Coronavirus Updates: Tsai, “Bubble,” Vogel, Schedule

The battle against COVID-19 in New York is getting a boost from a few NBA sources, writes Brian Lewis of The New York Post. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced today that Nets owner Joe Tsai is donating 1,000 ventilators to the effort.

“The Chinese government is going to facilitate a donation of 1,000 ventilators that will come into JFK today. And I want to thank Joe Tsai and Clara Tsai and Jack Ma from Alibaba, and the Nets – but I’m not stating a preference – for their donation,” Cuomo said. “That’s going to be very helpful. And I want to thank (consul General Huang Ping) very much for his help in making all of this happen, because this is a big deal and it’s going to make a significant difference for us.”

Cuomo also tweeted that the NBA is contributing 1 million surgical masks in collaboration with the Knicks and Nets for essential workers in the state. New York has already reported more than 113,000 coronavirus cases and more than 3,000 deaths.

There’s more NBA-related news about the virus:

  • A contingency plan to finish the season in a quarantined “bubble” may be harder than it sounds, states Tom Haberstroh of NBC Sports Philadelphia. He talked to Dr. Caroline Buckee, an associate professor of Epidemiology at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who believes it would be too difficult to ensure that everyone who has to be involved is virus-free. “It sounds like potentially a bad idea,” she said. “I don’t think it’s realistic to completely isolate and quarantine the players. For a start, there are people who will need to clean their rooms, feed them, wash their clothes, janitorial staff and so forth. And those people will not be protected and they will be interacting with their communities. It is very difficult to truly self-isolate. Purposefully putting people at risk seems foolish.”
  • Jackie MacMullan of ESPN examines how coaches are dealing with an unprecedented situation that leaves them with no set schedule for the first time in months. “I’ve mentally flipped my seasons,” said Lakers coach Frank Vogel. “I’m in the summer now. I really feel it’s necessary for us to mentally decompress. It’s a better mindset than trying to power through this. If we sprint through what could potentially be a two- to three-month break, with workouts and meetings and projects and film throughout, will we be fresh when it matters? We need to realize ‘when it matters’ could be July or August.”
  • Conflicts with Major League Baseball telecasts may be the biggest impediment to moving the NBA schedule back two months, observes Keith Smith of NBC Sports. Twenty-two NBA teams share a regional sports network market with MLB clubs, creating problems if both leagues have a large number of regular season games throughout spring.

Wizards Notes: Sheppard, Centers, Wall, Draft

The Wizards will focus on improving their defense, especially on the interior, during the upcoming offseason, general manager Tommy Sheppard tells Fred Katz of The Athletic. Washington ranked last in the league in opponents’ points per possession, although the numbers were better over the last month of the season. They allowed teams to shoot 66% from the restricted area, which ranks third from the bottom.

“We’re gonna improve defensively, and a lot of that is by repetition and continuity,” Sheppard said. “We certainly look inside. Maybe we can get some more physicality there and get some more help out on the wings. There’s a lot of need that comes, but sometimes those needs get met by just staying patient (with your) players.”

He also talked about the need to find a rim protector, which the Wizards didn’t have with the center spot being manned by Thomas Bryant and Moritz Wagner, along with Ian Mahinmi, who is headed for free agency. Katz suggests Wagner could be effective as a power forward if the team can find a shot blocker for him to play alongside.

Although Washington will be over the salary cap when the offseason arrives, the team will have its full mid-level and biannual exceptions available, along with a lottery pick, to pursue a defensive-minded center.

There’s more Wizards news, all courtesy of Katz:

  • Sheppard is counting on some of the defensive improvement to come from the return of John Wall, who didn’t play at all this season while recovering from a torn Achilles. Washington was ineffective defensively with Isaiah Thomas at point guard before he was traded in February. “When you get John back, that guy was on the All-Defensive Team a few years ago,” Sheppard said. “John can contain the dribble, and that takes a lot of pressure off the defense, too.”
  • The Wizards, who occupy the ninth spot in our Reverse Standings, are planning a “best player available” strategy for the draft, Sheppard added. “You’re talking eight players 23 and younger (on the current roster),” he said. “Throw Jerome (Robinson) in that mix, this kinda gives us a little better opportunity to, ‘Hey, let’s look at the best player available.’ … It just gives you a little bit more options. You wanna draft for your need if it’s possible. But if it’s not possible, you don’t just grab somebody to grab them. You do, ‘Hey, is there somebody else that can add value to your roster?’ And maybe that person is very interesting to some other team — whatever. But I don’t think we can say today, ‘Hey, this is exactly who we need,’ because that player is just not gonna be in college or free agency.”
  • If the NBA season does resume, coach Scott Brooks cautioned that players will need adequate preparation time before games can begin. “NBA players, they can miss six or seven weeks with an injury and have three or four practices and all of a sudden come out and get you 19 points and nine rebounds,” Brooks said. “But I don’t know the answer. We definitely need some time. … I would imagine a week to 10 days is probably the best that we would get. And hopefully we get that.”

