As details continue to trickle out about the impending resumption of the NBA season, there now seems to be growing unease among some of the league’s players about the prospect of coming back.
Including from Utah Jazz All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell.
Shams Charania of The Athletic reported Friday night that Nets guard Kyrie Irving hosted a conference call of more than 80 players to address burgeoning concerns about the league’s return plan, and that Mitchell was among those who “spoke out about possibly sitting out due to social/COVID-19 issues.”
Charania said that many of the players expressed worry that the NBA’s return would steal attention away from the social and racial justice movements taking place across the country. He quoted sources as Irving telling players on the call, “I don’t support going into Orlando. I’m not with the systematic racism and the bull----. Something smells a little fishy. I’m willing to give up everything I have [for social reform].” Charania added that Mitchell, Blazers forward Carmelo Anthony and Lakers center Dwight Howard also spoke out about the possibility of sitting out.
Charania reported that Mitchell’s concerns apparently stem from his perception that players are “behind the 8-ball” and “taking a big [injury] risk” by being thrust into competitive games after not having played five-on-five since the league shut down March 11. Yahoo’s Chris Haynes and Bleacher Report’s Taylor Rooks also quoted sources as saying that Mitchell is concerned about the risk of injury. Haynes added that Mitchell expressed that the league’s younger players had not had enough of a voice in the negotiating process up to this point.
Interestingly, Mitchell responded with the message “Stop it......” to a Bleacher Report tweet noting that he, Anthony and Howard were among those who spoke about possibly sitting out. A request for comment from Mitchell was not immediately returned.
Though commissioner Adam Silver’s return plan passed a league Board of Governors vote by a 29-1 margin and a National Basketball Players Association representatives vote 28-0, Yahoo’s Haynes and ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski also reported that there is a contingent of players who feel as though not enough players have been included in the process, and that their concerns are going unheeded.
“There is a significant number of NBA players who are disappointed that everyone wasn’t given the opportunity to vote on whether to restart the 2019-20 season, league sources told Yahoo Sports,” Haynes wrote. “… The complaint, privately expressed by multiple players, is that every player’s voice wasn’t heard for this critical and potentially life-changing vote, sources said.”
Among the concerns that Haynes attributed to players are a viewpoint that any return to action while the coronavirus pandemic is ongoing is “hazardous and unnecessary”; unease about being sequestered in a campus environment on the Disney World campus; and a lack of “feedback and information on how the league plans to facilitate a safe haven.”
Perhaps most importantly, both Haynes and Wojnarowski reported that players are particularly concerned with the optics of leaving their communities and gathering to play basketball in a central location while racial and social justice protests are taking place in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Wojnarowski spelled out some additional misgivings that players have begun to express in recent days — many of which are centered around the details of the campus environment they will be experiencing in Orlando.
Specifically, he wrote, players especially on non-championship contenders are increasingly ill at ease with the isolation they will be asked to practice, as “participants in Orlando — including players — will not be allowed to leave the bubble environment without a 10-day quarantine upon their return to the Disney grounds.” Furthermore, they would be allowed “no visitors until after the first round of the playoffs, nearly seven weeks after the opening of mid-July training camp.”
Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles told local media in late April that he was not enamored of the sequestered campus idea, owing to the long-term separation it would necessitate from Renae and 3-year-old twins Milla and Jacob: “It would be extremely hard. That would be basically the longest I’ve been away from the kids — which I don’t know how much I’m willing to do that, as much as I love playing basketball,” Ingles said.
However, he has subsequently clarified on social media that, with more perspective on the coronavirus, he is ready to return to action.
“I know the Jazz/NBA would only have us play if they were confident that everyone’s health has been put first,” Ingles wrote. “When it’s safe to go back and play, I will not let my teammates down!”
Though Haynes reported that some players “have been reluctant to express their views in fear of opposing the superstars who are adamant about playing,” Wojnarowski noted that an increasing number of those anxieties have become public in recent days, and that, as a result, “the NBA and National Basketball Players Association are agreeing on a plan that would allow players to stay home without consequences,” per sources.
Indeed, any player who ultimately decides against returning would not be penalized in any form other than missing out on the equivalent of eight game checks — the number of regular-season games each of the 22 returning teams are slated to play before the postseason begins.
Along those lines, there have been several reports emerging about how rosters may ultimately come to be shaped.
While it has already been disclosed that the league intends to allow teams to replace players who become injured or test positive for COVID-19, the details of such roster machinations are becoming increasingly clear.
For instance, Wojnarowski reported that any player who opts out of participating in Orlando can also be replaced. Charania and Wojnarowski both reported that teams are expected to be allowed to bring up to 17 players for the regular-season games — up to 15 players on standard NBA contracts, as well as a pair of two-way players.
Wojnarowski and ESPN colleague Bobby Marks detailed some of the specifics, noting that domestic free agents will be eligible to be signed as replacement players, but internationally-based players who have not appeared on an NBA roster during this season will not be.
They also wrote that there will be a weeklong “transaction window” later this month to allow teams to tweak their rosters, either by waiving and signing players, or converting two-way contracts into standard NBA deals. There are presently eight teams (the Clippers, Grizzlies, Kings, Nuggets, Suns, Spurs, Thunder and Trail Blazers) that have an open roster spot and can sign a player at present; any other team wishing to add a free agent would have to release someone on their roster.
The remaining recent revelations have largely been calendar-driven.
Charania reported Friday that some restrictions on player/coach workout interactions have been lifted, and that as of right now, “up to two coaches/development personnel can work out a player.” Both he and Wojnarowski reported head coaches can begin to supervise voluntary player workouts beginning June 23.
Meanwhile, Wojnarowski noted that players presently outside the United States must report to their team markets by June 15, and that the rest of the players must report by June 22. He added that the NBA has informed teams that full training camps will take place in Orlando between July 9-29, and that each team will participate in three “intersquad scrimmages.”
Charania reported that mandatory coronavirus testing will take place between June 23-30. He also gave a list of “expected restart dates,” beginning with the regular season moved up a day to July 30. From there, the regular season “seeding games” will take place July 30-Aug. 14; any required play-in tournaments for the conferences’ eighth seeds will be Aug.15-16; the playoffs begin Aug. 17; families and guests can arrive Aug. 30; conference semifinals will run from Aug. 31-Sept. 13; conference finals from Sept. 15-Sept. 28; and the NBA Finals from Sept. 30-Oct. 13.