NBA Continues To Report Zero New COVID-19 Cases Among Players

The NBA and its players union have issued another update on coronavirus testing taking place at the Walt Disney World campus in Florida, announcing today in a press release that there have been no confirmed positive coronavirus tests since the last update on July 29.

During that time, 343 players have been tested for COVID-19, according to today’s announcement. It’s the third consecutive update from the NBA and the NBPA that confirms there have been no new coronavirus cases among players at the Disney campus.

Since teams began arriving at the campus on July 7, only two coronavirus cases have been reported. Both occurred prior to July 13 and were caught before the affected players cleared quarantine, so the league’s protocols have worked exactly as intended so far.

Although the NBA must still get through a couple more months in Orlando, the fact that there has been no COVID-19 outbreak to date – or even a threat of an outbreak – is a very promising sign for the league as it looks to complete its 2019/20 season.

Wizards Notes: Playoffs, Brown, Development, Lottery

The Wizards entered the summer with a 24-40 record, worst among the 22 teams invited to Orlando, and things haven’t improved in the last week. Washington is off to an 0-3 start, with a Sunday loss to the Nets potentially driving a dagger into the team’s postseason aspirations.

Although they aren’t technically eliminated from playoff contention yet, the Wizards could be as soon as today. The NBA announced this morning that Washington will be eliminated from the playoffs if they lose to Philadelphia today and the Magic and Nets both win their games.

Orlando and Brooklyn have tough matchups on tap, against the Raptors and Celtics, respectively, so the Wizards’ playoff chances may well survive another day or two. But now that they’re 7.5 games behind the eighth-seeded Magic, it looks like just a matter of time before the Wizards’ odds of forcing a play-in tournament dip to zero.

Here are a few more notes on the Wizards:

  • Although the Wizards haven’t won a game at Walt Disney World yet, the opportunity to have 21-year-old Troy Brown closing Monday’s loss at point guard is an example of the value the franchise sees in playing these games, writes Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington. “We have to see what we have in a lot of different positions. These are great minutes,” head coach Scott Brooks said. “That’s why we’re here. We’re here to get better and we’re here to improve.”
  • Brown’s ball-handling opportunities figure to be cut back next season when John Wall and Bradley Beal return. However, Mike DePrisco of NBC Sports Washington makes the case that the Wizards should still find ways to get the ball into the second-year guard’s hands, since that plays to his strengths.
  • The young players seeing action for the Wizards this summer aren’t just auditioning for roles in next season’s rotation, Hughes writes for NBC Sports Washington. In Hughes’ view, those players could become more appealing trade assets if they take positive steps forward during the restart, increasing the team’s offseason options.
  • Assuming the Wizards are eliminated from the playoffs, they’ll enter the August 20 draft lottery with the ninth-best odds and a 4.5% shot at the No. 1 pick. Washington’s full tentative lottery odds can be found right here.

Injury Notes: Beverley, Dragic, MCW, Nuggets, More

Clippers point guard Patrick Beverley left Tuesday’s game against Phoenix in the first quarter with a left calf injury and didn’t return, as Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN details. The injury isn’t considered serious, but Doc Rivers suggested after the game that the team will play it safe, with the postseason not scheduled to begin until August 17.

“I don’t think it’s bad,” the Clippers’ head coach said. “We’re going to be very cautious, I can tell you that.”

Beverley’s injury occurred just as Lou Williams returned to action for the Clippers following his 10-day quarantine period. If Beverley is able to get back on the court soon and Montrezl Harrell reports to the team within the next week or so, L.A. should be back at full strength before the playoffs get underway.

Here are a few more injury updates from around the NBA:

  • Heat guard Goran Dragic suffered a slight ankle sprain near the end of Tuesday’s win over Boston, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, who tweets that X-rays on the ankle came back negative.
  • Magic guard Michael Carter-Williams, who left Tuesday’s game with a sore left foot, has been diagnosed with a tendon strain after undergoing an MRI, tweets Josh Robbins of The Athletic. Carter-Williams is doubtful to play on Wednesday vs. Toronto.
  • The Nuggets will once again be without Gary Harris (hip) and Will Barton (knee) on Wednesday, but the team has upgraded Jamal Murray (hamstring) to questionable (Twitter link). Denver is in action again on Thursday, so it won’t be a surprise if Murray ends up playing just half of the back-to-back set.
  • Speaking of back-to-backs, the Heat held Jimmy Butler (right ankle soreness) out of the second leg of a back-to-back set on Tuesday, while the Celtics are doing the same with Kemba Walker on Wednesday (Twitter link). Both teams are likely just playing it safe with their All-Stars.