NBA Planning H-O-R-S-E Competition

The NBA is working with ESPN to develop a televised H-O-R-S-E competition that would include several star players, tweets ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

The plan is for players to remain in isolation, likely in home gyms, while putting up shots against competitors. Details of the event are still being worked out, but it would provide a way to create television programming while the league remains on hiatus.

H-O-R-S-E is a popular game on playgrounds where a player attempts a shot, and if it goes in, a competitor has to make the same shot from the same spot on the court. Each failure to do so results in a letter, and the first player to spell out H-O-R-S-E is eliminated.

President See Fans Returning By August Or September

President Donald Trump expressed hope that fans will be able to attend games by August or September during a conference call today with commissioners of several leagues, according to Adam Schefter and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. Trump also said the NFL should be able to start its season on time, although the authors add that it’s not clear if medical experts agree with the timeline.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver noted that the sports leagues were the first major U.S. enterprises to shut down and would like to be leaders in restarting the economy once public health officials provide an “all clear” signal. The NBA was the first professional league to suspend play, making the announcement March 11.

A return to normalcy by late summer would come too late for the NBA to have any hope of finishing its season in front of crowds, but the league has discussed holding a few regular season games and possibly an abbreviated playoff format in empty arenas.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said during a press conference today that he’s not optimistic about the NFL starting on time in his state, according to Eric Ting of SFGate.

“We’ve all seen the headlines over the last couple days in Asia where they opening up certain businesses and now they’re starting to roll back those openings because they’re starting (to see) some spread and there’s a boomerang,” Newsom said. “One has to be very cautious here, one has to be careful not to overpromise.”

Also during the call, Trump suggested that the leagues should work together to lobby for the return of tax credits that used to be given for entertainment expenses, sources tell Schefter and Wojnarowski. Those credits, which include some deductions for concessions and tickets, could make it easier for fans to attend games while the economy works its way through the current downturn.

Along with the NBA and NFL, the call included executives from Major League Baseball, the NHL, Major League Soccer, WNBA, WWE, the PGA Tour, UFC, IndyCar, LPGA and Breeders’ Cup.

Northwest Notes: Pritchard, Paul, Millsap, Thunder

Oregon point guard Payton Pritchard and Michigan State forward Xavier Tillman are two potential draft targets for the Jazz, Tony Jones of The Athletic opines. Pritchard could replace free agent Emmanuel Mudiay, while Tillman would add toughness and defensive versatility, Jones continues. Utah owns a late first-round pick. Vanderbilt swingman Aaron Nesmith, a prolific shooter, is another player the franchise could consider at that spot, Jones adds.

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • The Thunder’s best chance for long-term improvement is to cash in on Chris Paul‘s big season and move him this offseason, according to John Hollinger of The Athletic. Paul — who still has two years left on his contract, including a $44.2MM player option in the final year — will never again be higher in value than this summer, in Hollinger’s view. Paul’s situation is similar to that of Mike Conley‘s last offseason, when he was traded to Utah due to the size of his contract and the numbers of players likely to be required to match salaries, Hollinger adds. Hollinger and The Athletic’s Erik Horne break down the Thunder’s roster and outlook in their comprehensive story.
  • If unrestricted free agent Paul Millsap re-signs with the Nuggets, it will be at a vastly reduced rate, Mike Singer of the Denver Post speculates. Millsap, who is making $30MM this season, would probably have to settle for a short-term contract with a starting salary of $10-13MM.  Re-signing fellow power forward Jerami Grant, who is likely to opt out and become an unrestricted free agent, is probably a bigger priority, Singer adds.
  • The Thunder are in danger of losing their first-round draft pick, Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman points out. It’s a scenario that we previously noted. Oklahoma City traded the pick in November 2016 with top-20 protection to Philadelphia for Grant. OKC is tied for the ninth-best record in the NBA, which means if the draft order remains in place, the 76ers would get the Thunder’s pick at No. 21 or 22.

