The NBA is working on the mechanisms that will be used to replace participants in this season’s resumption in the event of positive coronavirus tests or serious injuries in the Orlando bubble environment.
Sources told ESPN that the league and teams are already discussing how teams will be able to utilize players on two-way contracts, a conversation revolving around safety, practicality and competition that will assuredly be a part of the ramp-up to restarting the season at Disney World in July.
If COVID-19 or a serious injury strikes a team during training camps or the eight regular-season seeding games, there are expected to be no limitations on the number of players a team could sign to replace those lost, but there would be restrictions on those in the pool of eligible players, sources said.
These are among a long list of items that the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association will have to negotiate in the next week, sources said. The NBA can make its recommendations to the union, but the sides will together have to agree upon changes to the collective bargaining agreement that will shape the NBA’s 22-team truncated restart in Florida.
Eligible replacement players probably will have had to be signed in the NBA or G League or be on training camp contracts this season, sources said. Under these restrictions, for example, no team could sign veteran Jamal Crawford — who went unsigned all season — or an international player.
The league office has discussed the possibility with its teams that there could be a requirement that those players replaced for COVID-19 or injury would become ineligible to return for the balance of this season, sources said.
Front-office and union officials are expecting players who test positive to be quarantined for a minimum of seven days — and possibly 10 to 14 — based on several factors, sources told ESPN.
While the Brooklyn Nets are expected to have the option to sign players to fill the roster spots for the season-ending injuries to Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, sources said, teams don’t anticipate there would be much sense in replacing a key player who tests positive for the coronavirus.
For one thing, there would be an opportunity to play without him, quarantine, and if symptom-free, hope he could return before the team had been eliminated. And unless it’s a player on the distant end of the playing rotation, it’s hard to imagine the kind of available replacement players who’d be worth flying to Orlando, quarantining for a week and indoctrinating into a new team instead of waiting on an asymptomatic COVID-19 positive player to be cleared to return to the lineup.
Teams are hopeful the league office will reconsider its preference to leave two-way contract players out of the bubble environment, sources said. Each organization is allowed two players on two-way contracts, which are deals that allow for players to spend as much as 45 days in the NBA and the rest of the season playing in the G League.
Many teams are making a case for those players to be able to join teams in Orlando, essentially as insurance policies for potential sickness and injury on rosters.
In large part due to the advice of medical experts pushing to keep the league’s personnel numbers as limited as possible within the bubble, the NBA has preferred to keep those players out of Orlando, and keep rosters from expanding to 17 players, sources said.
To open camp with these players on the rosters of 22 teams would constitute an additional 44 people in the bubble environment — and the NBA is searching for ways to keep those numbers down to limit possible virus carriers and positive tests.
Teams want the roster flexibility to keep two-way players living, training and isolated with teams in Orlando. Under the current proposal, players would be made to rejoin teams in the playoffs without having practiced with teams since early March. Once the postseason starts, teams could no longer add free agents — only call up the two-way players.
With teams expected to play every other day in the playoffs, including some instances of back-to-back games, many organizations are struggling to imagine how two-way players could travel to Orlando to play soon enough — or be prepared well enough — to make a timely impact.
Players will be tested for COVID-19 every night in the contained Orlando campus environment, with test results returning the next morning, sources said. NBA teams will be contained to three specific hotels within the Disney complex, sources said.
The NBA is hopeful to allow teams to convert two-way players to NBA contracts beginning on June 22 until July 1, sources said. In this instance, for example, the Oklahoma City Thunder could convert the two-way contract of rookie guard Luguentz Dort, who had started 21 consecutive games before the season’s shutdown.
Teams will start training in their markets and stagger arrivals beginning the first week in July, with training camps expected to start around July 9-11 in Orlando, sources said.