COVID x NBA, where are we headed? We take stock of the current situation, and potential future scenarios
In recent weeks and more particularly in recent days, cases of COVID are increasing in the world of the NBA and more and more players are integrating the health protocol of the Great League. Woj and Shams keep tweeting with the words « health & safety protocols », so much so that some wonder if the 2021-22 season is not going to be put on hiatus at some point. In the midst of this mess, we felt it necessary to take stock of the current situation, while projecting ourselves a little in relation to what follows.
# Update on the current situation
This is unfortunately the big news of the moment in the NBA. We get the impression that COVID is everywhere and more and more players are concerned by the League’s health protocol. How many exactly? If we are to believe the figures ofESPN dating from Friday, December 17, 2021, 84 players are or have been affected by the protocol this season, including 68 in December alone with around thirty players who are there at the time of these lines. This strong accumulation necessarily worries the authorities of the League, and two games even had to be postponed recently following a massacre at the Bulls (their meeting against the Pistons on December 14, and against the Raptors on the 16th).
Before COVID messed up the NBA this December, the 2021-22 regular season was going pretty much normally thanks to the massive vaccination of NBA players (97%). A few players had certainly entered into the health protocol but no other match was under the threat of a postponement and the situation seemed rather under control. A return to normal in a way, with full rooms and a campaign that is unfolding without too much turbulence related to COVID. But today, with the arrival of the new Omicron variant, the decline in vaccine efficacy after six months (hence the strong recommendations of the NBA for the booster dose) and the winter context in which we find ourselves, we have the impression of going back in time, as much in the League as in society at large. As a symbol, the Toronto Raptors hall is now limited to a 50% capacity after the new rules put in place in Ontario in the face of the current COVID wave. So much data that leads us to the following question: can the NBA season be suspended, just to let the storm pass, especially with the end of the year celebrations coming? This necessarily crosses our minds, and also that of Jeff Van Gundy, former coach and analyst on ESPN.
“I really feel like at some point our season will be put on hiatus. In view of the predictions, I do not see how we could escape it. «
# A break, scenario of last resort for the NBA
If we understand Jeff Van Gundy’s speech, let’s not forget that last season, the NBA was in a very tense situation as well. In early 2021, a few weeks after the resumption, the League had indeed had to postpone exactly 30 games because of COVID. The vaccine was not yet widespread as it is today and the NBA was moving forward thanks to very strict health protocols. By cutting its schedule in half at the time, the League was able to adapt to finally allow each team to play all of its 72 games. Today, the schedule is fixed until April 10, 2022 and the goal for Adam Silver and the owners of the NBA franchises is to achieve a full season of 82 games as planned with the fewest games postponed in progress. road, even if COVID is messing things up. We obviously know the financial issues associated with an NBA season, especially in terms of TV rights, and we also know that the League wants to take up this new COVID challenge.
On an NBA Board of Governors call Friday, there was an overwhelming sentiment among NBA owners to do whatever is necessary to avoid postponements and cancellations this season, sources said. https://t.co/C9LDII4jws
– Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) December 18, 2021
To this end, and we have already talked about it recently, several measures have just been taken. Already, the health protocol has been strengthened especially in view of the end of year celebrations : more tests, we put the masks back on, we push for the booster dose … in short, the NBA is doing its best to try to fight the virus as well as possible in this sensitive period, and other measures could be taken in the future if necessary. Then, as the League wishes to avoid postponed matches as much as possible, she is currently discussing with the players’ association to promote the signing of substitutes for teams affected by COVID. The plan ? Here it is. According to ESPN, a team will be able to sign an additional player for ten days from the moment there is a COVID case within the group (if other basic conditions are met at the same time: four players absent in total for COVID or injuries, only 13 players available). But if the cases become multiple (with five absent), the team in question will have to sign an additional player for ten days, a player who will not count in the salary cap or the luxury tax. That way, there is less risk of having a completely decimated roster. As a reminder, you need a minimum of eight players to be able to play an NBA game. The plan has not yet been validated for the moment but it is clear that the League does not hesitate to adjust to try to find solutions in order to continue the season as well as possible.
# Adjustments to be made to penalize the teams less?
Entry into the COVID protocol means a minimum of ten days of absence, unless a player can justify two negative tests within 24 hours. Ten days of absence, it can quickly lead to a franchise especially if the player in question is one of the pillars of the team. Depending on the schedule, that can translate to five games of absence and when you see how tight the standings are this year, the fall can be quick. This is a situation that can be particularly frustrating if a player is vaccinated and asymptomatic, and therefore theoretically in a condition to be able to play a basketball game.
So, as mentioned ESPN, some leaders and coaches would like asymptomatic players to be able to participate in NBA meetings. Here is for example what a certain Erik Spoelstra – Heat coach – recently on the issue.
“If you are vaccinated and you have had your booster dose, why would you be away longer than if you had the flu?
If you look deeper and deeper, multiplying the tests, you are probably going to find. We have to find a solution. Do players miss games because they have symptoms? Or are they asymptomatic? «
We can understand the position of a coach like Erik Spoelstra, who does not necessarily want to end up with an alternate team because of health protocols that force players to stay on the sidelines even if they are asymptomatic. In the coming weeks, the tests will continue to multiply on match days even for vaccinated basketball players (those who have not yet had their booster dose) so be prepared, there will still be quite a few players who will. enter into the now well-known “health & safety protocols”. There is a good chance that at the start of the season some of them played with COVID without knowing it since there were fewer tests being carried out. But playing with COVID by being asymptomatic, is that a path the NBA is considering taking?
According to the info ofESPN, it’s way too early at the moment. The League does not wish to take this path at the moment T for several reasons. The first is that asymptomatic players can still transmit the virus, despite the vaccine. The second is that at the image level, the NBA does not want to be perceived as an organization that gives up ballast while the pandemic continues to take its toll. So, are there other solutions to penalize teams less? Let’s take a quick look at what’s going on in the NFL right now. The professional American football league has just changed its health protocol – obviously in collaboration with health experts – to allow players to return to the team faster. If a player has been vaccinated and asymptomatic for at least 24 hours, he can be tested and come out of his isolation period as long as he is no longer contagious. Can the NBA take inspiration from that and thus avoid ten-day absences?
With a ubiquitous COVID at the end of 2021 and an increasingly disrupted season, the NBA is adapting its protocols while putting in place new provisions to try to best fight the virus and avoid a potential stop of the campaign , which is currently not relevant. But at the same time, frustration is emerging within certain franchises of the League, deprived of several players for ten days. As you can see, we are faced with a particularly complicated situation where the perfect solution does not exist. A situation where there is no real roadmap to follow and where adjustments are made along the way. So wait & see …
Text source: ESPN / USA Today / The Athletic / NFL.com / Miami Herald