The NBA season appears to be nearing a crisis point, as the league has now reached five games being postponed — three of which have involved the Boston Celtics. Two other teams, the Mavs and Wizards, have recently had to shut down their facilities due to positive tests.
As case counts rise across the country in the post-holiday season, the NBA finds itself in a precarious position. They pushed for the pre-Christmas start date and seemed to hope that regular testing would be enough to mitigate the spread and keep games on track. However, unlike football and baseball, which played seasons outside of a bubble atmosphere (up until the playoffs when the MLB went to a bubble setting), basketball faced a unique challenge that would be far more difficult to navigate.
For one, the numbers game was against the NBA, which has 17-man rosters (expanded from 15). This means nine players out for injury or health and safety protocols would lead to postponements. On top of that, playing more games with more travel meant more opportunity for spread, and the nature of basketball having more continuous contact on the court than even football — where it’s really just the lines in those tight quarters consistently — and you have a recipe for trouble.
As such, the league and players association got together on Monday to work out updates to the safety protocols that, in effect, will try to replicate how players were handled in the Disney Bubble, just without the controlled environment (which was the biggest reason for the Bubble’s success).
— Howard Beck (@HowardBeck) January 12, 2021
We’ll see how much this helps, if at all. There is certainly something to be said for mitigating the opportunities for spread between players and teams, and these protocols try to limit that contact to what is only absolutely necessary for playing games. That is a good thing to try, but the reason the NBA Bubble worked was because it was a controlled environment that, once they got everyone in and tested through, could keep it that way. The problem now is, even the best laid plans can go awry with travel and players at home, and beyond that it will be very difficult to enforce these rules all the time, whereas in the Bubble players had no choice but to follow protocols because there wasn’t another option.
The league apparently didn’t have a choice of trying another Bubble, as players (understandably, I must add) had that as a non-starter. However, this was the risk they ran in trying to play basketball in home markets with regular travel, and even with these new measures in place, I think most are skeptical that it will change much at all with regards to postponements and teams playing with hastily thrown together rotations of eight or nine players.