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Analysis: The NBA seems on the cusp of a comeback plan

Thu May 21 10:56am ET
AP Basketball Writer

Something is finally clear in the uncertain NBA: Players believe they’re going to play games again this season.

The obvious questions - How? Where? When? - remain unanswered. Testing, part of the new normal of this coronavirus era, will be a major component to any return-to-play plan that the NBA comes up with. The Disney campus near Orlando, Florida makes so much sense, given its massive size, multiple courts and its ties to league broadcast partner ESPN. And the sooner games begin, the sooner the process of figuring out next season can start as well.

Several people familiar with the details of the conversations have told The Associated Press this week that players around the league are being urged to start getting mentally and physically ready for training camps that could be just a few weeks away. It might not be a unanimously approved notion, but 2-1/2 months into this pandemic-caused shutdown, the NBA finally seems on the cusp of being able to move forward.

“I have faith in Adam Silver and the NBA, and the NBA teams ... they’re not going to have us come back if it’s even a question of us getting hurt,” Jared Dudley of the Los Angeles Lakers said this week. “And that’s where the testing, being clean, and doing everything that I feel that they’ll do to keep us safe.”

Pick a scenario for the return-to-play plan, and someone has surely heard it already. Bringing back all 30 teams and resuming the regular season is an option. So is bringing back something like 20 teams and having an expanded playoff of sorts, a notion that essentially mirrors what the NHL is talking about these days. A condensed playoff has also been discussed.

Silver, who has had to deal with a series of turbulent crisis from the strained China relationship in the preseason, to the deaths of David Stern and Kobe Bryant in January, and now a pandemic that will almost certainly affect the league’s financial health for the next several years - is listening to any and all ideas.

“The direction that the league office has received from our teams is, again, all rules are off at this point given the situation we find ourselves in, that the country is in,” Silver said last month. “If there is an opportunity to resume play, even if it looks different than what we’ve done historically, we should be modeling it.”

The calendar dictates that those decisions are going to come soon, backed up by the fact that Silver told players two weeks ago that he wants to be able to bring forward a return-to-play plan in “two to four weeks.” By that timeframe, the window is about to open.

“I’m really excited about the possibility of coming back,” Cleveland forward Kevin Love said in remarks broadcast on the NBA’s Twitter channel this week. “I think there’s so much good that can come from it. ... People need that escape and as athletes too, we want to get back to what we love most.”

It’s going to be different. Fans won’t be at games, barring some seismic shift in thinking. Home-court advantage won’t exist since games will almost certainly all be at neutral sites. Even the Orlando Magic won’t have the home-court edge; they might be able to use their own homes if the NBA comes to Central Florida, but it’s not like the games will be in their arena.

And someone is probably going to test positive when play resumes. If that happens, he’ll almost certainly have to sit out a minimum of two weeks. If a playoff series is held on an every-other-day basis, that means once someone is positive there’s no way he can return to that series. Imagine if LeBron James or Giannis Antetokounmpo tests positive; the title chances for the Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks would basically be gone in an instant.

But in a season where the NBA is certainly going to lose money, quite possibly $1 billion or more, there is an obvious appetite for getting back to work if safety can be assured.

“This has been like being an anxious kid that wants to do something but can’t, or an anxious dog where you tell him to sit and he looks at you like ‘C’mon bro’ and his tail starts wagging because he’s so excited,” All-Star Bam Adebayo of the Miami Heat said. “It’s been a whole spectrum of the unknown.”

Player Notes
Myles Turner Jul 4 5:20pm ET

Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner has been continuing basketball-related activities for about four or five weeks now. He built a makeshift gym in the family garage, so Turner has found a creative way to stay in shape. Turner was on fire before the NBA went on hiatus, so hopefully he can pick up where he left off. Victor Oladipo has decided to opt out of the upcoming NBA restart. That means Turner and Malcolm Brogdon will be asked to do more on the offensive side of the ball. Both players should see their fantasy value rise with Oladipo sitting out.

OG Anunoby Jul 4 5:20pm ET

Toronto Raptors forward OG Anunoby has been working on his shooting, ball-handling and passing. It sounds like Anunoby wants to be a more versatility player on offense. The 22-year-old has seen his playing time rise to an average of 30.1 minutes per game this season. He's an important part of the Raptors rotation, so these improvements should boost his fantasy value. He probably won't be a great DFS option, but he could become a more popular choice if he enhances his game on the offensive side.

