5 NBA Questions: How are the League’s Teams & Players Preparing for a Return?

With fans (hopefully) tucked away safely at home and sporting activity taking a back seat on the global agenda, it’s easy to think that all NBA activity has seized as well. 

But in tracking all the latest news and behind-the-scenes action, we see that’s actually not the case. 

Per The Athletic’s Sam Amick, there is tremendous optimism among team owners, players and agents that the 2019-20 season will be resumed, with a potential plan seeing a 25-day camp in June for players to get back in shape followed by a continuation of the regular season in July. (In this scenario, the NBA finals would take place in October.) 

Unlikely, however, will be fans attending these game. One proposal has even posited resuming games at a self-contained facility in Las Vegas, (i.e. all remaining contests will be played only at one venue). 

Per commissioner Adam Silver’s recent communique, however, any decisions will only be made after May 1. 

With that in mind, here are some questions that have taken up my focus over the past few weeks. 

HOW ARE PLAYERS STAYING READY?

Jan 29, 2020; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Lakers center DeMarcus Cousins shoots at the conclusion of a workout at Los Angeles Lakers Training Facility. The Lakers practice was the first since the death of Kobe Bryant. Bryant, who played his entire career with the Lakers, died with his daughter and 7 others in a helicopter crash Sunday Jan. 26, 2020. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

With the need to self-isolate indoors,  and with no industry-standard facilities to stay fit let alone shoot a few hoops, the enormity of the pandemic’s impact on the league is clear. (Note: Some of the wealthiest players certainly have fully outfitted fitness centers in their homes, but this does not necessarily apply to the bulk of the league’s roster.)

Simply put, this isn’t exactly an offseason where players take a much-needed breather and then begin workouts with professional trainers at full gym facilities and/or participate in numerous pickup games to work their way back into game shape before the start of the next season.

For the first time in the history of the league, this is a complete shutdown of activity. 

Team owners, coaches and agents have been scrambling to keep players engaged while at home (alone in many cases). This has actually been quite heartening to see. 

Per ESPN, The Chicago Bulls acted quickly (following the start of the lockdown), sending out a workout plan, consisting largely of body-weight workouts (lunges, pushups, etc), to their players. The Houston Rockets followed suit, electing to use an online repository of workouts through an app in hopes of keeping a tab on workout completion. 

The Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks first elected to survey any equipment their players already have. This could range from nothing to just a stationary bike or weight machines and even an indoor gym. The Toronto Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks elected to deliver some supplies (including weights and stationary bikes) directly to players to gain some control over the situation. 

Teams have also encouraged players to share meal plans and contact details of chefs that can deliver these.

Equally crucial is how players working their way back from injuries continue to stay on track.  

At least one star, guard Victor Oladipo—who returned from a nasty torn quad muscle and played a recent stretch of games on a minutes restriction for the Indiana Pacers—chose to use the hiatus to overcome what he sees as just one more challenge in his life. Per a report in IndyStar, Oladipo has converted his garage into an indoor gym to continue his rehab. 

While the approaches are varied, the hunger to stay active is very alive. But what is not clear: How this will translate to play on the court when the action resumes.

As many have noted, nothing quite compares to actual shoot around and pickup games. Will we see a rise in injuries due to lesser training regimens? Or could all this time off actually be a great thing for a player’s body to heal up while training differently?

China as an NBA BENCHMARK?

Oct 6, 2019; Honolulu, HI, USA; Each Country played their respective national anthems prior to the start of the Los Angeles Clippers and the Shanghai Sharks at Stan Sheriff Center. Mandatory Credit: Steven Erler-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA has been in good hands with commissioner Adam Silver at the helm. 

On his order, the league went into lockdown on March 11 and became the first major professional sport to do so in the U.S.  Over those surreal next few days, other league commissioners leaped into action. Eventually, the entire country followed suit. 

But if there is one evolving situation that Silver and countless others are following, it’s the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA). 

On a hiatus of its own since January, the CBA was scheduled to re-open to local and import (foreign) players as early as April. In a rather half baked attempt, plans were put in place and then quickly pulled back following the government’s mandate to prevent any such activity.  

