8. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Before they even convened in Orlando, the Nets had more than their share of misfortune. The headed south without Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving and then saw four other players opt out because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

So as the team made it through their fifth day of practice, piecing together a roster with a handful of still quarantined players waiting to join them for the abbreviated training camp, they were hopeful of remaining safe and adhering to the rules of the bubble at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex. 

But just how safe they are in the bubble remains a question. The NBA released the latest COVID-19 test results and disclosed that of the 322 players tested since arriving on the NBA campus July 7, two have returned confirmed positive tests. Those players never cleared quarantine and have since left to isolate at home or in isolation housing. Additionally, since July 1, 19 NBA players newly tested positive. These players are staying in their home markets and recovering until they are cleared under CDC guidelines and NBA rules for leaving home isolation.

It’s not just the two positive tests in the bubble but also slips in the supposedly airtight protocols that were put together with the best of intentions by NBA leadership.

Houston Rockets star Russell Westbrook tweeted out that he had tested positive for the virus. Rockets forward Bruno Caboclo accidentally broke quarantine — leaving his room during the period when players were required to remain in their rooms — and is now subject to an additional 10-day quarantine with more stringent testing.

Sacramento Kings center Richaun Holmes tweeted out, “After the initial quarantine period, I briefly and accidentally crossed the NBA campus line to pick up a food delivery. I am currently in quarantine and have eight days left. I apologize for my actions and look forward to rejoining my teammates for our playoff push.”

And a story was making its way around the league that an unnamed player had invited a, let’s be polite and call it a guest, into the bubble.

“The first part of it is you really don’t want anyone to catch COVID,” Nets interim coach Jacque Vaughn said. “The safety and the well-being of all our athletes is premium and at the forethought of everyone, just because we don’t have a history of what this does to you.

“Overall, there’s a sacrifice, a responsibility for each athlete who enters the bubble, for each individual who enters the bubble to do their part and not tamper with the bubble. And so we’ll continue to talk with our group about making the right choices, the right decisions while you’re in the other bubble. I said to the coaches the other day, ‘I don’t want to catch it.’ And it’s as simple as that, I have a family. I have two boys that I want to see grow up, but I did take this sacrifice, so I’m going to do my part in doing what I’m asked to do so that I don’t put the rest of the group at harm.”

NBA commissioner Adam Silver assembled a team of scientists and medical experts to help plot this return to play and much of it centers on keeping the campus as tightly closed as possible. But the risk remains that players will accidentally or intentionally veer off the prescribed safety protocols.

“Honestly, I'm not really thinking about what other guys are doing,” Nets’ guard Caris LeVert said. “I'm trying to focus on the Nets and myself, making sure I'm taking the right safety precautions and everything like that. I didn't know that Russ tested positive. So hopefully he gets well and everything's OK with him.”

Vaughn is giving the Nets a day off Tuesday after five days of workouts, hoping when they reconvene Wednesday they will have some more help in place. Tyler Johnson is still completing his quarantine and could be ready to practice Wednesday or Thursday. The other players signed — Jamal Crawford and Michael Beasley — and potential signings like Lance Thomas are further away from practicing.

“Today was a great mental challenging grind-it-out day,” Vaughn said. “We had been going five days with finally a day off. Being able to mentally ask our guys about things that we talked about at the beginning of the week and see if they’ve locked in, if they’re doing the learning in-between the sessions, which we’ve asked them to do. We need every bit of comprehension, every bit of advantage with this group, so that challenge — from the beginning of practice to the end of practice — was a mental challenge. And they deserve their day off tomorrow. Told them to get away from basketball and go book a golf outing or fishing outing and we’ll get back after it after the day off.”

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