Roundtable: Returning to Play
Will the NBA’s plan for concluding the season be a success?
Brandon Rahbar: I think the NBA has taken the right step from the moment they shut down on the infamous Thunder vs. Jazz night, to opening the lines of communication between Adam Silver and the NBPA, to putting every decision to a vote, to choosing Disney as the site, to the rules and precautions they’re setting in the bubble to keep players safe, to equipping players’ hotel rooms with an advanced copy of Madden 21, to giving players the option to hoop or not. Okay, so H-O-R-S-E was a small misstep, but good job good effort.
Ian Kayanja: Orlando should be able to end successfully. There hasn’t been an NBA season where we haven’t crowned a champion, and I don’t think this year is any different. The NBA has played after extended lockouts, and I don’t think it will let this pandemic stop them from making max money out of their situation.
Olivia Panchal: It will be interesting to see how a positive test for COVID-19 will affect the playoffs. For example, it would be crazy if a player like LeBron James had to miss half a series in order to quarantine. I hope that teams are honest about test results and the rules are enforced after a positive test. It’s not like playing through a quad injury because it’s Game 7. There are serious ramifications beyond that one player, so it has to be taken seriously. As long as the league doesn’t have to re-shutdown due to an outbreak or second wave, the return should be “successful”– whatever that means!
Logan Meyer: I think the Orlando idea was the best possible solution given the complexities of this unprecedented situation. Is it perfect? Absolutely not, but it is a sound plan. The financial ramifications, along with the legacies of players involved, make completion of this season necessary.
Dom Flaim: I’m not overly comfortable with it but my general stance has been that if people who are experts on COVID-19 approve it and think it’s good enough, I’ll go with it. The bubble idea itself is probably the best of a lot of poor options, and my hope was there would be more known and this would be under better control by next season. But if they’re going forward that seems the best chance. That said I’m also less certain because they’ve ended up in a state that’s managed this as poorly as any and right now cases seem to be on the upswing again.
Rylan Stiles: With the NBA putting their health protocol in place, that Dr. Fauci gave a stamp of approval to, I would expect this bubble concept to work. That, of course, is contingent on every player following all rules and regulations put in place. As far as the risk levels involved, I think that decision comes down to each individual. For some, the ability to not only win a championship but have such a major platform to speak out against social injustice, while also helping out the leagues financial situation could be worth it. For others, this plan could have more cons than pros. Each individual will have to address their situation and should be respected for doing so.
What do you make of the apprehension from players including Kyrie Irving to return to play in light of the ongoing protest movement?
Rahbar: Being a non-black non-NBA player, I’m non-qualified to answer this question, but I’ll give it a whirl. I do think the huge platform of a hundred million eyeballs focused solely on the NBA will present the Black Lives Matters movement a myriad of options to increase the exposure of racial injustice. A lot of good, and hopefully healing and betterment, could result from the international stage. But there are about 450 guys who are more qualified than I am to answer this, and if any of them feel basketball would be a distraction from the protests, then I defer to them. Even the flat Earthers.
Kayanja: Our country is in this moment of great social change; for a league made up of mostly African American players, not wanting to play under the circumstances is very understandable. Adam Silver never said players had to go to Orlando, and if they feel they can stay better plugged into the Black Lives Matter movement without playing, they should do so.
Panchal: I respect each individual player’s choice to play or not to play whether that’s for social justice reasons or apprehension about coronavirus. I do think there are many ways to support the BLM movement while playing. For example, you’ve got an audience of millions and every time a mic is in front of a player is an opportunity to speak on racial injustice. There could also be symbolic gestures by the NBA such as dedicating the court in the names of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd or a uniform patch. If we think about the intersections of race and sports in the past, visibility is important. As Marc Spears (The Undefeated) pointed out, “What if Jesse Owens didn’t compete to win four gold medals during the 1936 Berlin Games and, in the process, crush Adolf Hitler’s myth of Aryan supremacy? What if Tommie Smith and John Carlos didn’t race during the 1968 Mexico Games or hold a black fist in the air? What if Colin Kaepernick never kneeled during an NFL game in an effort to bring awareness to police brutality?”
I think it’s up to the NBA, not just the players, to make sure that basketball doesn’t become a distraction, but rather a spotlight on the Black Lives Matter movement. All that being said, if a player feels that they want to devote this time to matters outside of basketball, like Maya Moore did, then I fully support that decision.
Meyer: I’m all for players using their voice to promote change and equality. If some players feel that participating in this resumed season distracts from their social justice efforts, I respect their sitting out. Same for those who think it isn’t worth the injury risk or potential of catching the virus. Having said that, I personally believe that playing gives these guys the opportunity to use their platform to reach even more people than before. The eyes of the world will be upon Orlando, Florida as the NBA returns, which gives them unprecedented reach.
