LeBron James

Restart Notes: Health Risks, LeBron, COVID-19, Bass

Significant risks await the NBA as it prepares to bring roughly 1,500 people into a bubble environment in Orlando, writes Zach Lowe of ESPN. He talks to several health experts who assess the possibility of keeping players and staff members safe from the coronavirus long enough to finish the season.

“They are going to see things on the ground they did not expect,” said Steven Pergam, an infectious disease specialist and an associate professor at the University of Washington. “The main potential weak point is how (Walt Disney World) employees interact with (NBA) staff,” adds Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute. “But you can manage it in ways that do not create a whole lot of risk.”

The health professionals agree that frequent testing will be important to stave off a potential widespread outbreak. They also state that even if a player contracts COVID-19, there’s no guarantee it will be passed on through games or practices.

“The person has to be at just the right point in the infection where they are very contagious and the viral load is very high,” explains Abraar Karan, a physician at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Given the health risks, Lowe questions the decision to bring the Suns and Wizards into the bubble environment. Both teams face long odds to even reach a play-in game, and the additional personnel increases the chances of someone contracting the virus. Lowe claims the decision to include the two teams was financial, creating more games, which brings in more revenue.

There’s more surrounding the NBA’s restart:

  • Many of the league’s top stars participated in a conference call Friday where objections were raised to the plan to resume the season. However, LeBron James was notably absent, and Sam Amick of The Athletic explains it’s because James believes he can play basketball and advocate for social change at the same time. “Because of everything that’s going on, people are finally starting to listen to us,” James told Jonathan Martin of The New York Times this week. “We feel like we’re finally getting a foot in the door. How long is up to us. We don’t know. But we feel like we’re getting some ears and some attention, and this is the time for us to finally make a difference.”
  • NBA commissioner Adam Silver has a lot to resolve as he balances strong player sentiment for resuming the season and ending it, states Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated. Adding to the concern over racial issues is an increase in the coronavirus in Florida, which reported a state-record 2,500 new cases Saturday.
  • NBA spokesman Mike Bass told Marc Stein of The New York Times that the league will address the objections raised by players (Twitter link). “We understand the players’ concerns and are working with the Players Association on finding the right balance to address them,” Bass said.

And-Ones: Webber, Forbes List, World Cup, EYBL

Chris Webber may have been passed over again for the Hall of Fame, but former college teammate Jalen Rose is confident that he will get there, writes Jason Jones of The Athletic. Rose, who hosts a talk show on ESPN, played alongside Webber for two years at Michigan as part of the groundbreaking Fab Five.

“Webb shouldn’t spend a second worrying about that — it’s going to happen,” Rose said. “And also, it’s well deserved. And it’s the basketball Hall of Fame, so he’ll get in. He should get in solely on his impact with the Fab Five because the Fab Five should be in. If you just took his high school and his pro (career), he should be in.”

Webber played 15 NBA seasons, finishing with career averages of 20.7 points and 9.8 rebounds per game. He was named national player of the year in high school and was the top pick in the 1993 draft. However, his time at Michigan was tainted by his alleged involvement in a scandal that resulted in the Fab Five’s Final Four banners being removed.

There’s more from around the basketball world:

  • LeBron James is the top-ranked NBA player on Forbes’ annual list of the world’s highest-paid athletes. James had $88.2MM in combined earnings, placing him fifth on the list, which is topped by tennis star Roger Federer. Stephen Curry (No. 6) and Kevin Durant (No. 7) are the only other NBA players in the top 10.
  • The FIBA World Cup 2023 board held its first planning meeting this week through video conference, according to Dario Skerletic of Sportando. The event is scheduled for August 25 to September 10, 2023, with games in Indonesia, Japan and the Philippines. “We were all witness to an incredible event last year in China,” said event chairman Richard Carrion. “The next FIBA Basketball World Cup will be brought to another level in 2023, taking place in Asia across three countries, and we are looking forward to the continued collaboration with these host nations.”
  • The Elite Youth Basketball League is the latest event lost because of the coronavirus, writes Jeff  Borzello of ESPN. Nike announced the cancellation Saturday, ending any hope that the competition, normally played in April and May, might take place later this year.
  • Point guard Scott Machado, who played briefly with the Lakers last season, has agreed to a two-year contract extension with the Cairns Taipans in Australia, tweets Emiliano Carchia of Sportando. However, the team issued a statement saying there’s no formal agreement in place yet with Machado, who got into four games with L.A. on a 10-day contract last March.

