A day after the start of the 2020-21 regular season, the NBA postponed its first game. Late Wednesday afternoon, the NBA announced that the clash between the Houston Rockets and the Oklahoma City Thunder scheduled for 8 pm ET was postponed because the Rockets did not have eight players available.
This news only underscores the myriad challenges the league faces when trying to complete its season outside the confines of a bubble at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, where the NBA ended the 2020 playoffs.
As the NFL, MLB and MLS have already demonstrated, trying to take a season out of a bubble comes with all kinds of complications. Here’s what we know and what we don’t know about the postponed game, the latest news with James Harden and what’s next for the Rockets and the rest of the NBA.
What’s going on in Houston?
The Rockets, according to reports by ESPN’s Tim MacMahon and Adrian Wojnarowski, are dealing with two separate coronavirus-related problems.
After a video of Harden without a mask and outside a club appeared on social media, the NBA began investigating whether Harden violated the league’s security protocols by attending an unauthorized internal event sometime last week. The Rockets also had three player feedback tests that were positive or inconclusive and had to put four other players on the league’s contact tracking program, including former All-Stars DeMarcus Cousins and John Wall, as well as the newcomer Kenyon Martin Jr., who was one of the players with conflicting COVID-19 test results. Wall, Cousins and Martin were among the Rockets players gathered Tuesday night at a player’s apartment away from the team’s premises to cut their hair.
The combination of the two events left Houston with less than eight players available, forcing the Rockets’ season opener against Thunder to be postponed.
When will the game against Thunder take place?
The league did not announce a date for the game to replay, but it did include flexibility in its schedule to deal with this scenario. When launching only the games to be played until March 4, the NBA has three reprogramming options: before the mid-season break from March 5 to 10; during that break; or in the second half of the season, whose schedule will only be announced in February.
According to ESPN’s Royce Young, the Thunder will fly back to Oklahoma City on Wednesday. They plan to leave Oklahoma City on Friday afternoon to fly to Charlotte for what will open the season on Saturday.
What is the league investigating about Harden?
The league has sanctioned specific restaurants in each NBA city that players, coaches and employees who are part of each team’s trip can attend. The protocol prohibits these people from going to bars, lounges or discos and from participating in social gatherings with more than 15 people. There are also evolving and stricter league mandates in certain markets, such as San Francisco and Los Angeles, which prohibit teams from traveling beyond the hotel or the arena.
In Harden’s photos that circulated on social media, he did not wear a mask at the club. The NBA found Harden unavailable due to a breach of health and safety protocols, fining him $ 50,000.
How does the contact tracking protocol work?
The league purposefully provided room for maneuver in the matter of contact tracking in order to be flexible in the way it handles each individual situation.
The backbone of the NBA plan is its rigorous testing procedures. Players are now tested twice a day, every day, in the hope of allowing the league to catch any instance of the virus as quickly as possible, reducing the need to isolate players or waste time.
However, situations like the one reported are more complicated, where players get together in an environment away from a training or game and there is a positive test case. Earlier this month, for example, Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley had to be quarantined for a week after contacting someone close to his family who left the league testing program.
What are the game return protocols?
For players who test positive for COVID-19, there are two possible ways to return: a time-based resolution and a test-based resolution.
According to the time-based resolution, the infected person must have been at least 10 days since the date of the first positive test or the start of any symptoms, if any; at least 24 hours have passed since the fever passed without using any medication; and other symptoms improved. The protocols specifically note that the loss of taste or smell alone is not expected to prevent someone from stepping out of isolation.
According to the test-based resolution, the person must return at least two consecutive negative PCR tests from samples taken at least 24 hours apart.
In any case, any player who is determined to have a new positive test case will not be allowed to participate in any exercise training for at least 10 days from the date of the positive test or the resolution of symptoms, if any.
Once the player has waited that minimum of 10 days, he must spend two days exercising alone, not interacting with anyone or participating in the team’s activities, and must perform a cardiac screening.
Any player who has had a serious case of COVID-19, or who has been hospitalized at any time, must be observed for at least three full days before being released to resume playing.
What are the potential penalties for violating security protocols?
The NBA has a section on health and safety protocols that describes discipline and penalties for players and staff.
Although no specific penalties are mentioned, punishments for players who do not comply with the league rules include potential warnings, fines or suspensions. Teams that do not comply with the rules may also face adjustments or loss of draft choices, as well as game confiscation.
Players who violated bubble protocols – like Lou Williams of LA Clippers – and were forced to lose games as a result lost wages for each game lost. In that case, Harden would lose $ 284,517 (1/145 of his salary) for failing to provide services for breach of protocols.
The gray area for this interpretation is that the Rockets-Thunder game has been postponed and not canceled, so for technical purposes, Harden has not yet lost a game.
Will this affect Harden’s business value?
When asked whether Harden’s behavior would be a red flag in the former MVP’s switch, team executives told ESPN that they thought he was selfish and reckless, but would not prevent a deal.
The teams have already done their homework when it comes to Harden on and off the court. An executive told ESPN that the team had hired a private investigator to do a thorough background check, treating the process of gathering information about him as if it were a potential project.
If a team feels comfortable acquiring Harden, the biggest challenge would be to collect enough outgoing wages (at least $ 33 million) to make a legal deal without destroying its existing list.
The teams are in the initial stages of evaluating their lists and are not willing to make a hasty judgment at this point. That could change if the Rockets cut Harden’s asking price, currently reported as a mix of young players with star potential and significant draft assets.
ESPN’s Bobby Marks contributed to this report.