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Into the unknown: NBA teams face concerns outside of bubble

Fri Aug 14 2:38am ET
By BRIAN MAHONEY
AP Basketball Writer

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) Luke Walton was trying to find the right words to motivate his players to finish the season strong.

The Sacramento Kings had been eliminated from playoff contention, which was nothing new for the team with the NBA's longest streak of missing the postseason.

Yet, even players who'd spent their whole careers with the organization had never heard the type of speech their coach made this week. This wasn't the normal talk of playing for pride, of trying to make an impression for next season.

''He said something like, `We don't know when the basketball is going to come back after this time,''' guard Bogdan Bogdanovic said.

The 22 teams who qualified for the NBA's restart will be down to 16 by the end of the weekend, when the playoff bracket is set. The other six clubs exit World Disney World the same way as tourists who normally pack the place.

Their fun is over. Now it's back to the real world, and the real world in 2020 is an unsettling place.

''The unknown, none of us like that,'' Washington coach Scott Brooks said.

Uncertainty awaits at the end of every season for teams that miss the playoffs. Coaches might not be retained. Free agents may not be re-signed.

This time, though, the questions go far beyond simple basketball matters. The coronavirus pandemic forces teams to wonder whether they will be safe, and when - or where - they might be back together again.

''I mean, we're leaving the happiest and safest place on earth and it's definitely going to be tough, but it's also going to be exciting because we all get to see our families and that's what we miss the most,'' Brooks said. ''But we don't know what the next step is going to be.''

NBA teams have been on campus since early July and there has not been a player test positive for the coronavirus during that time. Meanwhile, the virus has raged on elsewhere in the U.S., strengthening in some places as the number of cases in the country soared past 5 million.

More than 750,000 have been killed worldwide and there have been more than 20 million known infections.

With only a limited number of people allowed inside the bubble and a commitment among them to making sure it worked, players could count on a safe environment. They were tested daily and reminders about mask wearing, social distancing and hand washing were so ubiquitous that Brooks said the Wizards could pretty much memorize the video the league gave them.

''Honestly, the NBA's done a great job,'' New Orleans guard Jrue Holiday said. ''This has been the safest place on earth. Seriously, the safest place on earth.''

Players aren't assured of that security now. Mask wearing isn't required in some places, not enforced in others. A common commitment to following medical recommendations is one of the reasons the U.S. has struggled so badly to slow the spread of the virus in the first place.

Walton said there is obvious concern for those already gone or on their way out of Florida.

''And I think one of the biggest challenges for us who have been in this bubble - there's been zero positive tests and it's been such a safe and natural movement going on throughout here - (is) readjusting to what's happening outside of the bubble,'' he said.

The Kings' Harrison Barnes, Buddy Hield, Alex Len and Jabari Parker had already tested positive before the restart, so the Kings know the dangers of the virus. Walton said his players will need to continue following the same precautions they did while at Disney.

But there are still basketball issues.

A December start has been targeted for the 2020-21 season and the NBA would love for it to be in home markets with fans in the arenas, but those are far from guaranteed. Teams won't be able to prepare for it in normal ways, not while they're still limited to voluntary workouts in their facilities.

''A lot of the offseason is normally based on player development, where you send coaches all over the country to work with your guys every day,'' Walton said. ''And a lot of that won't be able to happen and we won't know a start date for who knows how long.''

Concerns about the unknown, Walton noted, are being faced by people all over the world. NBA teams have been shielded for a little while, but the Pelicans, Kings and Wizards, and soon more teams, have lost that now.

They will miss out on more than playoff bonus money. They will miss the comforts of campus, the place where they had all the answers. And for a young team like the Pelicans, who already had to learn NBA life in the strangest season ever, the offseason could be even more challenging.

''Still kind of getting used to this league,'' Holiday said of his teammates, ''definitely in a weird year which I feel like nobody's ever really dealt with this before, or even what's going to happen in the foreseeable future.''

Player Notes
Danny Green Sep 23 5:10pm ET

Los Angeles Lakers guard Danny Green (finger) is listed as probable for Thursday's Game 4 versus the Denver Nuggets. He tweaked his left ring finger on his non-shooting hand. Green is fully expected to suit up for this one. He hasn't put together great fantasy value during the playoffs, but has had his moments. Alex Caruso (wrist) and Rajon Rondo might see more minutes if Green does sit out. Fantasy owners should check back for another update closer to tip-off on Thursday.