Bryant, Garnett, Duncan Joined By Six Others In Hall Class

Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan have officially been named to the Naismith Hall of Fame Class of 2020, Tim Bontemps of ESPN tweets. They are joined by Rudy Tomjanovich, Eddie Sutton, long-time WNBA star Tamika Catchings, Kim Mulkey, Barbara Stevens and Patrick Baumann, Bontemps adds.

In essence, every finalist for Hall of Fame consideration this year received enough votes for induction. A finalist needs 18 of 24 votes from the Honors Committee for election into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Word leaked on Friday that Bryant, Garnett, Duncan and Tomjanovich would be inducted, though it was a foregone conclusion that the late Bryant, Garnett and Duncan — three of the game’s all-time greats — would received the required votes.

Bryant was an 18-time All-Star and five-time NBA champion, winning the MVP award in 2008 to go along with a pair of Finals MVPs. He is fourth on the league’s all-time scoring list and won scoring titles in 2006 and 2007.

Duncan won three Finals MVPs and five titles in total. Like Bryant, he was named to an All-NBA team 15 times over the course of his career. The longtime Spurs‘ big man was one of the best players of his era, ranking sixth on the NBA’s all-time rebounding list and fifth in blocked shots.

Garnett earned 15 All-Star nods, an MVP award (in 2004), a Defensive Player of the Year award (2008), and a title in 2008 with the Celtics. Garnett, who began his career with the Timberwolves, ranks in the NBA’s top 20 in career points, rebounds, blocks, and steals.

Tomjanovich is one of just three coaches to win both an NBA championship and an Olympic gold medal. He coached the Rockets to a pair of championships in the mid-1990s and had an impressive career as a Rockets player prior to his coaching days, earning five NBA All-Star nods in his 11-year career.

Sutton is a four-time National Coach of the Year and was the first coach to lead four different schools to the NCAA Tournament.

Catchings is a 10-time WNBA All-Star and four-time Olympic gold medalist. She was also named WNBA MVP in 2011. Mulkey has coached Baylor to three NCAA national championships, including last season. Stevens has coached in the collegiate ranks for over 40 years and is the fifth coach in NCAA women’s basketball history to reach 1,000 career wins. Baumann is a longtime FIBA executive.

It remains to be seen if this year’s induction ceremony will take place as scheduled on August 29 in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Atlantic Notes: Embiid, Kanter, Robinson, Musa

Sixers center Joel Embiid is joining forces with team managing partner Josh Harris and co-managing partner David Blitzer on a $1.3MM contribution to fund testing for 1,000 health care workers in the Philadelphia region, ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne reports. The donation has been confirmed in a team press release.

Embiid said he learned that “testing for COVID-19 antibodies has the chance to let health care workers know if they are immune to the virus.” The big man notes that the workers who have immunity can work in “risky environments” and donate blood to help patients recover. Embiid’s partnership with team ownership should quell speculation that he has a fractious relationship with the organization which could eventually lead to his departure.

We have more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Celtics center Enes Kanter remains hopeful that the remainder of the season, or at least the playoffs, can be played, The Boston Globe’s Adam Himmelsbach writes. “We are competitors man, so we want to go out there and finish the season,’‘ Kanter said on Zoom. “Especially, like, it’s crazy — we actually have a really good chance to go out there and win a championship.”
  • Knicks center Mitchell Robinson might have the league’s most team-friendly contract, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post. The big man has a $1.66MM salary for next season with a $1.8MM team option for 2021/22, Berman notes. The Knicks’ net rating improves by 5.3 points per 100 possessions with Robinson on the court, Berman adds.
  • The Nets’ European players — Dzanan Musa, Rodions Kurucs and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot — have been separated from their families indefinitely during the coronavirus pandemic, Brian Lewis of the New York Post notes. Travel restrictions prevent them from reuniting with their families. “They are coping, and their families are coping with this. But that’s really difficult,” Nets GM Sean Marks said. “Their families are completely separated. They’re not in the same time zone, they’re in completely different countries, and obviously there is a travel ban in place.”

Pessimism Growing About Resumption Of Season

There’s growing pessimism around the league that the 2019/20 season can be resumed, Brian Windhorst of ESPN said on SportsCenter (video link).

