How eliminated NBA teams are handling leaving safety of the Disney campus bubble
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — As they gathered in the locker room, Sacramento Kings head coach Luke Walton had an important message to share with his players.
Though they finished with a 136-122 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday, the Kings’ season officially ended. But this did not mark the time for self reflection. Nor did it mark the time to share any insight on how to improve next season.
Instead, Walton talked to his players about leaving the NBA Disney campus in the middle of the coronavirus outbreak.
“We have to be very smart about how we act when we get out of here,’” Walton recalled telling his players. “The coronavirus is still active obviously and its spreading everywhere. So we’ve been safe here. Now when we get home, we have a lot of responsibilities.”
The NBA outlined a number of daily responsibilities for all 22 of the participating teams at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Every player, coach and staff member had to receive tests for COVID-19. They had to report any symptoms, their temperature and oxygen levels. They were required to wear masks in public spaces and had to follow social distancing rules. That explained why the NBA and its players union reported zero positives tests the past four weeks.
Outside of the campus, the league cannot exactly enforce and monitor player, coach and staff behavior. That group will also no longer undergo mandatory testing for COVID-19.
To that end, Kings guard Buddy Hield has outlined a simple itinerary once he exits the bubble: “stay my ass home.”
Before teams flew to Orlando between July 7-9, the NBA said that 25 of 351 players and 10 of 884 staff members tested positive for COVID-19 between June 23-29 when testing began every other day at team practice facilities. Two out of 322 players tested positive during quarantine when the teams first arrived in Orlando. The NBA anticipated some cases since players, coaches and staff members were not subject to strict measures on a quarantine site ahead of arrival.
"When it was first announced, all of us were in the situation of saying, 'What? This is actually going to work?! There are too many moving parts. This is difficult,' " Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "But after you realize the work that the NBA put into this, it’s incredible with the logistics, the safety measures, the discipline and everything required of us."
Because of safety concerns, the Kings, Washington Wizards, New Orleans Pelicans and San Antonio Spurs had to leave the NBA Disney campus as close to the end of their games as possible. Players were allowed to shower and change at the Coronado Springs, but they had to check out of their rooms and teams had all luggage packed at the arena.
That explains why Popovich likened this process to "going to bootcamp with a smile."
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"They did a fantastic job," Popovich said. "Everybody is humbled enough to hope this continues, of course. Nobody takes it for granted. But the players also should get kudos for the discipline they’ve showed so far. It’s been remarkable in every way, shape or form."
The NBA will not have as much supervision after that, though.
"It's tricky times right now being away from family. Getting back to that setting is going to be another adjustment you have to get used to," Spurs forward DeMar DeRozan said. "But just take care of yourself and wear a mask. Stick to the same protocols before we came to the bubble and be safe as possible."
That will require a lot of diligence.
The NBA Finals are scheduled to end as late as Oct. 13. Though the league has tentatively scheduled Dec. 1 as the beginning of the 2020-21 season, the NBA players union has squawked at that proposal because of the minimal time for rest and recovery for all participating teams. Both NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and NBPA executive director Michele Roberts have considered resuming next season in another campus site at either one or multiple locations.
"I'm just getting right back to it, staying ready and staying prepared," said DeRozan, who estimated only needing three or four days off to recharge. "I have the utmost faith the league can put whatever needs to be put together for us to have a season next year."
Regardless, the eliminated teams will have a long offseason. The NBA draft lottery will take place virtually on Aug. 20 to determine the draft order. Then teams will host video-conference workouts and interviews for potential prospects leading into a virtual draft on Oct. 16.
As for the current players, though, do not expect them to report to any practice facility anytime soon.
“We’re definitely giving time off. Everybody needs time off: players, coaches, staff,” Washington Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. “We have all of our families to be able to be with them and be around them. It’s definitely going to be 2-3 weeks minimum. If you need more, we’ll give you more. It’s not about jumping right back in it.”
Still, the NBA will allow those teams to have their facilities open for voluntary workouts.
That setup has stayed the same for the teams that did not participate in the resumed season: The Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets, Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons, Golden State Warriors, Minnesota Timberwolves and New York Knicks. All of those teams had to maintain social distancing, mask-wearing and sanitary rules, and head coaches were not allowed to view any of the workouts.
“We don’t know when we’re playing again,” Walton said. “We have to make sure we take care of ourselves and stay safe and healthy.”