After a busy, if brief, offseason that saw superstars switch teams, MVPs commit long-term to champions and the Portland Trail Blazers build a formidable roster, training camps are being impacted, if not shut down, by COVID-19 test results.
The Blazers on Sunday announced that four days of COVID-19 testing had produced three positive results, prompting the team to close its practice facility “out of an abundance of caution … for deep cleaning.” The team did not specify whether the positive tests involved players, coaches, staff — or some combination of all three — but the results delayed the opening of camp, scheduled for Sunday.
Likewise, the Toronto Raptors on Monday announced that three members of the organization had tested positive and were self-isolating.
The developments come less than a week after the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association jointly announced that an initial round of player testing produced 48 positive results. The tests were performed on 546 players from Nov. 24 to Nov. 30, producing an 8.8% positivity rate — 1.4% lower than the national average of 10.2% but still concerning.
The NBA is not in the bubble anymore and, as we’ve seen with college football, the NFL and every other sport this year, navigating pandemic play will be tricky.
Here’s a look at what’s happening around the NBA:
• ESPN has put together a helpful primer on the upcoming season, outlining how the league is handling — and might be affected by — the pandemic. The explainer details the schedule, positive tests, vaccine implications, travel, the All-Star break and everything in between:
“Will games be suspended for positive tests? Much like the NFL, potential game suspensions or postponements will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. NFL teams have tried to play through the schedule when only a handful of players test positive in an organization, but schedules have had to be altered in outbreak situations. The NBA remains confident in its protocols, but it remains to be seen how it will handle the situation if several players on one team test positive at the same time.”
• One thing the league won’t be encumbered by: random marijuana testing. ESPN has the details:
“The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association have agreed not to conduct randomized tests for marijuana during the 2020-21 season.
“‘Due to the unusual circumstances in conjunction with the pandemic, we have agreed with the NBPA to suspend random testing for marijuana for the 2020-21 season and focus our random testing program on performance-enhancing products and drugs of abuse,’ NBA spokesperson Mike Bass said in a statement.”
• According to CBS, we should expect an ugly season filled with COVID-19 drama and unpredictable outcomes:
“It’s going to be a rough and rocky road, one full of positive COVID-19 tests, injuries, unpredictable outcomes and enough uncertainty to make 2020′s sports calendar look, by comparison, tame and reliable. That’s the takeaway from numerous conversations CBS Sports has had with NBA league sources — executives, scouts, former players and more — since the league this week released a 134-page guide to navigating a pandemic that postponed last season, has altered every facet of American life and continues to rage.
“If you think the NFL’s ups and downs have been disruptive, you haven’t seen anything yet. Though the league has prohibited team employees from discussing the reality, in private conversations there is a shared certainty that there will be many, many problems this upcoming season as players and team employees test positive and potentially whole teams are rendered unavailable for long stretches. The solution? Deal with it.
“Play subs. Use the expanded rosters. Look to your G league squad. Lean on your veterans and stars to try their best to convince guys in the locker room to act properly outside of it. But the show will go on, even as everyone from the commissioner’s office to individual markets understand that an out-of-control pandemic, in a world where many don’t take it seriously — the reality of America right now — will also be the reality of the NBA.”
• As for training camps, ESPN has questions and roster breakdowns for every team, including the Blazers, and Anfernee Simons is one to watch:
“The Trail Blazers improved their depth in the offseason, but there are still questions when it comes to Simons and his consistency in backing up Damian Lillard. His most efficient game of last season was in the Game 5 loss to the Lakers. After playing in only 42 minutes during the seeding games, Simons saw 27 minutes of action, totaling 13 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists and 4 steals.”
• For some (odd) reason, fans love power rankings. What’s the Blazers’ status heading into the season? According to The Ringer’s “tiers”, Portland falls in the “playoff locks” category, just below the “contenders” level. And ESPN has put the Blazers in the upper half of its preseason power rankings, at No. 11, just below the Raptors and just above the Utah Jazz:
“The Blazers cashed in some chips this offseason to get better, adding Robert Covington (in exchange for a future pick), inking Derrick Jones Jr. and Enes Kanter, and re-signing Carmelo Anthony. The Blazers added depth to their previously thinned-out rotation and provided the kind of defensive wing length and physical skills that were the formula to their Western Conference finals run two seasons ago.”