Landry Shamet Jul 4 5:10pm ET

Los Angeles Clippers guard Landry Shamet has tested positive for COVID-19 and won't travel with the team to Orlando. This doesn't mean Shamet won't play, but he'll need to self-isolate and pass two negative tests, then test negative again upon arriving in Orlando. The Clippers first real game of the season is on July 30. There is still plenty of time for Shamet to get healthy and join the team. Reggie Jackson and Lou Williams would see increased value if Shamet for some reason doesn't return in time.

Ben Simmons Jul 3 9:00pm ET

Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons (back) won't be restricted when the season resumes later this month, according to head coach Brett Brown. "Hes good to go and we look forward to watching him with what Im told is, effectively, 100% health," Brown said. He was dealing with a lower back nerve impingement, but the hiatus has given Simmons plenty of time to rest up. It sounds like Simmons will be back to his normal role of playing around 33-36 minutes per game.

Gordon Hayward Jul 3 8:40pm ET

Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward said that he'll leave the bubble in Orlando when his wife goes into labor. Her due date is in September, which would be in the middle of the playoffs. It's not ideal to lose a key player during the playoffs, but it's understandable considering the situation. It'll be tough for the Celtics to fill Hayward's production. Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown will likely be asked to do more if Hayward does step away during the playoffs.

Darius Miller Jul 3 8:30pm ET

New Orleans Pelicans forward Darius Miller (Achilles) is unsure if he'll be ready to play when the NBA resumes play. Miller has not played this season after having surgery last August. He has been unable to get into 5-on-5 action yet, so the team will have to wait before they evaluate him. It's unlikely that Miller would have a big role on the team even if he does return later this month. The Pelicans have plenty of depth, so Miller will likely get lost in the shuffle.

Jusuf Nurkic Jul 3 8:20pm ET

Portland Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic is expected to see playing time at power forward when the season resumes. He hasn't played since March of 2019, but the Blazers reportedly won't have Nurkic on a minutes limit. Nurkic was originally expected to split playing time with Hassan Whiteside, but it doesn't appear that will be the case. It's unclear if the Blazers still plan to start Zach Collins at center, but his value shouldn't decrease from this news.

Tyler Herro Jul 3 8:10pm ET

Miami Heat guard Tyler Herro says that the league shutdown allowed his ankle to 100 percent heal. He returned prior to the hiatus, but his ankle still bothered him at times. "It definitely helped me just so I had more time to recover," Herro said. His fantasy value should be on the rise, but he'll need to compete for touches. Kendrick Nunn, Goran Dragic, and Duncan Robinson will also be fighting for minutes at the guard spots. It'll be interesting to see what the Heat do with their rotations with Herro back to full health.

Kent Bazemore Jul 3 8:00pm ET

Sacramento Kings guard Kent Bazemore mentioned he was hopeful to remain with the organization beyond the 2019-2020 season. His stats have taken a hit this season, but he is averaging 23.5 minutes per game through 20 games with Sacramento. Head coach Luke Walton said Bazemore was "a big part of [the Kings] having a little bit of success." Bazemore is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. The Kings could likely bring him back on a reasonably cheap deal since he struggled this season. However, fantasy owners shouldn't expect much production from Bazemore despite him averaging decent playing time.

Victor Oladipo Jul 3 7:40pm ET

Indiana Pacers guard Victor Oladipo has decided to opt out of the upcoming NBA restart in Orlando. "I truly believe continuing on the course Im on and getting fully healthy for the 2020-21 season is the right decision for me," says Oladipo. Back in March, Oladipo said that he still was not 100 percent healthy from his knee surgery. He has been trying to play through it, but his production has suffered because of it. Aaron Holiday, Justin Holiday, and T.J. McConnell will all benefit from the loss of Oladipo.

Eric Gordon Jul 2 5:20pm ET

Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon (knee) said that he is back to being 100 percent healthy. He has reportedly lost 12 pounds as of late May, so hopefully that will help with his lingering knee problems. Gordon has been unable to contribute like he wants to because of injuries. His production is way down, but hopefully he can get back to playing like he wants to now that he's healthy. His fantasy value should increase with his knee issues behind him.

De'Aaron Fox Jul 2 5:00pm ET

Sacramento Kings guard De'Aaron Fox has begun talking about a contract extension with the organization. "I see myself being here. I want to be here," says Fox. It appears that the two sides have mutual interest, but the financial impact of the league's shutdown could make things more difficult. Fox is averaging a career-high 20.4 points, 6.8 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game. His fantasy value appears to be on the rise, but we'll see if the two sides can come to an agreement this offseason.

