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NBA tells players there are only ‘bad options’ as it explores resuming play

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) NBA Commissioner Adam Silver shown here as the Utah Jazz and NBA announce that Salt Lake City will host the 2023 NBA All-Star Game. Wednesday Oct. 23, 2019.

UFC 249 was staged Saturday with no fans present in a Jacksonville, Fla. arena. There have been reports that the German soccer league will start to play again in the coming weeks.

The NFL just released its schedule, with the expectation that football will start on time this fall. And there’s been increasing rumblings of late that Major League Baseball may get underway soon.

Some of these developments are real, while others remain merely theoretical. Either way, such news inevitably has basketball fans wondering what is the status of the still-in-limbo NBA season.

Well, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver provided some grim details this weekend to the players association, though the resulting media accounts of his hourlong conference call also illustrated there is plenty yet up in the air.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski noted that with the pandemic ongoing, “there are no guarantees when fans could fully return to NBA arenas next season.” Yahoo’s Chris Haynes and The Athletic’s Shams Charania painted an even more dire picture, with the former writing that, should the 2019-20 campaign resume, “there would likely be no fans present,” and the latter agreeing that “no fans are expected.”

It’s entirely possible that fans might be kept away for the 2020-21 season as well and that season may not start until Christmas. All three writers quoted Silver as telling players that such a scenario would wreak financial havoc upon the league, as fan attendance accounts for about 40% of its revenue.

There is a feeling within the league that it would simply be unsafe — for fans and players alike — to have spectators in arenas before the widespread availability of a COVID-19 vaccine, and that is at least months and maybe years away.

“Until there’s a vaccine, or some cocktail preventing people from dying from the virus, we are going to be dealing with this collectively,” Silver told the players, according to Wojnarowski. “The ultimate issue is how much risk we’re all comfortable taking.”

Of course, concerns about 2020-21 are down the road a ways. There is not a consensus on how to proceed with the end of the 2019-20 season.

“Silver admitted the NBA ‘couldn’t start now even if we wanted to,’” Charania wrote.

All three writers said Silver seems to be honing in on the idea of all games taking place in one or two centralized locations, so as to minimize travel. While Haynes wrote that “many cities have contacted [Silver] about hosting the resumed season,” all three quoted him as saying that Las Vegas and the Walt Disney World complex in Orlando appear to be the frontrunner choices for now.

Should the season ultimately resume, Silver apparently expects a training camp to precede it, which would last a minimum of three weeks and as many as six. The commissioner’s goal is to stage a full playoff schedule, with best-of-seven series in each round.

Given that the league shut down on March 11 when Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19, it’s fair to wonder what might happen to a restarted league should players test positive.

Both Wojnarowski and Haynes reported it is Silver’s hope that such a scenario “won't require shutting down a team or season, but only the removal of a player amid persistent testing of those who had come into contact with him,” as ESPN’s account phrased it.

Still, as Wojnarowski noted, such a restart plan would necessitate access to an abundance of COVID-19 tests, and Silver is adamant that the NBA “won’t be taking tests from needy people.”

The ESPN writer cited sources as saying “the league estimates it would need in the neighborhood of 15,000 tests to resume and complete its season.”

Given all the variables still in play, no decision on resumption appears imminent. The league may take until well into June to decide upon a course of action.

In the meantime, both Yahoo and The Athletic quoted Silver as telling players that, as of now, all they’ve got are a collection of “bad options.”

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