I sure picked a heck of a week to go on vacation, didn’t I?
Since I took off for a much-needed break on December 18, the Toronto Raptors have suffered a COVID outbreak, postponed two games, and currently have multiple players in the health and safety protocols. Oh, and it seems like half of the NBA is in the same state.
So while I didn’t miss any games, I sure missed out on some news! Let’s catch up, shall we?
1. It’s all so wrong
I’m not going to get into everything that’s wrong with the NBA forging ahead and putting the health and safety of its players, staff, arena workers, fans etc. at risk. You know it all by now!
But I really feel for the “replacement” players that are being called upon to jump in and play. Yeah, it’s a great opportunity for them (more on that in a sec) but at what cost? These are fringe NBA players who just need that one shot. Imagine getting that call? “Yeah, you’ll be sharing the court, bench, locker room, showers, bus and plane with guys who’ve been at ground zero of a COVID outbreak. But this is your chance to show your stuff!”
There really isn’t a choice for these players; imagine saying no? No team will ever come calling again. They have to risk their own health, plus the health of anyone they might come in contact with, including teammates wherever they normally play and family members, for this one shot. Sure, they get an NBA pay check for 10 days, which is awesome. And yeah, I’d take the risk too, for that.
But it still sucks.
2. Opportunity knocks
That said, there is something cool about dozens of players getting a shot to show their stuff, right? The fact that they’re putting their health on the line for that one shot makes them very easy to cheer for.
It’s easy to disregard these games and say “these aren’t the players I want to watch” and tune out until the “good” players are back. But, I’ll be watching, and I hope that out of all this crazy shit, some guys do make a lasting impression that leads to a real NBA contract. I really do hope some good comes out of the NBA plowing ahead during all of this.
Of course, if you paid good money for a ticket for these games, and are forced to watch these players who you don’t know and aren’t really part of your team, well, that’s a whole other thing. But then again, that’s the thing...
3. Saying the quiet part out loud
Multiple times during the Bubble and the shortened 20-21 season, I wished that the NBA would just drop the pretense of giving a crap about health and safety, or competition, or “providing a much needed distraction for fans,” and just admit they were doing everything they could to play as many games as possible because of money.
Well, they finally admitted it! Maybe not in fully explicit terms, but in this ESPN piece, management makes it clear they’re forging forward because they don’t want to lose any more money. There’s no more telling quote than this one:
On a board of governors call last week, it was not lost on some participants that neither a doctor nor a medical professional took part in the conversation. NBA senior vice president David Weiss, who has run the NBA’s player health programs since 2012, was on the call, but Weiss is a lawyer by trade. His presence, and the lack of a medical expert, drove home to some a sentiment that the economic gravity of the moment is running parallel to medical concerns.
It’s gross and disgusting and embarrassing and makes me ashamed to be a fan. But at least they’re finally starting to be honest about it.
4. So who are these guys?
At least there are some familiar names among the multiple replacement players apparently joining the Raptors today! Juwan Morgan, Tremont Waters, DJ Wilson, and Daniel Oturu have officially signed; Nik Stauskas and Brandon Goodwin are somewhere between “waiting to clear protocols” and “signed.”
Stauskas, of course, is a Canadian and has 300+ NBA games under his belt, including 60 starts. Wilson also has a good chunk of NBA games to his credit, and Goodwin too — he played 47 games for the surprising Hawks last year, averaging 13 minutes a night. Oturu, Waters and Morgan all have some NBA experience as well.
The Raptors (if they play) will still look awful tonight. These guys have never even practiced together! But again, they should be easy guys to root for.
5. What’s next?
As of this writing tonight’s Raptors game against the Cleveland Cavaliers is still a go, despite a combined 17(!!) players currently in the health and safety protocols. Fun to root for is one thing, but this game will have some extreme preseason vibes — or, maybe even summer league vibes.
Banton, Svi, Yuta, Boucher— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) December 26, 2021
Waters, Morgan, Wilson, Oturu
Garland, Rubio, Markkanen, Wade, Fall, Love, Valentine, Pangos, Anderson, Kornet, Scott
If there’s any good news, it’s that, presuming everyone is getting over any actual COVID diagnoses as expected, the Raptors should start getting players back early this week. The standard HSP period is 10 days; Dalano Banton, one of the first Raptors in the protocols, is apparently cleared to play, so that’s a good sign. Pascal Siakam entered the protocols on the 18th so he could be back for Tuesday night. Fingers crossed that no one else gets caught in the COVID net this week!
So that’s where we’re at. Cheering for laundry more than ever, rooting for a league that’s putting money above all other considerations and practically admitting it, and searching for any feel-good reason to even watch the games.
NBA action, it’s fantastic!
Enjoy the game tonight — if you can.