Community Shootaround: Western Conference Playoff Race

When the NBA’s restart got underway last Thursday, the Grizzlies were in the driver’s seat for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference, with at least a 3.5-game cushion on each of their five potential challengers. However, a slow start from the Grizzlies – who have lost three consecutive games to teams chasing them – has created a fascinating, wide-open race for that final playoff spot in the West.

After an 0-3 start, Memphis’ lead for that No. 8 spot is down to 1.5 games, and all five of their challengers are now within 3.5 games. To make matters worse, the Grizzlies will be without key big man Jaren Jackson Jr. for the rest of the season due to a meniscus tear, and the team’s schedule isn’t getting any easier. Contests against Utah, Oklahoma City, Toronto, Boston, and Milwaukee are on tap for the Grizzlies, who will have to hope that some of those Eastern teams are locked into their seeds by the last week of the season and decide to rest some starters.

The Trail Blazers, who currently hold the No. 9 spot, have looked like the biggest threat to Memphis so far in Orlando. With Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins healthy again, Portland is nearly at full strength and has recorded impressive wins over the Grizzlies and Rockets, sandwiching a tough loss to Boston. The Blazers are only a year removed from appearing in the Western Conference Finals. After struggling for much of the season, they’ve recently played more like the 2018/19 squad than the team that went 29-37 before the hiatus.

The Spurs and Suns have also looked rejuvenated since the season resumed. They own a combined 5-1 record so far, with the only blemish coming on Monday, when San Antonio lost a 132-130 heart-breaker to Philadelphia. The Spurs were four games out of the playoffs when the restart began, and the Suns were six games back, but they’re now within just two games and three games, respectively.

The Pelicans got off to a slow start last week, but their schedule is so forgiving that they’re still in a pretty good position to push for the No. 8 or 9 seed. After beating the Grizzlies on Monday, the Pelicans will play their final five seeding games against teams with losing records — Washington, San Antonio, Orlando, and Sacramento (twice). With Zion Williamson rounding into form, New Orleans has the most favorable schedule of any Western playoff contender.

Of course, those two games against the Kings loom large. Sacramento has been one of the summer’s most disappointing teams so far, having lost winnable games to San Antonio, Orlando, and Dallas. But the Kings are still just 3.5 games back of the Grizzlies and aren’t dead yet — those two games against the Pelicans will be massive, and Friday’s matchup against Brooklyn is certainly favorable.

No matter what happens over the next week-and-a-half, it looks like a near certainty at this point that we’ll get a play-in tournament for the No. 8 seed. The No. 8 team can only avoid a play-in tournament by finishing more than four games ahead of the No. 9 team, and right now even the 13th-seeded Kings are withing four games of Memphis.

Positioning will be crucial though. Only two teams can participate in that play-in tournament, so finishing 10th means little. Conversely, finishing in eighth place is massive, since it means only having to win once in the play-in tournament, rather than twice. At this point, there’s no guarantee the Grizzlies hang onto the No. 8 spot entering a play-in tournament — there’s even a chance they could slip to 10th or lower.

We want to know where you stand on the Western Conference playoff race. Has your opinion changed at all through the first six days of summer games? Which two teams do you think we’ll see in a play-in tournament? Which club do you expect to ultimately claim the No. 8 seed and face the Lakers in the first round of the postseason?

Head to the comment section below to weigh in with your thoughts!

New York Notes: Stoute, Thibs, Temple, Crawford

Knicks “branding manager” Steve Stoute is confident he can recruit stars to the team, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post.

Stoute, who joined New York’s front office in January, mentioned in a recent conversation with The Breakfast Club show that he, team president Leon Rose and senior vice president William Wesley have strong relationships with some of the NBA’s top stars. Stoute anticipates they will be able to capitalize on these friendships, making the Knicks an attractive free agent destination once again.

“With having Leon in, World Wide Wes and myself, the three of us, we’re the best sort of team as it relates to being able to speak with free agents,’’ Stoute said of the Knicks’ new front office team.

Though every club’s cap situation is fairly up in the air following the anticipated revenue loss caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the Knicks could have one of the lowest payrolls in the NBA next season, with only about $55MM currently committed to guaranteed salaries. The club could have even more cap flexibility in 2021.

