Some NBA staffs struggle with going to Florida

4:09 PM ET

  • Baxter HolmesESPN Senior Writer

      Baxter Holmes (@Baxter) is a senior writer for ESPN Digital and Print, focusing on the NBA. He has covered the Lakers, the Celtics and previously worked for The Boston Globe and Los Angeles Times.

As teams finalize their traveling parties for the Orlando restart, several NBA general managers say that they’ve tried to quell concerns among staff members who might not feel comfortable attending during the coronavirus pandemic.

Some of the concerned are at an age with higher risk and/or have underlying health issues.

These GMs, speaking on the condition of anonymity, have separately said they’ve tried to tell such staffers — and relayed to virtually their entire staff — that they shouldn’t feel any pressure to attend if they don’t feel comfortable for any reason and that they shouldn’t feel insecure about their jobs if they’re unable to attend.

Such conversations are complicated, the GMs have said, noting that staffers can feel that their commitment to the team will be viewed differently, putting their job security in jeopardy. Likewise, some staffers may want to go but their age or health issues place them at risk, these GMs said.

Concerns have also been heightened because of the surging case numbers in Florida; coronavirus cases have increased about fivefold in the past two weeks.

One GM, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the message to their staff was: “You’ve got the rest of your life…don’t be worried about how it’s going to look.”

The subject of death hovers over the league’s reboot in a country in which nearly 130,000 people have died due to the pandemic, and high-level executives say it’s an inescapable factor — whether stated directly or not — in discussions about attendance.

“It’s in the back of everybody’s mind, but nobody is saying it,” said T.O. Souryal, who served as the Dallas Mavericks team physician for 22 years and served two terms as the president of the league’s association of team physicians.

As teams prepare to head to Orlando in the coming week, with most tentatively scheduled to arrive July 7-9, other key questions still loom for several GMs and team officials in the wake of the surging cases in Florida and continued reports of players testing positive for the virus.

“How many positive cases can one team tolerate before being uncompetitive?” Souryal asked. “How many infections can the league tolerate before they are forced to stop play again?”

On a recent conference call with reporters, NBA commissioner Adam Silver touched on potentially canceling play and said the league is working with the NBPA, Disney and public health officials in Florida “as to what that line should be” regarding whether play should be stopped for significant spread. But he added that such a plan “hasn’t been precisely designed.”

A lingering question among athletic training officials who will be tending to players in the bubble focuses on what happens if a player tests positive for the virus and doesn’t necessarily recover fully after a two-week quarantine period. Given the range of effects from coronavirus on individuals, the primary concern, several of these officials say, is whether such players will be physically able to resume and be able to compete in an NBA game.

One athletic training official pointed out that if a player shows symptoms during that period, they almost certainly wouldn’t be able to do any training or rehab work that would enable them to play immediately after two weeks, presuming there are no lingering effects — a concept that itself produces other concerns.

“From a medical perspective, if one contracts a case and they’re laid up with fever and chills, even if they’re not hospitalized, I can’t imagine they’d recover to be able to participate in an NBA-level game,” Souryal said.

“If somebody gets it, they’re out. Now, if somebody tests positive and they’re asymptomatic and they quarantine for two weeks, that’s a whole other animal. There are just so many moving parts.”

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