2020 NBA return plan: Adam Silver says NBA is in ‘1st inning,' explains COVID-19 precautions


In an appearance Thursday night on "The NBA on TNT," commissioner Adam Silver emphasized that the NBA still has several important concerns it must address before resuming the 2019-20 season.

While the NBA’s Board of Governors approved a 22-team plan to finish the season at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, beginning on July 31, Silver framed that vote as the first of many steps.

“It’s been a very difficult process,” he said. “And I should say, to mix sporting metaphors, we’ve got a long way to go here. We’re really in the equivalent of the first inning.” 

Silver explained why the NBA felt comfortable proposing a plan now after first suspending the season on March 11, when Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus.

“Of course we’ve always been looking for whether or not there is an appropriate and safe way that we can resume basketball,” Silver said, “and knowing that we’re going to be living with this virus for a while. … We’ve been exploring with the players whether there can be a new normal here.”

He singled out Hornets chairman Michael Jordan as an advocate for maintaining as typical a conclusion to the season as possible. The 22-team plan includes eight “seeding games” and the possibility of a play-in tournament if the eighth and ninth seeds finish within four games of each other. The postseason, however, would follow a traditional format, with 16 teams and four best-of-seven series to determine a champion.

Jordan “felt it was very important, after we established the 16 teams, to not be gimmicky,” Silver said. 

What’s next for the NBA? First, the league must secure approval from the National Basketball Players Association. The NBPA is set to meet Friday, according to The New York Times’ Marc Stein, and it sounds like the Players Association may have reservations about certain aspects of the league’s plan. NBPA executive director Michele Roberts told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski she was “surprised” to see a tentative date of Nov. 10 to start training camps for the 2020-21 season. Oct. 12 would be the last possible date for Game 7 of this year’s NBA Finals under the owners-approved plan.

“We’ve had extensive discussions with the Players Association,” Silver said, “but we haven’t finished those negotiations.”

Silver outlined some of the precautions the league might enact to minimize coronavirus-related risk, but he acknowledged there are still unanswered questions. He said players would need to maintain physical distancing protocols, even when away from the court. There may also be more stringent safety measures for older coaches and personnel more susceptible to COVID-19. 

“Obviously the most significant changes from when we shut down are we’re playing without fans, we’re playing in a central location, we’re playing on a campus where the players are going to remain there throughout the competition,” he said. “The players are going to be tested … most likely daily.”

“… Certain coaches may not have to be the bench coach. They may have to maintain social distancing protocols … but when it comes to actual play, we may not want them that close to players, in order to protect (the coaches). Those are all issues we’re working through.”

If the NBA does ultimately travel to Disney World, what are the contingencies if players, coaches or other team staffers test positive for the coronavirus? When asked specifically by Charles Barkley if a positive test in the playoffs would force a team to withdraw, Silver said, “we don’t believe we would need to.”

He said the league’s current belief, based on discussions with NBA health consultants and public health officials in Florida, is that it would be possible to contain a player, trace his contacts and allow a team to proceed because of daily testing. 

That’s one question of many Silver seems aware he’ll need a satisfactory response for if the NBA is indeed going to proceed with this season under very unusual circumstances. 

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