Mitchell Robinson Sep 23 5:00pm ET

New York Knicks center Mitchell Robinson has decided to sit out the upcoming voluntary workouts in the bubble. He did go through some individual workouts last week, but has chosen to not attend these events. The workouts start on Wednesday, but Robinson won't participate due to personal reasons. It would've been nice to see Robinson get in some extra work with head coach Tom Thibodeau. However, there is plenty of time for that with the season likely not starting until January. Robinson should have promising upside for fantasy leagues next season.

Buddy Hield Sep 23 5:00pm ET

Sacramento Kings guard Buddy Hield had a fairly rocky season, but did find some success coming off the bench with the second unit. Kings general manager Monte McNair praised Hield and mentioned that he is an important piece to their vision. Hield didn't seem too happy about playing off the bench, so we'll see if that changes going forward. McNair mentioned that he wants head coach Luke Walton to increase the pace next season. Whether he's starting or off the bench, Hield is worth grabbing in the middle rounds of most drafts next season.

Alex Caruso Sep 23 5:00pm ET

Los Angeles Lakers guard Alex Caruso (wrist) is listed as probable for Thursday's Game 4 contest against the Denver Nuggets. Caruso mentioned that his left wrist felt a little stiff after Tuesday's loss. He'll get an MRI on Wednesday, but Caruso is expected to play through the issue. Fantasy owners should check back for another update before tip-off on Thursday. Rajon Rondo would likely see more minutes coming his way if Caruso sits out.

Dion Waiters Sep 22 5:40pm ET

Los Angeles Lakers guard Dion Waiters (groin) is expected to miss Tuesday's Game 3 contest against the Denver Nuggets. Waiters has missed each of the last five games due to a left groin injury. He is currently listed as doubtful for this game, so it's unlikely that he suits up here. His absence won't mean a whole lot for the Lakers rotation. Alex Caruso and Rajon Rondo could see a few extra minutes coming their way.

JJ Redick Sep 22 5:30pm ET

New Orleans Pelicans guard J.J. Redick mentioned that he'd like to play another four years in the league. "I realized this year I want to keep playing as long as possible. My goal is to play four more years," said Redick. He'll walk away from the game when he turns 40 years old, assuming his body can hold up until then. It's not unrealistic to think that Redick can play four more seasons after averaging 15.3 points this season. He has one year left on his current deal with the Pelicans. Redick usually carries some low-end fantasy value, assuming he continues to play like he did this season.

Tristan Thompson Sep 22 5:30pm ET

Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson has shown interest in staying with the organization next season. It sounds like there is mutual interest between both sides, but it's unclear if a deal will happen. Bringing back Thompson wouldn't make much sense if Andre Drummond accepts his player option, which he is expected to do. Thompson might be forced to test his luck on the free agent market. He won't have much value in fantasy hoops if stays in Cleveland alongside Drummond.

Romeo Langford Sep 22 5:20pm ET

Boston Celtics guard Romeo Langford (wrist) is scheduled to undergo surgery on Tuesday and will miss the rest of the postseason. He'll undergo surgery to repair the scapholunate ligament in his right wrist. The Celtics have not given a timetable for the young guards return yet. However, the season isn't expected to start until around December, so Langford should have plenty of time to recover. His absence won't mean much for the Celtics rotation. Hopefully he'll be able to contribute to the team next season.

Paul George Sep 21 4:10pm ET

Los Angeles Clippers guard Paul George and forward Kawhi Leonard are committed to playing alongside each other. Both players have one year left on their deals, but have player options for the following season. Obviously, they didn't get the result they wanted this season, but they'll have another shot at it soon. The Clippers are desperate to make this core work after trading seven first-rounders and a future star in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for George. Both players should remain top tier fantasy options in leagues next season.

Will Barton Sep 21 2:30pm ET

Denver Nuggets guard/forward Will Barton (knee) is not expected to return to the team at any point of the Western Conference Finals against the Lakers, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic. The 29-year-old has not appeared in a game since the NBA restart in Orlando as he continues to rehabilitate from a knee injury that he suffered earlier in the season. With the Nuggets two games away from elimination in the Western Conference Finals, Barton's next game action will likely be delayed to the start of the 2020-21 season after averaging 15.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.1 steals on 45% shooting from field goal range through 58 games during the 2019-20 season.

