The NBA went through the first month and a half of the 2021-22 season largely unscathed. A handful of players found themselves in league health and safety protocols after testing positive for Covid-19, but no games were postponed and the outbreaks were largely contained.
Then came the omicron variant, which has thrown the entire NBA into disarray in recent weeks.
As of Thursday morning, 123 players had landed in health and safety protocols this month alone, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Baxter Holmes. While many teams struggle to field the eight healthy players needed to play a game, the league and the National Basketball Players Association have agreed to temporarily change the rules governing which teams are eligible to sign players via a hardship exception. .
Blow-by-blow rosters will take center stage on the NBA’s Christmas Day slate, as stars such as Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant and Dallas Mavericks Luka Doncic all stay within health and safety protocols. This is just the start of the league’s troubles as omicron takes a deeper foothold in the US
Under rules approved on Sunday, teams are now allowed to sign a replacement player for a 10-day contract via the hardship exception for each player on their roster who tests positive for Covid-19. Teams that have two players who test positive for Covid-19 must sign at least one replacement player, teams with three positive Covid-19 tests must sign at least two, and teams with four or more positive cases must sign at least three.
Players signed through the Traditional Difficulty Exception count toward a team’s annual salary and count toward the luxury tax payment, but players signed under these Special Difficulty exceptions do not count towards the luxury tax payment. will not. This is especially important for teams with hard caps that collide with the apron and who otherwise would not have been able to recruit replacement players.
In a call from the NBA Board of Governors last week, “NBA owners expressed an overwhelming feeling that they are doing whatever is necessary to avoid postponements and cancellations this season,” according to Wojnarowski and Holmes. NBA commissioner Adam Silver told ESPN’s Malika Andrews on Tuesday afternoon that the league had “no plans at this time to suspend the season,” adding: “We have of course looked at all of them. the options, but frankly we’re struggling to figure out what the logic would be behind the break right now. ”
With dozens of players getting into health and safety protocols, teams are raiding the G League for temporary appeals. Signings ranged from old stars such as Joe Johnson and Isaiah Thomas to unsung young hopefuls looking for their big luck.
“Guys have the opportunity to come back,” nine-year NBA veteran Greg Monroe told Bleacher Report’s Sean Highkin. “I think it’s great. It’s not normal circumstances, but it’s what we have.”
At this time, teams can’t focus on playoff pursuits or title odds. They just need to take this season one day at a time until the omicron surge passes.
December 15 is usually the unofficial start of the NBA’s commercial season. Most free agents who signed with teams in the last offseason become eligible to be traded on that date, expanding the scope of potential deals that teams can negotiate.
However, the rash of omicron cases cropping up across the league has put commercial gossip on hold for the time being.
Many teams struggle to muster enough healthy players to avoid postponements. They can’t afford to strike a successful deal that will further deplete their roster, no matter how temporary these staff losses may be.
“All those business conversations I thought I was having with league sources this week at the G League Showcase in Vegas? LOL,” The Athletic’s John Hollinger wrote on Monday. “Every leader, down to the last of them, is actively dealing with a crisis of finding enough players to make a squad for the next game or going through the contingency lists of those they’ll call exactly when their club’s turn. will inevitably come. “
Trade talks are expected to accelerate after the holidays, especially as more players begin to break out of league health and safety protocols. The league and players’ union are set to strike a deal “to reduce the 10-day quarantine period for Covid-positive players,” Wojnarowski says, which could soon help front offices turn to overhauls from the wider list.
Until then, expect the commercial buzz to be at a minimum until teams can put out the five-alarm Covid-19 fires that have torn their lists apart.
As teams scramble to field enough healthy players to avoid postponements, the league needs to keep tabs on the results.
The NBA told CNBC’s Jabari Young that attendance “is down 5% on a two-year basis, its last normal season.” Golden State Warriors chief operating officer Brandon Schneider told Young Covid-19 was largely to blame for the drop in attendance, citing the number of unvaccinated fans unable to attend games in some markets depending on whether their cities have vaccine mandates for indoor arenas in place.
By mid-December, the Toronto Raptors had already reduced attendance at Scotiabank Arena by 50%. Other teams or local municipalities could impose similar restrictions in the coming weeks to prevent their hospitals from being inundated with new cases of Covid-19, especially if large family gatherings over Christmas lead to an increase.
With the attendance decline, the NBA looked for other sources of income to offset any decline in basketball-related income. On Wednesday, the league’s board of governors began allowing teams to “include sponsor badges on team shooting shirts and warm-up vests,” according to ESPN.com’s Nick DiPaula.
Between the changes to the hardship exception and the reluctance to postpone games or suspend the season, it’s clear the NBA is largely focused on the bottom line this season. How he weather the storm over the next few weeks will have major ramifications for next season’s salary cap, which is tied to the amount of BIS generated this year.