There’s more out of the Empire State:

  • While speaking in a recent press conference, Knicks GM Scott Perry detailed how new head coach Tom Thibodeau won him over during a series of Zoom interviews, according to a separate Marc Berman piece for The New York Post“During this process, it allowed me personally to get to know the man better and really see how our personalities could come together and mesh,” Perry said. “I felt really good about our time talking basketball. He’s got a lot of the same values about the game that I was raised in that came through clear to me throughout the process.’’
  • Despite the Nets being one of the most injury-ravaged squads among the 22 NBA teams in Orlando, wing Garrett Temple expects his Brooklyn teammates to compete, according to Brian Lewis of the New York Post. “We’re trying to win,” Temple said after the seventh-seeded Nets defeated the East’s top-seeded Bucks today. “We’re not going out here to just mess around or have moral victories.”
  • Nets interim head coach Jacque Vaughn is cautiously optimistic about the health status of injured 40-year-old guard Jamal CrawfordBrian Lewis of the New York Post noted in a separate article. Crawford played just five minutes before apparently suffering a strained left hamstring. “I’m telling you, I love having him around and it was awesome to see him on the floor, and look forward to him being on the floor again,” Vaughn said.

Rajon Rondo Returning To Florida To Rehab Off Campus

Veteran Lakers point guard Rajon Rondo will be returning to Florida on Wednesday, per Dave McMenamin of ESPN. While discussing Rondo’s new travel plans, head coach Frank Vogel mentioned that the former four-time All-Star will not immediately return to the NBA’s restart campus in Orlando to quarantine.

According to McMenamin, the plan is for Rondo to continue his rehab close to the NBA’s campus. The veteran point guard fractured his right thumb in a team practice three weeks ago, and underwent surgery to address the injury. At the time, the team projected a six-to-eight-week absence for him.

Rondo’s injury has created more rotation minutes for guards Alex Caruso and Dion Waiters. In the Lakers’ three Orlando games, Waiters is averaging 20.7 MPG and Caruso is averaging 24.9.

Though the 34-year-old Rondo isn’t the defender he once was, the Lakers could still benefit from his playmaking and defensive rebounding acumen in short bursts. Los Angeles is hurting for additional backcourt bodies — the team will be pursuing its 17th title this summer without nominal starting point guard Avery Bradley, who opted out of the season restart due to family health concerns.

Jaren Jackson Jr. Out For Season With Meniscus Tear

Grizzlies big man Jaren Jackson Jr. has been diagnosed with a meniscus tear in his left knee, the team announced today in a press release. The injury, which Jackson sustained during Monday’s loss to the Pelicans, will cause him to miss the rest of the 2019/20 season, according to the club.

Jackson, who will turn 21 in September, is one of Memphis’ most important young building blocks, along with Ja Morant and Brandon Clarke. In his second NBA season, Jackson averaged 17.4 PPG, 4.6 RPG, and 1.6 BPG on .469/.394/.747 shooting in 57 games (28.5 MPG). He missed some time in February and March with a sprain to the same left knee that is now injured again.

Although Jackson is expected to make a full recovery, the injury is an unfortunate development for both him and the Grizzlies, who are clinging to the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference.

Having lost their first three games since play resumed this summer, the Grizzlies are now just two games ahead of the Trail Blazers and Spurs and 2.5 games up on New Orleans. Hanging onto that No. 8 spot – in the eight seeding games and possibly in a play-in tournament – will become an even greater challenge now that Memphis is missing its second-leading scorer.

With Jackson unavailable, the Grizzlies figure to lean more heavily on frontcourt rotation players like Clarke, Jonas Valanciunas, and Anthony Tolliver. Josh Jackson and Gorgui Dieng are among the bench players who should move up on the depth chart.

Jackson, meanwhile, will shift his focus to next season, when he’s under contract for $7.26MM. He’ll become eligible for a rookie scale extension during the 2021 offseason.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Darren Collison: Rumors Of Midseason Comeback Were Overstated

After making a surprise retirement announcement during the summer of 2019, veteran point guard Darren Collison was said to be mulling the idea of coming out of retirement to join either the Lakers or Clippers earlier this year. However, Collison – who elected to stay retired – said during an appearance on the A Minute Til 6 podcast (video link) that rumors of a comeback were overstated.

“To keep it 100, they overhyped the whole thing,” Collison said. “I wasn’t even thinking about coming back. … Mentally, I just wasn’t in that right frame of mind. I’m still trying to work some things out in my life and trying to help the youth out as well. I always felt like after this season, yeah, I’ll assess everything else. But this season I just never thought about coming back.”

An appearance at a Lakers/Rockets game in early February alongside Lakers owner Jeanie Buss fueled speculation that Collison might want to team up with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. However, Collison said during his A Minute Til 6 appearance that he was just at that game to watch his friend Russell Westbrook in action.