L.A. Notes: Lakers, Clippers, Rondo

With a potential return to NBA activity on the horizon, Lakers All-Star LeBron James has recently been conducting private workouts in a home court, per Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium (Twitter link). According to Charania, James has played with up to two teammates per session, but Charania maintains that “all the (necessary) safety measures have been taken, I’m told, in these private workouts.”

The Lakers were having one of the best seasons in the NBA when league play was paused in March due to the spread of the pandemic. Led by All-Star starters James and Anthony Davis, the squad currently boasts a 49-14 record, good for the top seed in the Western Conference.

There’s more out of Los Angeles:

  • The Clippers, too, have been holding safe private workouts and on-court practices involving a limited number of players, per Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium in the same video conversation (Twitter link). The identity of the Clippers players participating was not disclosed.
  • Brett Dawson, Bill Oram and the Kamenetzkys of The Athletic examines how the Lakers are being impacted by the extended season suspension. On May 16, the Lakers reopened their practice facility, the UCLA Health Training Center in El Segundo. The team is allowing its players to access the facility while respecting pandemic-imposed restrictions. The Lakers’ older veteran players (including James) may struggle to get back into game shape, the authors speculate.
  • During the NBA season intermission, Lakers bench guard Rajon Rondo was actively supporting the community in his childhood home town of Louisville, Kentucky, per Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated. The 2008 NBA champion has recently returned to Los Angeles and is staying in touch with his Lakers teammates over Zoom workouts. “We are still training like we are coming back to make a run for it,” Rondo said.

LeBron James Talks Michael Jordan, Cowboys’ Interest

The LeBron JamesMichael Jordan debate will continue raging among basketball fans, media, and those close to the game for years, but the Lakers star would rather think about other things — like playing alongside Air Jordan.

“Me personally, the way I play the game — team first — I feel like my best assets work perfectly with Mike,” James said (as Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com relays). “Mike is an assassin. When it comes to playing the game of basketball, scoring the way he scored the ball, [then] my ability to pass, my ability to read the game plays and plays and plays in advance.”

James has been watching The Last Dance and admitted that it inspires him. James said he could envision the two superstars finding success together on the court.

“I saw the things (Scottie Pippen) was able to do with Mike. I just think it would’ve been a whole nother level,” James said. “Pip was one of my favorite players … It would’ve been a whole other level with me being a point forward, with me being that point forward alongside of him during those Chicago runs.”

The three-time NBA champ also touched on his time playing pickup with Jordan years ago. James first got a chance to play with the Space Jam star as an 18-year-old after signing his deal with Nike.

“We used to play around 9 p.m. The camp would end … and we would stay along with the college kids that he would invite,” James said. “We would get a good-ass run in for about an hour, an hour (and) 15. I was on the same team with MJ, and we didn’t lose a game.”

James grew up a Bulls fan, watching Jordan. He also grew up a Cowboys fan, watching the NFL squad, and he considered switching sports, akin to Mike’s baseball stint, back in 2011, as we passed along earlier today on Pro Football Rumors. Dallas even had a contract ready for James during the NBA’s lockout, but the Akron native opted to stay on the court.

LeBron, Curry Among Players Who Will Owe Money From 2020/21 Salaries

Starting this Friday, 25% of NBA players’ pay checks will be withheld for the foreseeable future. The NBA and NBPA reached that agreement last month in order to ensure that players are bearing some of the brunt of the league’s lost revenue due to the coronavirus pandemic — and so that players won’t be required to surrender a significant lump sum in a few months if games are officially canceled and the CBA’s “force majeure” clause is triggered.

However, some players will still have to return money to the league down the road rather than seeing a portion of their pay checks withheld now. While most NBA players are paid in 24 bi-monthly installments, beginning in November, some players negotiated deals that see them receive just 12 pay checks, with the last one issued on May 1. As a result, those players have already received their full salaries for the 2019/20 season and withholding part of their checks starting on May 15 isn’t an option.

As Bobby Marks of ESPN details, LeBron James, Stephen Curry, John Wall, Blake Griffin, and Paul George – all of whom are making $33MM or more this season – are among the players who have already received their ’19/20 salaries in full.

Because those players – and several others – won’t resume receiving pay checks from their respective teams until the fall, they’ll essentially owe the NBA an IOU for each pay date this spring and summer (until the 25% agreement ends), Marks explains.

By the fall, the league should better understand to what extent players’ 2019/20 salaries have to be reduced, and players like James and Curry will have money taken out of their advances for 2020/21 (on October 1) and/or their ’20/21 pay checks (beginning on November 15).

As Marks notes, the amount of money that players ultimately have to give up for the 2019/20 season will depend on how many games can be played this summer if and when the season resumes.

