NBA still has a lot of issues to sort through before Orlando Magic can return

The NBA announced its return to play plan, players quickly approved further negotiations. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
The NBA announced its return to play plan, players quickly approved further negotiations. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

Last week, the NBA announced its return-to-play plan and players quickly approved the framework. But there are still a lot of issues to discuss.

The NBA world met last week’s announcement of the league’s return to play plan with excitement. All 30 teams backed Adam Silver’s plan to bring 22 teams to Orlando for an eight-game finish to the regular season and then a full NBA Playoffs.

The players association quickly followed with a vote and an announcement of its own. They had approved the league’s plan and would begin negotiating the finer details to target a July 31 return to play.

This felt like the resumption of the season. It gave everyone a target to reach and the reality that the league would resume its operations and finish the 2020 season.

But the keyword in the Players Association’s statement was not an approval of the plan outright. The statement reads in full:

"“The Board of Player Representatives of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) has approved further negotiations with the NBA on a 22-team return to play scenario to restart the 2019-20 NBA season. Various details remain to be negotiated and the acceptance of the scenario would still require that all parties reach agreement on all issues relevant to resuming play.”"

That is not exactly the full-throated welcome back that fans want to hear. The approval last week was more of the go-ahead to begin finer negotiations between the league and the union.

Not to be super dour or the buzzkill in the room.

The good news is the league and the players have been negotiating all along to come up with this original plan. Chris Paul as the Players Association president has had a hand in telling NBA commissioner Adam Silver what the players would like to see.

What we saw last week was the league and players coming to basic terms. There will not likely be the same acrimonious relationship we have seen in MLS and MLB because the NBA players helped inform the owners’ decision on how to resume the season.

The NBA is likely to hit its July 31 mark and assemble at Disney in the next few weeks. But the devil is in the details for the team and the league.

And there is still a lot to sort through.

The biggest challenge for the league is going to be figuring out testing and how to adequately and accurately test players to keep the coronavirus from reaching into the bubble. The last thing the league can afford once everyone is at Disney is to have a player get sick and potentially infect everyone.

The league has come under some criticism for the lack of clarity on testing. The one thing they need to have down pat is their testing procedure. Coming back without a solid testing plan would be a major problem.

The NBA would not be issuing a return plan without some idea of how they plan to test and isolate any potential positive cases within the bubble so they could continue the season without shutting down again.

There are probably several options on the table and it is about figuring out what makes the most sense and what the players would prefer — coronavirus testing can be quite invasive.

Testing procedures remain the biggest question and the biggest issue for the league. There is no playing without a solid testing plan. That plan may not ever be fully made public, but this is the first question players have to have and the one everyone needs to agree to and commit to.

If testing fails, the whole bubble/campus site fails and the 2020 season goes without a champion or finish.

The next issues will all be playing issues, it seems.

The league has already announced all ties in the standings will be broken by win percentage since teams are playing an uneven amount of games. The schedule is still an issue too. The league reportedly will use the schedule before the hiatus to create the eight-game seeding games.

From there the timing of when teams return and arrive in Orlando, how much practice time everyone will get before the season starts and how often games are played will be other issues to sort through.

The rumor is the league will have teams play every other day with one back-to-back to get the regular season finished. This is going to be something the players will have to agree to. The NBA has done its best to eliminate back-to-backs.

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Considering how quickly teams will be trying to get back and the fear of injury in playing high-intensity games after so long off, playing back-to-backs feels unnecessarily risky (then again, this whole project might be). Teams are going to need to rely on depth regardless as they play so many games in a short time.

These are all things the players have to agree to before they get back to playing. The players are going to have to face some sobering realities and make some concessions.

Just like no return-to-play plan was going to be perfect, no scheduling scenario — both the opponents that teams face and the schedule to finish the season — is going to be perfect. Everyone is going to have to bend a little bit.

But the league has taken player health seriously. The schedule is not going to be rushed or compressed.

That is why the date is July 31. There is plenty of time for the league to get up and running, conduct a training camp and even perhaps play a few exhibition games before the games start counting again.

The other issue the league seems to be pondering is how to replace players who are injured or get sick so the season could continue without interruption.

The league is debating whether to allow teams to carry their two-way players into the campus setting — for the Orlando Magic that would be Vic Law and B.J. Johnson — or potentially sign other players off their G-League or unaffiliated players on other G-League rosters to help give teams a backstop during the season.

The rules for allowing those players to participate is still getting worked out. And there seems to be some resistance to it because the league wants to limit how many people are in the bubble — an additional two players for every team means 44 more people heading to the campus site with the potential for more as needed.

All these issues really go hand in hand with the health and safety part of this puzzle.

The league wants to make sure enough players are available so everyone can get proper rest and not play insane minutes (especially early on as teams get reacclimated to the rhythm of the season). But the league also wants to limit the potential for exposure to the virus.

The point of the bubble is to close things off as much as possible to the outside world and keep everyone free from potential infection.

Still, another negotiating point is how much freedom of movement players will have within the resort. There was initial resistance to the bubble/campus idea because nobody wanted to be cooped up in a hotel for three months.

The league reportedly will shack up at Coronado Springs, which features a pretty robust set of amenities that includes a fitness center and even a nearly one-mile jogging trail around the resort’s centerpiece lake.

Like everything else, there is no perfect solution to this. It is not like players will be allowed to go play in the parks in their downtime, mingling with the outside public.

These are difficult things to balance. And it would be impossible to balance them without the players’ input.

The framework for the league’s return is certainly in place. The league has a good idea of how it wants to return and the format it will use to find a champion. The players seem on board with this idea.

But the finer details of how the league will conduct this bubble season and how players will interact with the site and these games still need to be determined.

Thus the NBA is merely almost back. Players have not been recalled to their team sites quite yet. They probably will not be until these issues have been resolved.

dark. Next. Orlando Magic excited to return, eager to get playing again

There are still a few hurdles to clear before the league resumes.