While the NBA is willing to go deep into the summer to complete the season, recent developments have led the league to discuss the implications of cancellation.

“It’s been a bad week,” Windhorst said. “I think there was optimism about progress a week ago. Some things that have happened this week have turned it south about what could happened.”

China’s decision to halt the Chinese Basketball Association’s plan to resume play this month has been a major factor.

“They (the CBA) really believed if they just tested the players’ temperature all this time that it would work,” Windhorst said. “The Chinese are finding that asymptomatic carriers are causing maybe a second wave in that country and they’re just slamming the brakes on sports.”

Unless widespread, quick tests for the novel coronavirus become available in the near future, league officials can’t see a way to resume play and ensure safety for all involved.

“It is clear that the NBA is angling to set up a deal that enables them to shut the season down,” Windhorst said. “They don’t have to do that yet. The way they’re negotiating, they’re leaving an option either way. But they’re not having talks about how to restart the league. They’re having financial talks about what would happen if the season shuts down. I think there’s a significant amount of pessimism.”

Bulls Notes: Markkanen, Porter, Boylen, White

Bulls power forward Lauri Markkanen was unhappy with the direction of the offense under coach Jim Boylen and his role in it, according to Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times. Markkanen’s frustration had reached a point where he’d rather be dealt if organization changes weren’t made, Cowley continues. It’s possible the new front office executive — the Bulls are lining up interviews with candidates — could look to trade Markkanen if they feel the relationship is beyond repair, Cowley adds.

We have more on the Bulls:

  • Within that same story, Cowley writes that the Bulls are keeping a close eye on the Heat. In addition to seeking an interview with Miami’s assistant GM Adam Simon, Chicago has also considered emulating the Heat’s front office structure, and has done homework on free agents like Goran Dragic and Derrick Jones.
  • Otto Porter Jr. will likely be in a lame duck situation as the team’s small forward next season, Cowley writes in a separate story. Porter will surely exercise his $28.5MM option for next season after an injury-plagued campaign and his salary will come off the books just in time for the much-anticipated 2021 free-agent class. Boylen has even hinted he might have Porter come off the bench next season.
  • Boylen’s future with the organization will be determined by the lead executive the Bulls hire, K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago reports. Boylen has the support of COO Michael Reinsdorf and executive VP John Paxson but a desire of the new executive to hire his own coach wouldn’t be a deal-breaker, Johnson continues, confirming one of his earlier stories. While Reinsdorf has been handling the search, Paxson has been a driving force on the need for change and a more modern front office, Johnson adds.
  • The team’s ceiling for next season with its current group is a low-end playoff seed unless 2019 lottery pick Coby White develops rapidly, Kevin Pelton of ESPN opines. White needs to emerge as a knockdown shooter, something he flashed late in the season.  It’s unlikely the new executive will pursue an extension with Markkanen, but if he bounces back and breaks out, the Bulls can still benefit by utilizing his “relatively modest” $20.2MM cap hold as he enters restricted free agency, Pelton adds.

International Notes: Beaubois, Spain, Nurse, James

Anadolu Efes of Turkey and former NBA guard Rodrigue Beaubois have reached a contract extension agreement until 2022, Sportando’s Dario Skerletic relays via Israeli reporter Roi Cohen. Beaubois played four seasons for Dallas from 2009-13. This season, the French guard averaged 11.1 PPG over 43 games.

We have more news from around the basketball world:

  • Spain’s ACB league has been suspended indefinitely, according to Sportando’s Emiliano Carchia. Play was already suspended until April 24th due to the coronavirus outbreak in the country. The league’s teams will decide how to proceed n the upcoming weeks.
  • Raptors coach Nick Nurse remains fully committed to coaching Team Canada in Tokyo Olympic qualifiers, Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports tweets. Nurse is “really excited” about it and hopes the Olympics, rescheduled for next summer, can go forward as planned.
  • A trio of former NBA players heads the list of the best players in Europe, according to Jeff Greer of The Athletic. A survey of 21 coaches and players overseas choose former Phoenix and New Orleans guard Mike James as the top player in Europe this season in a close votes. Guard Shane Larkin and forward Nikola Mirotic tied for the second-most votes. Maccabi Tel Aviv forward Deni Avdija, a likely top-10 pick in this year’s draft, is considered the top international NBA prospect.