Players could lose approximately 23-26% of their full-season salaries if games don’t resume, according to Marks. On the other hand, in the unlikely event that the NBA is able to play its remaining regular season games and playoff games in full, teams would be responsible for returning players’ full salaries to them.

Adjusting player salaries based on the amount of games that can eventually be played should help the league avoid a scenario in which the salary cap fluctuates significantly over the next couple years based on this year’s lost revenue, since the NBA and its players share roughly a 50-50 split of the league’s revenue.

LeBron, Giannis, Curry, Other Stars United In Desire To Resume Season

NBPA president Chris Paul arranged a private conference call with a number of the league’s superstars on Monday to discuss the coronavirus ramifications and the potential resumption of the 2019/20 season, league sources tell Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

By the end of the conversation, per Haynes, those players were united in their desire to resume the season once the NBA ensures the necessary safety measures are in place and gets the green light. According to Haynes, LeBron James, Giannis AntetokounmpoStephen Curry, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Damian Lillard, and Russell Westbrook were among the players on the call.

As Haynes explains, the group’s decision is expected to carry significant weight at a time when not all of the NBA’s players are necessarily on board with the idea of completing the 2019/20 season this summer.

Sources tell Yahoo Sports that many players on teams who are all but eliminated from playoff contention would prefer to just have the top eight clubs in each conference finish the season. The fact that stars outside the playoff picture, such as Curry and Lillard, are in favor of resuming play is significant.

According to Haynes, there was also some concern among players after Friday’s call that the NBA wouldn’t be able to guarantee player safety, with a coronavirus vaccine not expected to be available until 2021 at the earliest. Commissioner Adam Silver assured players that the league will do all it can to create the safest possible conditions, and it sounds like the stars on Monday’s call are satisfied with that promise.

Haynes notes that there are some players out of the playoff picture who are worried about a canceled season negatively impacting the league’s Collective Bargaining Agreement. That’s an issue we’ve touched upon in recent days, with Adrian Wojnarowski, Bob Myers, and Mark Cuban among those who have suggested that lottery teams will have to prioritize the “greater good” of the league, since the NBA and its players would benefit financially over the long term from playing as many games as it safely can this year and next.

As we relayed earlier this afternoon, the NBPA has reportedly begun reaching out to individual players to get their feedback on whether or not they want the season to resume.

Coronavirus Notes: Health Risks, Lin, LeBron, Facilities

Several NBA general managers are expressing concern over the safety of their coaching staffs and other personnel if the league resumes its season, writes Baxter Holmes of ESPN. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has determined that the coronavirus presents higher risk factors to older adults and people with underlying health conditions, which will factor into decisions on who will be allowed into a “bubble” environment.

“Based on all the information that we have today, probably people over 60 with preexisting conditions can’t go, for sure, no matter what their titles are,” one general manager told Holmes. “Whether it’s a father of the star player or whether it’s the general manager of the team, they can’t go there.”

The NBA is considering a bubble concept, with all its games taking place in a central location such as Las Vegas or Orlando. We learned this week that players and coaches will be permitted to bring their families with them for however long it takes to finish the season. The executives Holmes talked to agreed that once the concept gets closer to reality, teams will be forced to make difficult decisions on who qualifies as essential.

“The one area you don’t want to skimp on is the medical,” a GM said. “The coaching part of it, you could probably get by with a head coach, that’s it.”

There’s more coronavirus news to pass along:

  • Former NBA player Jeremy Lin tells Steve Serby of The New York Post that life in China means constant testing for the virus as he waits for the CBA season to resume. “I got tested before quarantine and after quarantine,” Lin said, “and honestly, anywhere you go any time, every restaurant, every mall, everything everywhere, every time I enter my apartment, I get my temperature checked, too. They’re constantly monitoring.”
  • LeBron James has the most to lose if the season can’t be completed, writes Dan Woike of The Los Angeles Times. James has the Lakers on top of the Western Conference with a 49-14 record, and at age 35 he may not have a better chance to win another ring. Woike lists the Bucks, Clippers, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni and the fans as other potential losers.
  • In case you missed it, some practice facilities can reopen Friday, but at least half of the league’s teams are in states where stay-at-home orders are still in effect.

Eastern Notes: LeBron, Celtics, Eversley, Pistons

Don’t rule out LeBron James finishing his career with the Knicks, The New York Post’s Marc Berman writes in his latest mailbag. James loves playing in Madison Square Garden and would like to play with his son Bronny, now 15, before he retires. If James plays long enough to suit up with his son, finishing out his career in New York could add to his legacy, Berman adds.

