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NBA Notebook: Covid absences lead to the return of familiar faces

Profile Picture: Rory Breasail

Rory Breasail

December 23rd, 2021

It’s our last news roundup before Christmas Day, and unfortunately it’s one dogged by the ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks throughout the NBA. Let’s dive in!

SILVER SAYS NO TO PAUSING THE SEASON

With fully a third of the NBA entering health and safety protocols in the month of December and an increasing number of games forced to postpone due to a lack of healthy bodies, there was speculation that the NBA might decide to pause the season temporarily until current outbreaks are under control. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, in an interview with Malika Andrews for ESPN, refuted such speculation on Tuesday, reiterating that the league is pushing ahead and has no plans to pause the season.

The NBA has mandated that teams must sign replacement players as soon as two or more of their players enter health and safety protocols, and the NBA has made the mechanisms for doing so easier and less punishing for luxury tax-paying teams. 

Conversation has now turned to what the future of "living with the virus means". Some have proposed allowing asymptomatic players to play as normal, but this would be a big departure from existing public health guidelines. Even if no player ends up in the ICU, long COVID symptoms even in vaccinated players might have drastic, career-altering consequences down the line. Pursuing short-sighted goals at the cost of long-term player health wouldn’t just be morally questionable, it would be bad business in a league where money talks.

FAMILIAR FACES AND UNPROVEN NEWCOMERS FILLING ROSTER GAPS

Maybe the only silver lining of so many players being forced to miss time in health and safety protocols is that it is opening up an unheard of amount of opportunities up and down NBA rosters, as teams scramble to find healthy bodies capable of contributing right away. from Isaiah Thomas getting another shot with the Lakers, or 40-year-old Joe Johnson taking a break from the BIG3 to go full "Iso-Joe" for the Boston Celtics, it’s been fun to see so many familiar faces again.

And even better than that, many G League players have been getting called up and given serious opportunities to play on the biggest stage. While the nature of these call ups mean that these replacement players' roles are by nature fleeting, it’s still nice for all of them to get their moment in the sun.

ANTHONY DAVIS SUFFERS MCL SPRAIN

Los Angeles Lakers star Anthony Davis will be reevaluated in four weeks after suffering an MCL sprain in action against the Minnesota Timberwolves earlier this week. After failing to walk out the tunnel under his own power, and reportedly hearing a pop, he’s lucky to be avoiding surgery. But the one-month timetable on his return seems overly optimistic.

A grade 2 MCL sprain takes between two-to-four weeks to heal, but by announcing in advance that Davis will only be reevaluated in four weeks, the Lakers are tacitly admitting that it might be more severe than they first indicated.

And a grade 3 MCL sprain can take as long as two months to heal, not counting the time needed to ramp up conditioning to return to action. In the former case, this is a dangerous knock on the Lakers' playoff chances, in the latter, it might well prove fatal.

DERRICK ROSE HAS ANKLE SURGERY

The New York Knicks' suffered another blow to their already dimming playoff hopes this week, as veteran point guard Derrick Rose underwent surgery to deal with a persistent ankle issue he has been dealing with since joining the team last season.

The Chicago native has been arguably the Knicks' best player since the start of the playoffs last year, and his absence, as well as numerous COVID-19 absences, has seen Kemba Walker, formerly out of the rotation, back in the starting lineup.

The Knicks are sitting at 14-17, with a more difficult schedule ahead of them than behind them. It’s well past time to begin betting against them making the playoffs.

CHRISTMAS DAY IS LOOKING GRIM

With health and safety protocols and the more typical injuries mounting, the NBA Christmas Day slate is in jeopardy of being one big dud. Among NBA stars expected not to play on Christmas now include Kevin Durant, Trae Young, Luka Doncic, and Anthony Davis, and it’s still no guarantee that Giannis will make his return in time. And at the rate the omicron variant is going, there will be a few other big names tallied on that list as well before Saturday.

While the NBA allegedly has contingency plans in case a team is forced to postpone a game on Christmas Day, more than likely what will happen is that instead of postponing, the NBA will put out a subpar product - a shame for every fan watching, and a disaster for the NBA, which makes an enormous amount of money from their Christmas Day schedule.

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