NBA has ‘no plans’ to pause season as COVID cases rise among players
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Tuesday there are “no plans” to pause the season, even as numbers of players entering the league’s health and safety protocols related to the coronavirus continue to rise.
Silver, in an interview with ESPN, said the league has examined multiple options but does not yet see a reason to stop play. Through Tuesday afternoon, at least 82 players from 20 teams were believed to be in the protocols, though those numbers tend to change almost on an hourly basis.
“Frankly, we’re having trouble coming up with what the logic would be behind pausing right now,” Silver said. “As we look through these cases literally ripping through the country right now, putting aside the rest of the world, I think we’re finding ourselves where we sort of knew we were going to get to for the past several months — and that is that this virus will not be eradicated and we’re going to have to learn to live with it. That’s what we’re experiencing in the league right now.”
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Silver’s remarks came on the same day that the 10 NBA teams with games scheduled on Christmas were told by the league that shifting some game times is a possibility for the planned five-game slate, if virus-related issues force changes to the lineup and create holes in the national television schedule.
The league told the teams the priority is filling the ABC windows for Saturday’s games, which means the slots at 2:30 p.m., 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. Eastern. For now, those games, in order, would have Boston at Milwaukee, Golden State at Phoenix and Brooklyn at the Los Angeles Lakers.
The other games on the Christmas schedule are Atlanta at New York at noon Eastern, and Dallas at Utah at 10:30 p.m. Eastern. Both of those games are scheduled to be shown on ESPN.
The league called the notion of shifting game times — which may happen if a game is postponed — a contingency plan in the memo distributed to the teams involved and obtained by the Associated Press. Decisions on whether shifting times is needed could come as late as Friday. Any decisions made on Saturday to postpone a Christmas game would not impact the remainder of the day’s schedule, the league said.
“There’s no doubt those five Christmas Day games are important,” Silver said. “But as you know, we play many games every day.”
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The NBA has postponed seven games so far this season, but none from Wednesday onward yet. Some of the teams scheduled to play on Saturday have numerous players and coaches in the league’s health and safety protocols right now; the Nets currently have 10 players on that list, which is the highest known figure for any team.
Other top NBA players were being added to the protocols list Tuesday, including Toronto’s Fred VanVleet and Atlanta teammates Danilo Gallinari and Clint Capela — joining a Hawks list that already included Trae Young. The league is allowing teams to sign replacements to hardship contracts when a player tests positive for the virus, with hopes such moves can minimize the need for postponements.
Silver told ESPN that a very small number of the league’s current cases involve players or coaches who have gone through the three-shot process — two Pfizer or Moderna shots, then a booster — and that those people have largely been asymptomatic or experiencing no worse than mild symptoms.
“Boosters are highly effective,” Silver said, adding that the league and the National Basketball Players Assn. are trying to get the league’s 60% rate of boosted players increased significantly. The NBA has said 97% of players are fully vaccinated.
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The league is also “actively looking” at changing some protocols and is in constant contact with other leagues, Silver said, about whether there are ways to allow asymptomatic players to take the floor or at least escape the protocols more quickly than the current rules allow.
“We’re comfortable with the protocols we’re following right now,” Silver said, not indicating if any significant changes to the protocols may be looming quickly.
There were some notable removals from the protocols list Tuesday. The Lakers said Dwight Howard and Talen Horton-Tucker would be available to play Tuesday night against Phoenix. But Lakers coach Frank Vogel and four players remain out, all because of protocols.
“This virus, unfortunately, isn’t going anywhere,” Silver said.
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