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SportsColumnistsSteve Popper

Despite complaints from Orlando, a feeling of safety in NBA's Disney bubble 

A sign at the entrance to ESPN's Wide

A sign at the entrance to ESPN's Wide World of Sports at Walt Disney World is seen June 3 in Kissimmee, Fla. Credit: AP / John Raoux

The 22 teams bound for the NBA’s restart made their way into the bubble-like campus at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando this week — at least most of the players for the 22 teams, with some players delayed by positive COVID-19 tests and others opting to skip the team travel and make their own way there.

And after two days of quarantine that mostly consisted of Instagram stories of the food selections being delivered to their rooms, teams began to practice — nervously. The players, in place now and seeing exactly what the bubble looks like, still were uncertain of just how well the restart to the NBA season will work.

“Absolutely it’s a lot of nerves,” the Celtics’ Jaylen Brown said in a Zoom interview. “A lot of people are away from their families, away from their kids, away from their grandparents or their loved ones. A lot of people were nervous, including myself, coming down here, unsure maybe the long-term effects of some of the COVID-related things.

“But we think the NBA is going to do a good job of keeping them safe. But nonetheless, there were a lot of nerves and there still is. As we get more comfortable and get a routine, some of those nerves may go away and they may not. But ultimately, a lot of us are here for a bigger picture, so we’re going to set aside those nerves and get the job done anyway.”

The NBA’s plan might or might not come together. There have been positive tests among players that caused teams to shut down camps before coming to Orlando. Some coaches have had to stay home, urged by doctors because of age or pre-existing conditions, to avoid the risk.

But it certainly feels safer than the idea baseball is proposing, which includes traveling from city to city, planes and buses and hotels. These are risks, particularly in locations that are experiencing rapidly rising rates. The NBA has placed its teams in a bubble — not airtight, but certainly better than taking the chances baseball is taking.

What this has meant is putting players in conditions that might seem like a nice vacation to the average person, a dream vacation even, but one that doesn’t live up to the standards that they are accustomed to in recent years. The players have been posting videos of bugs in their rooms and bags of snack food and even emerging from their quarantine to play cornhole in masks. And they have begun to practice, bringing at least some sense of normalcy.

“Just setting the tone, trying to get as comfortable as we can,” Brown said. “We understand that the conditions might not be as normal as we’re used to. But no need to complain. I think all of us come from humble beginnings as is, so seeing the bigger picture while we’re down there to not only divert the attention to things that are going on in the actual world but come and use our platforms to make a big influence. I think that’s the big thing, but the basketball part is going to be easy for a lot of us. We just have to get comfortable slowly but surely.”

Knicks narrowing search

With the NBA restarting, the Knicks have turned their focus to the coaching candidates who are not currently employed by teams ensconced in Orlando, and that has put the spotlight on coaches who are considered the favorites for the job.

Tom Thibodeau remains the front-runner and he interviewed Thursday with the Knicks’ front-office contingent. One coach who has interviewed said he believes the job is Thibodeau’s to lose — or, more accurately, Thibodeau’s if he wants it.

The chance remains that Thibodeau would rather wait and see if openings shake out in Philadelphia or Houston, making the Knicks’ interview with him a two-way street — convincing him that he can succeed with the new leadership of Leon Rose and William Wesley, his longtime associates.

The Knicks also interviewed Mike Woodson, who is out of work after four seasons as an assistant coach with the Clippers — which followed a little more than two seasons as Knicks head coach. Woodson, who spoke with the team Friday, is believed to be a candidate for a secondary role as either a lead assistant or an associate head coach.

Woodson-Melo reunion?

With Woodson interviewing for the Knicks’ job and the possibility of Carmelo Anthony signing with the Knicks next season, let’s go back in history. Here was Carmelo defending Woodson at the end of the 2013-14 season, when it was clear Woodson might not be back.

“Mike Woodson has been a guy that I can talk to, almost a father figure, a friend, a guy that I can bounce stuff off,” Anthony said in his season-ending interview that year. “I’ve been a guy he’s talked to multiple times about multiple things in different situations.

“So when that time comes, if it’s ready for me to step up and take that next step and say, ‘OK, Mike Woodson needs to stay or go . . .’ I don’t think it would come down to that, but I would back him. If he needs my recommendation, whether it’s here or anywhere else, I’ll back him. I have nothing bad to say about Mike Woodson. I support him. For me as a player, I had some of my best years under Mike Woodson. So I would never have anything bad to say about Mike Woodson.”

Anyway, Phil Jackson was putting a triangle acolyte in place, so it didn’t matter. It was Derek Fisher who got the job (followed by Kurt Rambis and Jeff Hornacek and David Fizdale and Mike Miller, so that’s how it goes).  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

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