The Orlando Magic may need to make some necessary adjustments to their game plan after the season returns in the summer due to COVID-19.
You would have to be sleeping under a rock to not know the NBA has been suspended. And there is still no sign of when the league will return as the world tries to plan its way forward.
It has been more than a month since Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 prompting the NBA to suspend its operations. The rest of the sports world and society at large followed as the seriousness of the coronavirus too hold and governments quickly took action to slow the spread.
Those efforts are still ongoing. And while there has been some good news and signs the curve is flattening, that does not mean we are out of the woods yet. The league is being cautious as it plans a return.
But there is still a long way to go.
The Florida Department of Health reported Saturday afternoon the number of confirmed cases in Florida rose to 25,500 with 748 coronavirus-related deaths. More than a dozen of those deaths came Saturday, juxtaposed horrifically next to Jacksonville announcing it would open some of its beaches and photos of hundreds of people flocking to them.
With protests mounting urging governments to end social distancing and re-open the economy, frustration is certainly building as governments continue to struggle to reign in the virus.
There are a lot of things that have to happen first before anyone could consider basketball. NBA commissioner Adam Silver knows this and that is why he has not put any timeline on the league’s return.
Silver and his staff are looking forward to the NBA returning to business as usual but will have to wait until after April in order to make any decisions on when the NBA will return.
The league seems determined to make its return and complete the season. What form or format that takes is still uncertain.
If the NBA does return as anticipated, the Orlando Magic will still be in Playoff position. But this time off may not be the answer for a young team.
The Magic were starting to turn a corner before the virus put the league on hiatus, winning eight of their last 12 games and posting the best offensive rating in the league after the All-Star Break.
This was a team that had seemingly found its footing and was preparing to face an easy (on paper) part of the schedule along with a home-heavy part of the schedule to ease things for the team.
The Magic have struggled to find this consistency throughout the season. They are a young team and still prone to wild swings.
This Magic team does not have any veterans on the squad who can assist with guiding the younger players through a delay in the season. This is something that no NBA player has gone through before in their career. Not even a 17-year-old NBA vet like LeBron James.
But even having the experience of the lockout from 2011 would help some. Back then, players had to quickly ramp back up to prepare to play to hit the league’s Christmas Day start date. There was an abbreviated preseason to help them get there. But it was not easy.
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Only D.J. Augustin and Nikola Vucevic were on NBA rosters for the 2011 season. But even the lockout-shortened season is not a perfect analog. At least during the lockout, players could still rent out a court and work on their skills. They could still play pick-up games.
There is no gym access anywhere right now. When the season returns, everyone will be starting from square one when the mini-training camp begins.
If and when the season continues, fans should not expect the Magic to pick up where they left off. As a matter of fact, fans should expect them to look very rusty after this intermission.
As of now, the Magic (30-35) are sitting one-half game behind the Brooklyn Nets for the eighth and final Playoffs spot in the Eastern Conference. If the Playoffs started today (as they were scheduled to do so), the Magic would probably get swept in their first-round matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks led by likely back-to-back NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.
In either case, the Magic are likely to face a first-round exit for consecutive years and likely face one of the Eastern Conference finalists yet again. Orlando knows it has work to do improve both for the rest of the year and beyond in the offseason.
The Magic will have to quickly find their footing. They likely will get a matchup with the Nets (they were scheduled to play the Nets twice in the week after the season was suspended) before the season ends in whatever abbreviated schedule the league devises.
But basketball is secondary at this point. What matters right now is everyone getting healthy.
The coronavirus has touched everyone in unexpected ways. Either through the quarantine and self-isolation or personally.
Not only has COVID-19 affected the NBA, but it also has affected the athletes’ lifestyle and how they go about their business to get ready for games due to access restrictions throughout the state.
Curfews and stay-at-home orders are still in effect throughout much of the nation to try to slow the spread of the virus and limit the number of people who fill hospital beds in an overtaxed medical system.
How will the young players in Orlando get through this idle time and what will they look like when the season resumes?
That is yet to be seen.