Watch out guys, the Sixers are coming.
I’m more confident than ever that the NBA will find a way to finish its season. Why? First, it’s become increasingly clear that the league doesn’t give a damn when it starts next season. The thinking is the longer the NBA pushes back the start of next season, the better chance it has of holding games with fans in attendance, opening up a revenue stream that Adam Silver reportedly said accounted for 40% of the league’s revenue. So if you don’t care when you start next season, you can delay restarting this one for months. Who’s to say the NBA can’t restart in September, finish in October and kick start the 2020-21 year in January? Even February? As has been noted before, there are plenty of NBA-types who like the idea of stretching the season into the summer anyway.
The other interesting development was the league’s decision, per ESPN, to allow asymptomatic testing in certain cities. There was a time that, based on conversations with team and league officials, I didn’t think the NBA would allow asymptomatic testing until it was widely available nationwide. The league has been concerned with the optics of players and staffers from a multibillion dollar sports league having access to tests while others did not. Testing is still an issue, but the NBA’s decision to allow Orlando, and eventually the two LA teams, test asymptomatic players represents, to me anyway, a moving of the goalposts on testing, and what level it needs to be at throughout the U.S. before the league considers a return. Remember: The NBA will have no problem procuring the 10,000-plus tests it will need to conduct a postseason. Silver and Co. just don’t want to be seen as hoarding them when pockets of the country badly need them.
How’s this for an indication about the fluidity of this situation? By one team executive’s count, there have been 46 league memos sent that person’s way since the season was suspended. Whether they were updates relating to the situation, amendments to previous rules and regulations or simple statements, the mere existence of all those communications underscores the fact that this is an unpredictable landscape for all involved to navigate.
Translation: There is no NBA playbook for a pandemic.
Yet barring a spike in coronavirus cases that would certainly change things yet again, all signs point to the playoffs being increasingly possible. The players clearly want to play, with stars like LeBron James, Giannis Antetokoummpo, Kevin Durant, Paul and others aligning on a Monday conference call that was first reported by Yahoo! Sports.
In terms of the training component, one source with knowledge of the league’s latest talking points said the time estimates for a training camp have been shortened in recent weeks. Whereas the early discussions involved the possible prospect of needing four or five weeks for camps, the goal now appears to be closer to two or three. The sense, at least as of now, is that the family members of players would likely be allowed to join them in whichever city they wind up so long as they agree to certain regulations.
It remains unclear whether all 30 teams would be involved in the resumption of play, but Silver’s call with general managers on Wednesday might have provided a clue. Per sources, he implored teams that are out of playoff contention to take a holistic view on the matter and remain willing to assist for the greater good, so to speak. While Silver didn’t reference Steve Kerr specifically, participants on the call believed it was a reference to the Golden State coach’s recent comments about the Warriors’ season being unofficially over.
Meanwhile, sources say Silver’s focus remains fixated on the medical component of this quandary.
“It’s all based on medical,” one source with knowledge of Silver’s thinking said.
From the logistics surrounding testing to possible treatment if and when there is a positive test to the local landscape in terms of hospitals, every aspect is being explored. A player testing positive is not expected to bring the playoffs to a halt, but that player would be quarantined and — barring an outbreak — the games would resume. Thus far, sources say every NBA player who has tested positive and experienced symptoms has recovered in short order while avoiding hospitalization.
For coach Brett Brown, he and his staff have gone all-in on a lot of different aspects of his team during the hiatus. For example, as the current 6 seed in the East, they would take on the 3 seed Boston Celtics in Round 1. However, they could also face the Miami Heat or the Toronto Raptors at some point. All aspects need to be looked at.
“We ended March 11, since that time that we were told we’re not going to be playing anymore, we’ve been taking a deep dive into all aspects of our offense. We’re 3/4 of the way through our defense and after we’ve completed that, in the bullpen, we have Toronto, Miami, Boston good to go,” Brown explained. “We’ve taken significant studies on what that ultimately is going to look like.”
So, what does that work look like? There is so much to do in order to prepare for the playoffs and that is something that Brown and his staff have dived into.
“It’s a combination of both analytic and video work,” he explained. “Some of it is gut feel work from our coaches and me of things we’re going to have to do to get ready one of those few teams.”
In terms of what he said initially, it hasn’t gone in that order of offense, defense, and then playoffs. He and his staff are preparing for anything right now.
“In relation to the order of which this has unfolded, it’s not something like ‘let’s get offense out of the way, defense, situational basketball and then let’s dig into OK playoffs are going to start, who are we going to play?’,” he finished with. “A lot of work has been done with a handful of teams, those three teams especially so that we’re good to go when the situation arises.”
For reference, the Sixers went 3-1 against the Celtics, they were 1-3 against the Heat, and they were 1-2 against the Raptors. Their final game against Toronto was scheduled for March 18 at home. At the end of the day, all of that goes out the window in the playoffs so Brown and his staff will have to do the best job they can under these unique circumstances to make sure they’re set to go.
But Tory suggests even that might be asking too much right now.
“I would just say to people, don’t hold your hopes out that you’re going to see professional sports played in Toronto, even in front of an empty stadium, before sometime into the fall,” the mayor told Sportsnet’s Writers Bloc on Friday, May 15.
“On the basketball front, there really hasn’t been any sort of specific discussion with us about how you would play games in front of no fans and make sure you complied with public health.”
Tory said a couple of weeks ago that the Raptors’ practise facility could reopen soon. He added on Friday that discussions with the team’s GM Masai Ujiri mainly concerned that, rather than a return to playing games.
On Thursday, he had also hinted that Toronto could be considered as a “hub city” for the return of NHL action.
He addressed that again on Friday, adding that he has not heard many details of a plan.
Nurse met Jackson near his summer retreat on Flathead Lake in northern Montana for coffee and ended up spending three days with one of his coaching idols.
“I get there, we go have a cup of coffee and he says ‘Hop in my truck’ and we drive around the lake for a couple hours,” says Nurse. “I’m just kind of sitting there with the windows down going, ‘Wow.’”
It was a case of a first-year NBA head coach not only leveraging his relationships to meet with one of the most respected minds in the sport, but a full-circle moment.
“I mean, really he was a guy I certainly looked up to and learned a lot from even though he didn’t know it,” says Nurse. “…I studied his substitutions, his timeouts, his late-game stuff, his demeanor, his belief in having a system, his ability to give players freedom, his belief in pressure defence. There’s a lot of things there.”
When Nurse was starting out as a head coach in the British Basketball League, Jordan, Jackson and the Bulls were ascendant. During that pre-digital age, Nurse signed up for a subscription service that would deliver week-old VHS tapes of NBA games — in this case, Bulls games — and Nurse would wear them out, watching and rewinding, stopping and starting.
Jackson was putting on a coaching clinic and Nurse never missed a class.
He took Jackson’s vaunted triangle offence apart, possession by possession, figured it out and eventually installed it with his BBL teams, informing his approach for the rest of his career.
“I think back about what my philosophy was and I would say I didn’t know what it was. I was 25, 26 years old and had maybe cobbled up a few set plays from here and there — we ran this offence in college, ran some stuff at Grand View [University, where Nurse as an assistant coach before heading to England], but I never had [a system].
“[But] I was in a unique situation. I was coaching a low level of professional basketball and was able to try a lot of stuff and I had a working lab or whatever, and I guess that when I watched [the triangle] it appealed to me,” he says. “I liked the beauty of it and I fully installed it as my offensive philosophy after studying it and we ran it all the time for, I dunno, eight or nine years.”