In and around the NBA, there’s enthusiasm to pick up a basketball and move toward the conclusion of the 2019-20 season — a conclusion that could settle debates about the Lakers and the Clippers, about LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo, about the long-term feasibility of the Philadelphia 76ers and the promise of the Boston Celtics.
Inside of front offices, there’s enthusiasm to find out what’s next — to know when the season will restart, how the league will make it work. What about the draft? What about free agency? What about the salary cap?
Players, coaches, front office personnel and employees all want answers. But conversations with people with knowledge of the NBA’s plans all point in one direction — no one knows what’s next and when “next” will happen.
That ball that everyone wants to pick up? It doesn’t even have air in it yet — the country still fighting the COVID-19 pandemic that’s shut down all but the most essential businesses. It’s why the league remains in a holding pattern — planning for a reboot it knows might not come this year.
It’s why specifics are in high demand and short supply.
“I haven’t come to a point where I have a point of like no return, or a point where, ‘OK, this is the final straw. Tell us something now,’ ” James said. “We’re just taking it day by day, especially here in our household. Obviously, we’d all love to wake up tomorrow and the higher people in charge [are] like, ‘we have this thing under control, in two weeks we’ll be able to resume our normal lives.’ That would be ideal.”
But that’s not realistic.
In the last week, NBA players received their regular paychecks while their union and the league continued discussions about how to handle the financial repercussions of possibly canceling games. That still hasn’t happened — there were even some who thought an 82-game season still was possible if the league could begin playing by June 1. But even optimists feel those possible cancellations are more likely probable.
While the NBA continues to operate in an “everything-is-on-the-table” way when it comes to ideas, there is a strong sentiment among teams to postpone the draft, which is scheduled for June 25.
“The NBA’s going to determine that and basically they’ve just instructed us, ‘Just trust us and we’ll let you know,’ ” said Lawrence Frank, the Clippers’ president of basketball operations. “So you have to be prepared if they said, ‘Hey, it is the date.’ You have to be prepared — but also knowing that, depending how things play out, that there could be some movement.”
The draft traditionally has been conducted in the immediate aftermath of the season. But with the season in purgatory, that date is tied to the resumption of play.
Holding the draft soon presents problems — teams would be unable to conduct in-person workouts and meetings while stay-at-home measures remained in place. Postponing the draft isn’t perfect either — how does that impact players who declare early but don’t sign with agents? Would there be a spot for them on their college team if they decide to return in late August?
The salary cap — a number directly tied to the amount of basketball-related income generated and a number that dips every day the league’s arenas remain shuttered — also is tied to how much of the season can be salvaged.
When, how and if the season can return is tied to a myriad of factors: the availability of rapid testing, herd immunity, the ability to test for antibodies, better treatment and on and on. Will it happen in Las Vegas? Maybe it happens in a city that’s already been through the worst of the coronavirus?
There’s so much to figure out with an almost daily change in facts.
It’s why so many players, executives and coaches don’t have the answers they want, forced to simply sit and wait for instruction.
“We’ll listen to what they tell us,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “And then when they tell us we can all get back together, we’re all going to do it.”