The latest news states that the CBA will not attempt a restart till at least July, putting a whole host of international players in a limbo of whether to stay in China during this prolonged hiatus or somehow make it back home but return to a mandatory quarantine at a later date.  

The rationalist in me applauds China’s efforts at being cautious with re-opening the economy, but the basketball fan in me eagerly awaits a CBA restart in some form as this could well be a template for how the NBA may eventually go about its own reboot. 

WHATS THE THINKING AROUND THIS YEAR’S DRAFT?

Jun 20, 2019; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Mfiondu Kabengele (Florida State) greets NBA commissioner Adam Silver after being selected as the number twenty-seven overall pick to the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the 2019 NBA Draft at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Among the many questions stemming from this year’s unprecedented situation: When will the NBA Draft (normally scheduled in June)? 

Per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, a number of teams have joined hands to push for a delayed draft this year (i.e. no earlier than August). The thinking is that this would allow teams to salvage some parts of the pre-draft process. (Per the league’s guidance, teams are currently not allowed to schedule any pre-draft workouts with prospects in person or remotely through video.)

It’s unclear how this will tie into the rest of the revised schedule.

The draft cannot take place before the end of the regular season or playoffs, as teams would otherwise not be in a position to make any trades on draft night. 

Also unclear is whether other key elements of the run-up to the season (like the Vegas Summer League) will operate this year. This increasingly puts teams, coaches and agents at risk of not being able to properly assess their prospects or see them in some form of action around the team.

TBW’s latest Basketball by Association podcast recently explored navigating bias in a shallow draft with even fewer observational opportunities than normal.

BbA 9: Navigating NBA Draft Bias with Adam Spinella

Who’s excited for a new era in chicago?

Jan 18, 2020; Chicago, Illinois, USA; The Chicago Bulls bench celebrate a basket by guard Zach LaVine (8) during the second half against the Cleveland Cavaliers at United Center. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The answer is EVERYONE.

After a few tough seasons, the Chicago Bulls have finally signaled a rebuild with what appears to be a measure of seriousness. 

The Bulls recently fired long-time general manager Gar Forman shortly after hiring ex-Denver Nuggets GM Arturas Karnisovas to the position of Executive Vice President. This was followed by the announcement that long-time employee and former player (and champion) John Paxson will remain with the team as Senior Advisor only. 

The Bulls have pretty much underperformed (150-199 record) since trading away franchise guard Derek Rose to the New York Knicks prior to the 2016-17 campaign. There have also been a plethora of coaching changes. 

Karnisovas will undoubtedly use the hiatus to keenly assess his young roster and decide whether to pursue free agency for a productive veteran alongside guard Zach Lavine to return this team to the playoffs. 

Also up for evaluation will be head coach Jim Boylen’s performance and suitability going forward. 

NBA PODCAST: Action Items for Chicago Bulls’ New Front Office

This is an interesting situation to monitor and one that was long overdue as it pains me to see this group of talented young hopefuls pour their energy into a misdirected effort with improper support.   

WHO’S GOT GAME? 

It was great to see a former NBA star prove that he’s still got game. 

In a light-hearted effort by the league, a select set of NBA and WNBA stars from past and present took to the court (in isolation) and competed against each other in a HORSE tournament via video conference. 

In a competition that eventually saw Utah Jazz point guard Mike Conley outlast Bulls guard Zach Lavine to win the big prize, we saw a fair share of ex-NBA talent that included former Detroit Pistons guard Chauncey Billups and Boston Celtics forward Paul Pierce. 

I was thrilled to see ‘Mr. Big Shot’ hit some big Js in his victory against Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young. Yes, you heard that right. 

And this wasn’t the only competition, as some players took to the virtual court, competing against each other in an NBA 2K tournament that yielded its own share of entertainment. 

The tournament saw a plethora of stars fight it out either as themselves in the game or by taking control of another NBA team. 

Fans got a first-hand view of personalities with emotions running high. Particularly amusing was Los Angeles Clippers guard Patrick Beverley’s competitiveness on full display: 

The crown went to Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker when he swept teammate Deandre Ayton in a 3-game series.

The lockdown has been slow and frustrating, but in times like this, it’s always great to see the lighter human side of superstars we otherwise mostly root for on the court. 

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