The Knicks will take the floor Sunday afternoon at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, the first NBA city to return to last season’s almost empty arenas.
The Raptors are the first team to give in to the reality of the problems that plague the NBA – and in fact the entire world – as the number of COVID cases rises to record highs.
And the real question is not why the province of Ontario has forced the Raptors and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment to limit the audience to less than 1,000, and pull the plug on fans with the New Year, but why it has taken so long. for everyone in the NBA to take this step.
The league has been devastated by the positive tests and lost more than half of its players when they went into health and safety protocols in December. The result has been nights like what the Knicks saw in Detroit on Wednesday – when the Pistons were missing 12 players and lined up with a team that included eight signings of difficulty. One night earlier in Minnesota, the Timberwolves got Patrick Beverley back against the Knicks, giving Minnesota a regular starter after playing the night before (and winning) without any of the usual starting five.
As the Knicks end their four-game roadtrip in Toronto, it has been a mess, with players, coaches and staff scattered through the first three stops, quarantined in hotels and left behind as the team moves forward.
Mitchell Robinson and Julius Randle are the latest Knicks players to get into the minutes, joining Nerlen’s Noel, Jericho Sims and Wayne Selden on the sidelines along with seven other players who have been shut down and are on their way back.
As grim as it sounds, the Knicks have actually done better than many teams have. This road trip alone has shown it, but it’s hardly the only example.
The NBA endured its 11th postponement of the season Thursday, as Denver did not have the necessary eight players available for a meeting with Golden State. It’s actually harder to imagine why it’s only 11, rather than how it happened.
There are wonderful stories of players getting opportunities, some from the G League, some who have been out of the NBA for years – though far too many of those stories have been immediately followed by a positive test a day later. But the reality is that except for Sunday afternoon in Toronto, fans have filled arenas and paid full price to see something they could see at Rucker Park or any well-stocked semi-pro league.
The Raptors talked last week about meeting new players on the bus for the first time shortly before the game starts. Greg Monroe helped Minnesota win the Celtics on Monday after arriving via connecting flights, and admitted afterwards that he had never heard of any of the players who starred that night around him.
Is this really “amazing” as the NBA campaigns used to be?
The NBA closed the league in March 2020 ahead of any other professional sport, as there was a confirmed case. It is certainly different now that there are vaccines – although a small proportion of the players have resisted being vaccinated and almost half of the league have not yet received the booster.
And it is not just the players who are facing these problems, but coaches, staff and even referees, with a report coming out that 36% of the officials have entered the health and safety protocols.
There is no easy solution for NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who since closing down in March 2020 has insisted that the league follow science and try to serve as leaders. But would a break in the schedule allow a restart for the teams and let fans see the talent they paid for in tickets or TV costs?
“No plans right now to put the season on hold,” Silver told ESPN last week. “Of course we’ve looked at all the possibilities, and honestly we’re having trouble figuring out the logic behind pausing right now. When we look through these cases that are literally being whipped through the country right now, and put the rest of the world, I think we’re finding ourselves where we knew we would get to in the last many months.and that is that this virus will not be eradicated and we will have to learn to live with it. And I think that’s what we’re experiencing in the league right now. ”
Yet, no matter how difficult it may be, some of it is difficult to explain. The league has placed restrictions on training and the morning shooting round, but has opened the doors for 20,000 maskless fans to enter an arena around the players.
The league has shortened the timeline for players’ return to action, and now matches the CDC guidelines of five days as long as the player meets the cycle threshold, which may indicate how much infectious virus is present. It will definitely bring some of the missing talents back to the league.
But the precautions taken last season have almost disappeared. The stands – except this afternoon in Toronto – are filled with maskless fans with varying vaccination requirements. The league has enforced a careful approach to players in training and shootarounds, but has been hesitant to put players in lockdowns like last season.
The reality is that scientists have predicted that the wave of Omicron will not peak in the US until mid-January, meaning this could get worse as the league tries to find ways to rush players back to the field.
For now, it’s just a shard through the country while the Knicks and other teams wait to have their players and staff cleared – and then figure out a safe way to return them to the team.