When Will the NBA Return? Here's What We Know (and What We Don't).

In light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the NBA has suspended the season. Here’s what we know and don't know about the NBA's return.

Oklahoma City Chesapeake Arena Big Board March 2020
USA Today Sports

Mar 11, 2020; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; A message on the video score board informs fans the game against the Utah Jazz has been postponed. Teams were told to go to the locker rooms just before tip off at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Oklahoma City Chesapeake Arena Big Board March 2020

The truth, of course, is we don’t know anything right now. And that’s incredibly uneasy after the NBA made the unprecedented move to indefinitely suspend the season Wednesday in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic after word dropped that Rudy Gobert was the first player to test positive for the virus. We would learn later his teammate Donovan Mitchell also tested positive for the disease. 

The NBA reacted swiftly to its worst-case scenario and took the drastic measure of postponing games for an unknown period of time out of an abundance of caution. After one of the craziest days of recent sports history, that saw the NCAA announce it would not allow fans into any of its widely popular NCAA Tournament games, processing the shock of a well-known player contracting the virus and the historic measure taken by the NBA won’t dissipate soon while we await word on the league’s path forward.

“You think this is not going to affect us, we’re the NBA,” Nuggets coach Mike Malone told reporters after Wednesday’s Denver-Dallas. “One of our players has the coronavirus. Who knows what that means for their team and other teams that have been with them? You really get concerned for what’s going on, not just what’s going on in the NBA, but the world. These are things you watch in movies.” 

What it means for Gobert and the Jazz is, like so much right now, unknown. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported those traveling with the Jazz would very likely remain in Oklahoma City—where Wednesday’s game against the Thunder was postponed before it tipped—while medical and government officials figure out how to handle their tenuous and potentially hazardous status. 

“In terms of the basketball side of things, we have a lot of flexibility because there’s nothing that happens after June 12th when we typically end our season.” — Mavericks owner Mark Cuban

On an ultimately less important front, what it means is basketball fans will be without the games they often turn to in order to distract them from life’s other ills for an unknown period of time. Losing a major source of comfort and escape in crazy times won’t be easy. Reportedly, the league was going to announce Thursday that future games would not be played with fans in the arena, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. But Gobert’s diagnosis changed everything and guessing when–or if—the NBA picks up the 2019-20 season, and we get to enjoy an important and consequential part of our lives, is an incredibly inexact science full of speculation.

“The NBA will use this hiatus to determine next steps for moving forward in regard to the coronavirus pandemic,” the league concluded in its official statement announcing the suspension of play. 

Logic and common sense would dictate that with the World Health Organization announcing Wednesday that we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and the number of individuals testing positive for the coronavirus rising rapidly day-to-day around the United States, we are likely in for a significant pause of action of the NBA for more than the two week minimum quarantine normally imposed on those infected. Affected Jazz players will be quarantined for sure and the teams that have recently played Utah (Cavaliers, Knicks, Celtics, Pistons and Raptors) reportedly have been advised to self-isolate. On Thursday, veteran NBA scribe Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Sun reported that NBA will suspend games for a minimum of 30 days. We're still awaiting official word from the league. 

Using China, the epicenter of the virus outbreak, as an example, the Chinese Basketball League stopped playing games in late January during the middle of the outbreak and has yet to resume its season. Reportedly, the CBA is looking to pick up its season April 2, although some observers remain skeptical the league will resume play as China continues to work to contain the virus.

Answers assuredly won’t be handed down Thursday on how much flexibility the NBA has in concluding its roughly final 20 or so regular-season games remaining before transitioning to the postseason. The league and NBPA will likely confer on the proper path forward and should the NBA follow the length of break the CBA took, assuming the CBA is back next month, games wouldn’t resume until mid-to-late May. 

Will the league jump directly to the postseason, finish the regular-season fully, or hold an abbreviated version? It’s a conundrum considering the league has taken such a financial hit this season in wake of the Daryl Morey controversy and will soon run up against important dates on the calendar. The postseason is scheduled to begin April 18. On May 19 and 20th, the conference finals are scheduled to begin. The NBA Finals are supposed to tip June 4th. There are signature events on the league calendar, such as the NBA Draft scheduled for June 25 and the start of NBA Summer League July 5. Could they be pushed back, or still go on as scheduled, while fitting in a full regular-season and postseason? Would the league forgo the rest of what’s been a more intriguing regular-season the past few months, filled with interesting individual story lines like the MVP and Rookie of the Year race? Or would they just pick things up where they left off and push the schedule back deep into July or even August? How far can they reasonably push it back? Remember, the Olympics, for now, are scheduled to begin July 24 in Tokyo and many NBA players will compete for their countries. There are also issues with scheduled events and concert dates at all 30 arenas.  

Lonzo Ball Pelicans Kings March 2020

“In terms of the basketball side of things, we have a lot of flexibility because there’s nothing that happens after June 12th when we typically end our season,” Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told reporters after Wednesday’s Mavs-Nuggets game. “It’s more important for us to get [the suspension of play] right.”

Cuban was slightly off with his estimation since Game 7 of the NBA Finals would be held June 21. Regardless, his point was made. He added Thursday morning that he could see the NBA pushing games back into August. We’ll see if it’s shared by the league office. Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle noted that team activities haven’t been suspended so teams not subject to quarantine could conceivably practice and remain ready to pick up the season with very short notice. But the big, massive “but” in all this is the whole quarantine aspect of things—who is ultimately subjected to isolation? How many teams that played against the Jazz really need to be concerned? How many personnel need to get tested? Can this be stopped from spreading around the league? 

It's frustrating, but understandable that we have more questions than answers less than 24 hours after this bomb was dropped on the NBA. And don’t expect definitive ones anytime soon. Hopefully Gobert, like the majority of people without underlying health issues who contract the virus, will end up being fine. He reportedly was feeling well and in good spirits. Obviously, the implications of him passing along the virus are immense. The league made the right call Wednesday to do what’s necessary to help stale the acceleration of the coronavirus. The right time to resume the games, like so much about this outbreak, unfortunately is uncertain. 

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