OKC Thunder: MLB coronavirus outbreak leaves questions for next NBA season
Chris Paul didn’t learn of the COVID-19 outbreak in the Miami Marlins clubhouse until he walked off a Disney World practice court Monday morning.
“It almost sounds similar to us back in March,” the Thunder point guard said through a mask.
At least 13 Marlins have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to multiple reports. Miami’s home opener Monday was postponed, as was the Yankees-Phillies game in Philadelphia, where the Marlins last played.
“I hope everybody is safe and healthy,” Paul said, “but I know we’ll keep monitoring here and hopefully we can keep everyone here on this campus as safe as possible.”
While Major League Baseball’s return-to-play plan is in danger of unraveling after opening weekend, zero NBA players have tested positive for COVID-19 since entering the bubble almost three weeks ago. The Thunder will resume its season Saturday against the Jazz, its first game since the season was suspended in mid-March when, as Paul alluded to, Rudy Gobert and several NBA players tested positive for the coronavirus.
Even though baseball is being played in empty stadiums — most in the open air — MLB teams are still traveling, and players and coaches are sleeping in hotels or their own homes.
Interactions with the outside world have been limited inside the NBA’s restrictive environment, but baseball’s struggles are reason to question what the NBA will do next season.
The 2020-21 season is tentatively set to start Dec. 1.
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“I would lean on the league for what their plans are in the event that we are in a situation where we need to do a more isolated type of competition,” Thunder general manager Sam Presti said last week.
“What we’re going to do though is take a lot of the learnings from this experience in Orlando and probably throw them into the future to figure out the most effective way to manage in the event that we’re playing without fans.”
Presti said he doesn’t believe there will be a bubble next season with 30 teams. That idea was ruled out for the season restart. Instead, the 22 teams still in playoff contention were invited to Orlando, and six of them will head home in the next two weeks.
The idea is, the smaller the bubble, the safer it is.
“This falls under the auspice of you just can’t plan yourself into a pretzel,” Presti said. “We have to wait for things to evolve and see where things are at season’s end and make our future decisions from there.”
Paul, as president of the National Basketball Players Association, was an influential decision maker in the NBA’s return.
The NBA, NBPA and Disney worked together to craft the bubble plan. Paul said the parties went back and forth on how to proceed in the wake of not only the coronavirus, but also the nationwide protests following the death of George Floyd.
Presti, who’s with the Thunder inside the bubble, credited the league, players and local medical community for a setup that’s been met with near unanimous approval.
“I hope we look back on this as not just an historic event for the league,” Presti said, “but an historic event in terms of teamwork and what people can do.”
Once a champion is crowned, and likely even before then, plans for next season will take shape.
Paul was asked if the NBA could play games outside of a bubble if the pandemic doesn’t subside.
“That might be above my pay grade,” Paul said. “We haven’t had those discussions yet, but they’ll probably come soon … I know right now, this seems to be the safest way possible.”
Thunder vs. Blazers
What: Third and final scrimmage before NBA seeding games
When: 5 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Visa Athletic Center, Orlando, Fla.
TV: FS Oklahoma (Cox 37)