• LeBron James became the first three-time Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year winner:
“The 35-year-old James capped off his NBA season by helping the Lakers win their 17th championship in franchise history. But beyond winning his fourth NBA title, James was also among a group of NBA players who used their platforms to speak out on police brutality, racial inequality and voting initiatives.
“James frequently addressed the shootings of multiple Black men and women and used his standing to speak out on issues related to the election and voter registration. More Than a Vote, an organization headlined by James, helped sign up over 10,000 volunteer poll workers in its efforts to combat voter suppression.”
• The NBA raised $900 million from the private placement market, according to the Sports Business Journal, allowing it to distribute $30 million to each team to help with finances and protect against pandemic-related liquidity issues. The infusion of money will be paid back with interest in three or four years, according to the report, from “general collective league sources.” It’s the first time the NBA has leaned on the private placement market to fund league initiatives.
• Paul George wants to retire (haha) with the LA Clippers (haha).
“Harden has two years left on his deal before a player option hits, and he’s 31. For the moment he’s staying with the program — surely this trade didn’t happen without a wink and a nod from him — and all indications are that the Rockets have bent over backwards to keep him happy in recent months. That said, he’s facing his basketball mortality at a time when his own team is going backwards. Historically, that situation rarely yields happy endings.”
• The John Wall-Russell Westbrook trade was an act of total desperation, according to The Ringer:
“Russell Westbrook for John Wall seems like a trade that would happen only in NBA 2K. But it’s become a reality because the Rockets and Wizards are both under immense pressure to get better fast or they risk losing their franchise players. Along with Wall, the Wizards sent a heavily protected 2023 first-round pick to the Rockets to complete the deal. With so much at stake, this trade reeks of desperation. But more than that, it was made out of necessity. League sources say Westbrook demanded a trade primarily because James Harden also wanted out of Houston, but also because the duo didn’t fit that well together.”
• A drastic rest disparity could heavily influence the NBA season, according to ESPN:
“Last week’s reveal of the 2020-21 NBA schedule confirmed one important wrinkle to this unusual season: There’s going to be a massive rest and recovery disparity that could factor heavily into the final standings.
“Since the league expanded to its current 16-team playoff format in 1984, the average gap between the end of the NBA Finals and opening night has been 141 days. This season, that time off has been cut nearly in half, down to 71 days. Teams and superstars who advance deep into the postseason always face an offseason rest disadvantage as compared to the lottery squads, but this year that difference has never been so drastic. Some of the league’s brightest stars haven’t played in a real game for more than 10 months. Others will make their season debuts after less than three months away.”
• A look at every NBA ‘City’ uniform for this season, courtesy of CBS Sports, and how they rank from best to worst:
“17. Blazers. Kudos to the Trail Blazers for trying something a little different. For the first time ever the Blazers printed “Oregon” across the chest of their jerseys, and it just so happens to be in the same font that is used on the iconic Portland, Oregon sign in downtown Portland. The trimming on the side of the jerseys is a nod to the landscape of Portland’s picturesque mountain ranges, and the color scheme honors the tribal nations throughout the state. It’s a nice break from the traditional black, red and white uniforms that the Blazers have donned every year.”
“The Blazers made some great moves this offseason, so the Harry Giles signing might fly a bit under the radar. Still just 22 years old, Giles is an energy big who has soft touch around the basket and averaged 17 points and 10 rebounds per 36 minutes last season in Sacramento. He was the No. 1 player in his high school class before multiple injuries derailed his trajectory, and there is a lot of offensive potential for Portland to develop. Giles also provides a nice contrast to Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins and Enes Kanter. He may not play a ton to start, but if injuries rear their ugly head he’s a great insurance policy.”
• This year’s rookie class faces a quick turnaround ahead of the season, according to NBA.com:
“Normally by this point — less than three weeks since they heard their names called by commissioner Adam Silver and deputy commish Mark Tatum — the league’s crop of rookies would be in or headed to Las Vegas. NBA Summer League would have them competing with a bunch of other newcomers, second- or third-year guys and lots of hopefuls in games that mean nothing, all of them expected to make mistakes away from the NBA’s biggest stages and hottest spotlights. Now? It’s showtime, or very nearly so.”