Dylan Windler Sep 20 12:50pm ET

Cleveland Cavaliers forward Dylan Windler (leg) is ready to participate in 5-on-5 workouts. He was a first round pick by the Cavs in 2019, but didn't play in a single game for the team. Windler suffered a leg injury that resulted in surgery, which cost him the entire season. It sounds like he is making progress and getting ready for next year. However, he'll face an uphill battle for minutes after the emergence of Kevin Porter Jr. towards the end of the regular season. Windler could find some minutes in Cleveland next season, but probably won't play enough to warrant drafting in most formats.

Davis Bertans Sep 16 4:30pm ET

Washington Wizards forward Davis Bertans decided to sit out the Orlando bubble in order to preserve his health for free agency. Bertans is an upcoming free agent and the Wizards had a slim chance of making the playoffs. He didn't believe it was worth the risk after not playing basketball for almost two months. Bertans sitting out shouldn't hinder his value whatsoever on the free agent market. He'll be a highly coveted player, but the Wizards are likely going to be aggressive to keep him in Washington.

Giannis Antetokounmpo Sep 15 5:40pm ET

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo had a three-hour meeting with co-owner Marc Lasry on Saturday. They reportedly discussed the season and how the Bucks can improve their roster. Lasry confirmed that he is willing to go over the luxury tax this offseason. It sounds like the Bucks are trying everything to keep Antetokounmpo happy in Milwaukee. We'll see what happens during the offseason.

Gordon Hayward Sep 15 5:40pm ET

Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward (ankle) has been ruled out for Tuesday's Game 1 against the Miami Heat. He was listed as doubtful, but it appears Hayward will remain sidelined for this one. Hayward is likely going to need to go through a full practice before being allowed back on the court. The team is hopeful that Hayward will be able to play at some point during this series. It's unclear whether or not he'll be limited when he does return. Fantasy owners should keep an eye out for updates. In the meantime, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart will benefit with increased playing time.

Javonte Green Sep 15 5:30pm ET

Boston Celtics guard Javonte Green (knee) is listed as doubtful for Game 1 against the Miami Heat on Tuesday. He left the bubble in August to undergo an arthroscopic procedure to repair a small meniscal tear in his right knee. Green hasn't been able to play since then, but is surprisingly not listed as out here. Listing him as doubtful is actually an upgrade for Green. Regardless, Green won't have a big enough role in the rotation to do any damage in DFS lineups.

Danuel House Jr. Sep 11 3:30pm ET

Houston Rockets forward Danuel House (personal) could miss the rest of the playoff series against the Los Angeles Lakers. The NBA is currently doing an investigation on House allegedly sneaking a female into the bubble. It doesn't sound like he'll get back on the court until the NBA makes their decision. That means, Jeff Green, Austin Rivers, and Ben McLemore will see more playing time coming their way.

Gordon Hayward Sep 11 3:20pm ET

Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward (ankle) is back in the bubble and expected to clear quarantine on Friday. However, he is still not close to getting back on the court after suffering a Grade 3 ankle sprain in mid-August. The hope is that Hayward could return at some point next series, assuming the Celtics advance. Until then, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown will continue to have increased value.

Clint Capela Sep 9 2:50pm ET

Atlanta Hawks center Clint Capela (foot) has been cleared to begin doing 5-on-5 workouts. The Hawks are expected to begin group workouts in the end of September, so Capela should be taking part in that. He was traded to Atlanta mid-season, but has not played a game for them yet due to a plantar fasciitis issue. He is fully expected to be ready for the 2020-2021 season. It'll be interesting to see what kind of fantasy value he produces alongside John Collins.

Nicolas Batum Sep 9 2:40pm ET

Charlotte Hornets forward Nicolas Batum is expected to pick up his $27 million player option for next season. It is far more than he'd get in free agency, so there's no reason for him not to accept the deal. It's the final year of his contract, so the Hornets are likely going to attempt to move Batum. Sadly, it's going to be difficult to find a trade partner when he's owed that much money. The Hornets are likely going to be stuck with Batum for at least one more season.

Danuel House Jr. Sep 9 2:40pm ET

Houston Rockets forward Danuel House (personal) was unable to suit up for Tuesday's Game 3 against the Los Angeles Lakers. He is dealing with a personal issue, so it's unclear if he'll suit up next game. Robert Covington (face), Jeff Green, Austin Rivers, and Ben McLemore would benefit if House is out. Covington is the best fantasy option out of the bunch.