Ricky Rubio Jul 2 4:50pm ET

Phoenix Suns guard Ricky Rubio is expected to see less playing time during the upcoming NBA restart. Head coach Monty Williams does not want the veteran guard to suffer a needless injury. The Suns have a small chance of catching the No. 8 seed, so there is no point for them to go all-in. Devin Booker will likely see his playing time take a hit as well. The Suns have a bunch of guards, so it might be a committee approach to fill the void. It sounds like most of the Suns starters will have decreased fantasy value heading into the restart.

Michael Porter Jr. Jul 2 4:40pm ET

Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. has a good chance at playing in the upcoming postseason, according to head coach Mike Malone. "I look forward to seeing how hell handle [postseason minutes] with this being his first time going through it," said Malone. His season has been up and down, but it's going to be tough for Porter to earn significant playing time. The Nuggets are covered in terms of depth, so Porter carving out a ton of minutes is highly unlikely. It'll be nice to see him get some playing time in the playoffs, but his fantasy value won't change much.

Devin Booker Jul 2 4:40pm ET

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker could be looking at less playing time when the season resumes later this month. Head coach Monty Williams wants to play Booker less than his current 36.1 minutes per game out of caution. The Suns are six games out of the No. 8 seed, which means there's a small chance they make a run at the playoffs. The Suns don't want to risk any long-term damage to Booker over a few games. It's unclear which players are going to benefit with Booker playing less. Ricky Rubio and Deandre Ayton could see more chances with the ball on offense. DFS players should take notice that Booker could have slightly less value during the restart.

Zach Collins Jul 2 4:30pm ET

Portland Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic and forward Zach Collins are expected to join the starting five when the season resumes, according to head coach Terry Stotts. Both players are returning from injuries that have sidelined them for most of the regular season. Trevor Ariza has decided to opt out of the restart, so Carmelo Anthony is the favorite to take over the starting small forward role. Hassan Whiteside is expected to move to the bench with Nurkic returning. It should be a 50/50 split between the two at center. It's unclear how much playing time Collins will receive when the league returns. Anthony and Collins should see increased fantasy value, while Whiteside's will take a hit.

Mike Conley Jul 2 4:30pm ET

Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley is expected to see a larger role on the team with Bojan Bogdanovic (wrist) sidelined for the upcoming NBA restart. "There will be more opportunity, and Mike is in position to take a lot of that," says teammate Joe Ingles. Bogdanovic was averaging 20.2 points through roughly 33.1 minutes per game. That is quite a lot of scoring and playing time to fill. The Jazz are expected to split up the playing time between multiple players. However, Conley could end up benefiting the most from the loss of Bogdanovic. It hasn't been a great year for Conley in terms of production, but this will be his final chance of the season to be a reliable fantasy contributor.

Anthony Davis Jul 2 4:20pm ET

Los Angeles Lakers center Anthony Davis (elbow) says that the NBA shutdown has allowed him to get back to being 100 percent healthy. He was dealing with a minor elbow issue and a number of other problems during the early part of March. Davis mentioned that having the hiatus has given him enough time to rest and get back to full health. He could be seeing more time at the center position if Dwight Howard decides to sit out during the upcoming restart. Davis could see his fantasy value slightly increase with the possibility of Howard sitting out and being back to full health.

Jakob Poeltl Jul 2 4:10pm ET

San Antonio Spurs center Jakob Poeltl mentioned that he is ready to step up with LaMarcus Aldridge (shoulder) done for the season. Losing a big man, I have to step up, said Poeltl. Im going to take on that challenge." Poeltl is averaging 5.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 16.6 minutes this season. He has started 10 games, but mostly comes off the bench with Aldridge holding down the center role. Trey Lyles, Rudy Gay, and Poeltl will all be asked to step up with Aldridge sidelined. Poeltl is expected to start at center, so he should see an increase in fantasy value during the restart.

Kemba Walker Jul 1 8:50pm ET

Boston Celtics guard Kemba Walker (knee) is reportedly ready to go during the upcoming NBA restart. Walker has been dealing with knee issues all season long, but having a few months off because of the hiatus has helped him. "I really needed to use that break. It definitely helped me get back to myself and start to feel comfortable on my knee," said Walker. It does not sound like the Celtics plan to limit Walker at all during the restart. He was not shooting well before the hiatus, but getting back to full health was key for Walker.