We have more from the Eastern Conference:

  • Celtics assistant GM Mike Zarren told season ticket holders that the front office is well-prepared for any draft scenario, Celtics analyst Marc D’Amico tweets. Boston could have as many as three first-round selections. “Regardless of what happens, we’ll be very ready for the draft,” Zarren said.
  • New Bulls GM Marc Eversley is intrigued by the youth dotting the team’s roster but wants to figure why some of those players didn’t develop as expected this season, K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago reports. In particular, he wants to see if the team can get more out of power forward Lauri Markkanen. “Lauri is a modern-day stretch four,” he said. “I think he’s got a great stroke. He’s got a wonderful shooting touch. He regressed a little bit last year. I’d love to learn more about that.”
  • The Pistons need to prioritize not only acquiring talent but also high-character players, Keith Langlois of the team’s website writes. Getting the best players they can find with their lottery pick and cap space, regardless of what position they’ll play or how they’ll complement others on the roster, should be their approach going forward.

Lakers Notes: LeBron, Pelinka, Bryant, Green

In a conference call today with reporters, LeBron James said he has been training four or five times each day during the shutdown and shooting with his children on his outdoor court, tweets Mark Medina of USA Today. James also addressed the wait for the league to start playing again, saying he understands that the health of safety of everyone involved comes first, but he’s strongly hoping the season can be completed (Twitter link).

“I don’t think I’ll be able to have any closure if we’re not able to finish the season,” he said.

James referred to the pandemic as “a roadblock for all of us” and “a test,” adds Mike Bresnahan of Spectrum Sportsnet (Twitter link). With the Lakers holding the West’s best record, they have extra motivation to resume the season, but James said he hasn’t spoken directly to commissioner Adam Silver about the situation.

“(In a perfect world), it would be with fans in the stands,” James said. “It just makes the game that much better.” (Twitter link).

There’s more Lakers news to pass along:

  • General manager Rob Pelinka takes inspiration from Kobe Bryant while dealing with the pandemic and its effects on the team, writes Mirjam Swanson of The Orange County Register“He would always say that the trials of life are kind of when greatness is forged,” Pelinka said today during a Zoom call with reporters. “If you were on a knight’s journey with him and a huge fire-breathing dragon ended up in the pathway ahead, he would say, ‘OK, this is why this is good right now. We’re going to meet this challenge and here’s how we’re going to get around it and here’s how we’re going to defeat it.’ That was just his nature, that obstacles or hard times would lead somehow to growth, and I think that’s the way I’m going to look at 2020.”
  • The Lakers are also using Zoom, a videoconferencing service, to allow their players to work out together even though they can’t be in the same place, according to Dave McMenamin of ESPN. The strength and conditioning staff delivers fitness equipment to the players for workout sessions. “These guys just have a great chemistry of being together,” Pelinka said. “So they’ve tried to stay as connected as possible in the ways they can, working out together virtually.”
  • Danny Green said on his recent podcast that players will use “any means necessary … to try and salvage the season,” relays Scott Polacek of Bleacher Report“Right now we’re fighting,” Green said. “Most guys think that for sure we’re going to have a season, it’s just going to start later than we expected, and just trying to get the next season to be pushed back is not going to be as easy as people think it’s going to be.”

Kobe, Duncan, Garnett, Tomjanovich To Be Inducted Into Hall Of Fame

Former NBA stars Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, and Kevin Garnett will be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic (via Twitter).

This year’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony figures to be an emotional affair, with Bryant headlining the 2020 class just months after his tragic passing. The Lakers‘ legend 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.

Bryant will be joined by a pair of fellow NBA champions, including Duncan, who 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.

While Garnett’s résumé isn’t quite as decorated as that of Bryant and Duncan, he 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.

Bryant, Duncan, and Garnett may be this year’s headliners, but they aren’t the only ones being inducted into the Hall of Fame. According to Mark Berman of FOX 26 Houston (Twitter link), former Rockets head coach Rudy Tomjanovich has also been elected.

Tomjanovich is one of just three coaches to win both an NBA championship and an Olympic gold medal. He coached Houston 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.

Tamika Catchings, Kim Mulkey, Eddie Sutton, and Barbara Stevens were announced as Hall of Fame finalists in February — it’s unclear if anyone from that group will be inducted into the 2020 class alongside Bryant, Duncan, Garnett, and Tomjanovich. The official announcement will happen on Saturday.

It remains to be seen what form this year’s induction ceremony will take. It’s scheduled to happen on August 29 in Springfield, Massachusetts, but there’s no guarantee that the coronavirus situation will have improved enough by then to hold large-scale gatherings.