Lakers getting set to resume play, but will Avery Bradley join them?
In the last week, Lakers teammates Avery Bradley and Dwight Howard have publicly expressed concerns about resuming the NBA season amid nationwide protests over racism and police brutality against Black people. But within the organization, as within the league as a whole, that opinion isn’t of the majority.
There is a belief around the organization that Howard plans to play, while Bradley’s plans are less clear, according to people with knowledge of the situation.
The Lakers’ biggest star, LeBron James, hasn’t wavered from his early conviction to resume the season.
“I don’t think there’s any question amongst players as to what LeBron’s planning on doing,” a person familiar with James’ thinking said.
James has reserved his social media posts to promote civil rights for Black people, and has posted about no other topic in the last three weeks. He’s spent time sharing information about the voting rights nonprofit he is organizing that intends to utilize the voices and influence of athletes and entertainers to support Black voters and fight voter suppression in Black communities.
As for basketball, James has been focused on the presumed resumption of the season in Orlando next month.
When the season was halted on March 11, the Lakers had recently completed a weekend that had many considering them the favorite to be the Western Conference’s representative in the NBA Finals, perhaps winning the championship this year. They beat the Clippers for the first time all season and topped the league-leading Milwaukee Bucks.
In the weeks after the season shut down, both James and Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka indicated there would be a lack of closure if the season was not resumed. That would echo throughout the organization since this season marked the first since 2012-13 that the Lakers would qualify for the playoffs, snapping the longest such drought in franchise history.
James helped guide the franchise’s reconstruction after the team missed the playoffs last season, his first as a Laker. They added Anthony Davis, trading away four former first-round draft picks and several future first-round picks, and signed a cadre of veterans who fit his style of play.
The result was a team whose talent and determination had them at the top of the Western Conference nearly all season long.
Then on March 11, Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 and the league halted operations.
In the last few weeks the league has solidified a plan on how to resume the season at a sports complex in Florida while enacting health and safety protocols that will try to protect players despite rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in the state.
Movie nights, card games, DJ sets and COVID-19 tests will be part of the NBA’s return to play, according to a memo the league sent to teams Tuesday.
But this month another concern has arisen — how to keep the country’s focus on the Black Lives Matter movement that garnered tremendous support in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis. Some have felt that the protests have been supported by so many different races because the pandemic has shut down entertainment and sports options that would otherwise offer escapes.
Last week, Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving organized a conference call with a group of players to discuss the issue and created a coalition of players. Bradley has helped organize the group, saying they want to see commitment from the league to support Black causes, promote the hiring of Black executives and invest resources in justice reform.
“The actual act of sitting out doesn’t directly fight systemic racism,” Bradley said, according to ESPN. “But it does highlight the reality that without Black athletes, the NBA wouldn’t be what it is today. The league has a responsibility to our communities in helping to empower us — just as we have made the NBA brand strong.”
This weekend Howard declared his position.
“I agree with Kyrie,” Howard said in a statement provided to CNN. “Basketball, or entertainment period, isn’t needed at this moment, and will only be a distraction. Sure it might not distract us the players, but we have resources at hand a majority of our community don’t have. And the smallest distraction for them, can start a trickle-down effect that may never stop.”
Howard stopped short of saying he would not play.
If the NBA season resumes it will do so in Orlando, Fla., in an uncertain, near-quarantine environment. A look at which teams that might favor.
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