Flaim: Agree with what others so far have said. Nothing but respect for anyone deciding to sit out to support Black Lives Matter. I initially leaned toward playing being the better option, using the national TV attention, however the “I Can’t Breathe” shirts a few years ago resulted in little forward progression. I’m not sure anyone knows the answer as to what’s best for sure.
Stiles: I will always be pro-player, and the decision to sit out and continue to protest compared to playing and speaking out within the bubble is entirely up to the player. I can see each side, and will respect whatever decision a player makes.
Should the Thunder go all out to win and boost their playoff seeding, or allow for some losses that might recoup a first round pick?
Rahbar: I have been emotionally invested in and tracked both the Thunder’s and the Nuggets’ first round picks all season. And unfortunately, as things stand right now, the status on both is the worst case scenario. That said, this Thunder team has been so fun and surprising that I’d never want to damper their enthusiasm or momentum, so let them play to win. If they improve their seeding or first round matchup, great. If they lose enough to get their draft pick back, greater. If they lose enough to get their draft pick back and somehow still end up playing the Jazz or Mavs, greatest.
Kayanja: I always say if you are in, try to win. The way I look at the games in Orlando is an extended playoff. Every team that is in should try to win, and there is more value in competing than in an uncertain draft pick.
Panchal: Win it all. If ever there was a time that an underdog could win the title, this is it. There will be so many weird factors like “DNP-Quarantine”, no real home court advantage, and no travel days or changing time zones. I don’t care if they put three asterisks after this title win and we have to wait a year for the parade. Let’s do this.
Meyer: At this point, with homecourt being a non-factor, I’d want the Thunder to focus on matchups more than anything. If that ends up meaning losing a few games and reclaiming their first-rounder, cool. To win the war, sometimes a few battles may be lost.
Flaim: I’ve been on Team Tank for a while, so give me that pick. I don’t think this team is a threat for much of anything and would rather bank the asset now.
Stiles: I have said this on the Locked on Thunder podcast since the bubble concept was introduced, as a fan I would love for the team to regain their draft pick. However, if I was Billy Donovan I would tell the team to just play basketball. If you win, great if you lose, that is fine too. Like the rest of this season, the bubble regular season is house money for OKC. The team should focus more on adjusting and adapting to life in Orlando and getting back into game shape rather than regaining their pick.
When would you want the Thunder to meet Russ and the Rockets in the playoffs?
Rahbar: The Western Conference Finals. The Rockets get up to a 3-1 lead, but the Thunder come back and win the series despite Russell Westbrook’s 30-point triple double in Game 7. James Harden goes 2-24 from three after being locked down by Lu Dort. Steven Adams seals it with a buzzer beating block of a Beard step back 3, simultaneously winning the game, the series and the Harden trade. Russ pulls a KD and demands Daryl Morey trade him to the team that beat him. Presti trades Chris Paul back to the Rockets for Russ and two more first round draft picks and a couple more pick swaps, as CP3 has the higher trade value of the two coming off his Finals MVP. Russ and Shai Gilgeous-Alexanderstart a YouTube channel together called The Fresh King and Prince of OKC and gain more followers than PewDiePie and Jablinski Games combined.
Kayanja: Personally and logistically I would love it whenever. The Thunder’s three-guard lineup would matchup great with the Rockets, and OKC wouldn’t have to worry as much about defensive matchups since Houston already plays super small. In stylistic terms, the series would be a fun one with Russ, but it would have been better had Russ played his team’s road games at the Peake instead of in the bubble.
Panchal: Honestly, that’s a better matchup than facing either of the LA teams or “Joked Jokic” (pronounced yoked Jokic) Nuggets. Assuming the Thunder have already eliminated the Jazz, this is the matchup I want. The Rockets don’t have an actual center; we’ve got Adams and Nerlens Noel taking care of business down low. Now that we have Danilo Gallinari and Shai, I’m not too concerned about Houston out-performing Oklahoma City from behind-the-arc. Based on what the Rockets looked like before the season got postponed, I’m good with a Rockets vs. Thunder matchup. However, if “Skinny Harden” gets even more calls, I’m not so sure.
Meyer: This question is tough. Emotionally, I hate the idea of playing the Russ-led Rockets, but they are a decent matchup for OKC (compared to the LA teams). In a perfect storm, I would want to face the Rockets in the second round, which would mean either the Thunder or Russ make the Conference Finals.
Flaim: I’d rather they avoid it totally. Yep, I’m that guy. I know the drama would be at an all time high, but as a huge Russ fan my heart wouldn’t be able to handle it. I might have to just turn off the internet for a week if this one happens (or maybe football is started by then?) because the Twitter takes will be flying in every direction.
Stiles: The first round seems like the only chance these two squads can clash in the postseason. What a shame it can’t be inside the Peake and Toyota Center to add some drama to a storybook matchup. CP3 vs Russ would be awesome, and I would honestly give OKC the edge in this series.