Reports of Collison’s potential return persisted for weeks in January and February, so if he never seriously considered the idea, it’s odd that he didn’t squash those rumors at the time. Still, it wouldn’t have made a lot of sense for him to sign a prorated minimum salary contract after potentially passing up an eight-figure salary last summer.

Collison, who will turn 33 later this month, played well for the Pacers in 2018/19, with 11.2 PPG and 6.0 APG on .467/.407/.832 shooting in 76 games as the club’s starting point guard, so his retirement was unexpected. He said at the time that he wanted to dedicate more time to volunteer work and his Jehovah’s Witnesses ministry.

Based on his latest comments, it doesn’t sound as if Collison has entirely ruled out the possibility of seeking an NBA return at some point — if he does decide to come out of retirement, he’d be an intriguing option for teams in need of a veteran point guard.

Injury Updates: Crawford, Muscala, Baynes, MKG, Len

The last time Jamal Crawford appeared in an NBA game, on April 9, 2019, he poured in 51 points. His return to action today for the Nets wasn’t quite as successful.

After being cleared to play for the shorthanded Nets against Milwaukee, Crawford came off the bench and racked up five points and three assists in six minutes, but the veteran guard was forced to leave the game early after suffering a left hamstring injury (Twitter link via team).

It’s not clear yet whether the injury is a minor one that Crawford could return from soon, or if it may jeopardize his availability for the remainder of the season. We’re hoping for the former, but we’ll have to wait for an update from the Nets, who have had some awful health luck this summer.

Here are a few more injury updates from around the NBA:

  • Thunder big man Mike Muscala suffered a concussion during Monday’s loss to Denver and has been placed in the league’s concussion protocol, the club announced today in a press release. Muscala has played limited minutes (12.6 MPG) for Oklahoma City this season, so his absence won’t have a major impact on the team’s rotation.
  • Suns center Aron Baynes, who joined the team late after recovering from the coronavirus, remains unavailable for Tuesday’s game vs. the Clippers, tweets Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic. “(He) had a really light practice yesterday,” head coach Monty Williams said. “Didn’t do much on the court at all. 3-on-3, 4-on-4, 5-on-5. So (he won’t play) at this point.”
  • A pair of players were active for the first time this summer in Tuesday afternoon’s Mavericks/Kings game. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was cleared to play for the Mavs (Twitter link via Callie Caplan of The Dallas Morning News), while Alex Len was available for Sacramento (Twitter link via team). Both players arrived late to the Orlando campus — Kidd-Gilchrist for personal reasons and Len due to COVID-19.

Second Bubble For NBA’s Bottom Eight Teams Now Appears Unlikely

A report one month ago suggested that the NBA appeared likely to create a second campus/bubble environment in Chicago for the league’s bottom eight teams. The idea was for those teams left out of the Orlando restart to spend some time with their players during the offseason, conducting mini-training camps and inter-squad games in a single location.

However, according to Shams Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic, there’s a growing belief that a second bubble site won’t happen. The Athletic’s duo reports that there’s also pessimism about those bottom eight teams getting to hold in-market minicamps for group workouts.

“There’s nothing happening,” said one general manager following a Tuesday call with the eight GMs and various league officials. “It’s a shame. It’s a huge detriment to these eight franchises that were left behind.”

With the NBA focusing on the success of the Orlando restart, discussions about plans for the bottom eight teams – the Warriors, Timberwolves, Cavaliers, Hawks, Bulls, Pistons, Knicks, and Hornets – have been inconsistent. As recently as last week, there seemed to be momentum building toward a plan to allow those clubs to hold practices and workouts, but that momentum has apparently stalled.

According to Charania and Amick, the National Basketball Players Association has safety concerns related to the idea of a second bubble amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. There are also financial and logistical complications associated with creating a smaller-scale version of the NBA’s Walt Disney World campus.

Charania and Amick suggest that the NBPA is more open to the idea of creating smaller, in-market bubbles for teams to host individual mini-camps in their respective cities. But it sounds as if that won’t happen by mid-August as initially hoped, if it happens at all.

The eight teams left out of the Orlando restart believe they’re at a potential competitive disadvantage by missing out on the player and culture development that other teams are getting this summer, sources tell The Athletic. Those clubs are expected to continue pushing for some form of offseason team activities to re-engage players and coaches. For now, they’re only permitted to hold 1-on-0 workouts at their practice facilities, with limited coach involvement.