The board of governors and the players recently voted to move ahead with the NBA’s return to play proposal, and the wheels are now officially in motion for games to resume on July 31 at Disney World in Orlando. Twenty-two teams will be in attendance, and they’ll play eight regular-season games each before proceeding to the playoffs.
Now that an official plan is in place and all sides have agreed on a format and schedule, the league has begun to iron out some of the surrounding details. Among them is what to do in case of injury or a positive COVID-19 test. Once in Orlando, players will be tested nightly, and the league has made it clear that things will move along even if one of them comes down with the coronavirus.
Any players testing positive will be quarantined for at least seven days, and possibly up to 14, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Bobby Marks. Because of that risk, and the potential competitive disadvantage, teams are expected to be allowed to sign replacement players. Via ESPN:
If COVID-19 or a serious injury strikes a team during training camps or the eight regular-season seeding games, there is expected to be no limitations on the number of players a team could sign to replace those lost, but there would be restrictions on those in the pool of eligible players, sources said.
Eligible replacement players will likely have had to be signed in the NBA or G League or be on training camp contracts this season, sources said. Under these restrictions, for example, no team could sign veteran Jamal Crawford — who went unsigned all season — or an international player.
The league office has discussed the possibility with its teams that there could be a requirement that those players replaced for COVID-19 or injury would become ineligible to return for the balance of this season, sources said.
The league’s “transaction window,” in which teams will be permitted to sign replacement players, is expected to start around June 22, per Wojnarowski, and it will feature all 30 teams, not just the 22 that will be competing in Orlando. Once the period begins, teams will be able to sign eligible free agents, and also convert two-way players into full NBA contracts.
While this is a necessary allowance, teams may not end up taking advantage of it. For one, the health and safety measures in place would mean a big delay between signing a free agent and them actually being able to help the team. They would need to be quarantined after arriving in Orlando, and then have to get up to speed with what the team is doing in very short order. Considering the pool of available players is going to be pretty shallow, it may just make more sense to wait for their player to return from injury and/or sickness.
That’s not to say no teams will add players if necessary, but there’s some real thought that will go into that decision, especially if replaced players are then ineligible to return for the rest of the season. Converting two-way players to full NBA contracts might be a better option, as two-way players offer a much simpler alternative for teams looking for roster flexibility than bringing in outside players. Plus, some two-way players have become key contributors for their respective teams.