Did The NBA Really Ever Have A Plan?

Lets look at what a plan released by the NBA for the resumption of the 2019-2020 season should have looked like.

It should have outlined a format for the conclusion of the regular season, a settlement of tight playoff races, a format for how the final seedings of the playoffs would be determined and how those playoffs were to be conducted.

Check.

It should have explained the effects on the offseason and the beginning of the 2020-2021 season to the best of its abilities, as a time frame for this would be hard to project due the relative unknown that the coronavirus pandemic has brought.

Check.

Most importantly, it should have had a comprehensive overview of the health and safety protocols for players, coaches, team personnel and others who would be in the bubble at Walt Disney World starting in late July, which would ensure that another interruption, or perhaps a cancellation, of the 2019-20 season would not occur.

Oops.

June 4 and 5, the days in which the NBA Board of Governors and the NBA Players Association both ratified the plan to return to play, both came with nothing more than a “We’ll figure it out and let you know later” from the league regarding the most important part of their restart plan. NBA commissioner Adam Silver was supposed to speak sometime during the next week detailing those. That never happened.

Instead during that very week (last week), coronavirus cases in multiple states –including Florida, home of the NBA’s resumption – spiked worryingly high.  Reports trickled out regarding the NBA’s “bubble”, which doesn’t really seem like a bubble at all if certain people are able to freely leave and return without rampant testing.  Additionally, of course, NBA players started to do the same as many others – getting out and doing something about racial injustice rather than just tweeting about it.

So it’s no wonder there was a conference call on Friday night with about 80 players discussing some of the drawbacks of and potholes in the NBA’s resumption plan.  It was never really all there in the first place.

If the report by The New York Times is true that a delay in health and safety protocols is due to those regulations still being worked out, then June 4 and 5’s decision and vote should have never happened.  The coronavirus – and the protocols to help protect against it – should have been the league’s No.1 concern, not the format for the league’s return to play.  As demonstrated in March, the coronavirus has the power to completely shut this whole thing down.  It already did once.  It could very well do it again in the July-October window.

The league’s resumption can’t happen without the coronavirus being taken care of and locked away to the best of the league’s abilities.  Having workers like hotel maids and cooks not be quarantined in the bubble with the players makes Walt Disney World not truly a bubble.  That is putting a lot of trust into people who are going home to their families at night instead of staying in the resort.  It’s not like those people being careful is 100 percent fool-proof with this thing either – an essential trip to the grocery store for one of those workers is still risky.

There is the case to be made that the players are the ones not taking things seriously enough.  According to ESPN, some have issues with the league’s preliminary (unreleased) protocols at Disney World, feeling as though they’re too restrictive for the players.  That shows a degree of carelessness from the players, yes, but three months in a hotel room with no friends or family also doesn’t sound fun.  It’s a fair argument.

You know how the league could address and solve those player concerns?  Bubbling everyone!  If the Disney employees are kept inside the bubble, along with all NBA personnel, then freedom would be allowed inside of it.  That grants players the ability to do things like golf.

There’s a human aspect to all sides of this though.  One group is going to have to bite the bullet of leaving their families, quarantining in Disney World and just getting through October 13th for this to work.  Should that be NBA players or Disney staffers who are normal, hard-working people likely making under six figures?

That’s what it seems like this is coming down to.  Throw in Kyrie Irving and others’ concerns about whether the league should even play in the coming months given the current climate around racial inequality, and the NBA’s return suddenly seems bleak, all for the right reasons.

The NBA couldn’t have prepared for comments like Irving’s and for the unrest that the country has experienced since May 25.  What’s happening is hopefully a turning point.  While the NBA’s vote on the season’s resumption happened about a week after Floyd’s death, every other time there’s been a controversial police killing, coverage of and reaction to it has dipped shortly after.  This time, the moment is clearly not short lived.

It seems as if players like Irving could end up bailing the league out here.  A cancellation of the rest of the season in honor of Floyd and the current climate allows the league to get out of their leaky and unclear Disney World protocols.  They’ll never have to answer for those shortcomings, because they’ll be tossed and forgotten.  

If the league decides to carry on, then there will certainly be some ironing out to do between the players and league.  The scary part is that the league and owners can implement whatever policies they want with the NBA’s force majuere clause, which can be used to cancel the season and the Collective Bargaining Agreement.  That would mean an immediate lockout.  If the players ask for anything the league deems unreasonable, the league could hold the clause over the players’ head. 

It would be surprising to see things get that bad.  This isn’t baseball.   Silver is too smart and ultimately too player-friendly to let things get that out of control.  But he needs to understand that the current plan and the previous handling of the NBA’s return just hasn’t been good enough.  Health and safety protocols for the resumption should not be what we’re waiting on.  It’s the heart and soul of this whole thing, and should have been taken care of first.