While the effects of the Omicron variant are still being determined, one thing we know for sure - it’s much more infectious. Professional sports leagues are becoming acutely aware of this fact with the number of players testing positive. Unfortunately, COVID will again become the main topic of conversation in the upcoming weeks, and Jeff Van Gundy has a prediction many won’t like.
Health vs. profit
The news that the Lakers are bringing Isaiah Thomas on made every basketball fan smile. His story is one of the most unfortunate ones in recent NBA history, and we all want to see the King of the Fourth succeed again. But his second chance is a silver lining in the report that Russell Westbrook is the latest player in the health and safety protocol - the Lakers needed to bring someone in with all the players out at this moment.
The NBA and NBPA reacted to the situation by releasing a memo informing us an agreement was reached to increase testing intervals and mandate all players and staff to wear masks through the holiday season. This is a response to the fact 52 players and a handful of coaches and other staff members have gone into health and safety protocols in December - you can find the complete list here. Given all this, Jeff Van Gundy predicted how this could reflect on the regular-season schedule.
“I really feel that at some point there’s gonna be a pause to our season, a bubble to our season. The way they’re predicting these cases to continue to go… I don’t see any way around it.”
Jeff Van Gundy, NBA Broadcast
The NBA and NBPA memo made it clear both sides are “determined to continue the season without interruption” and are working on finding a better way to fill out the roster in case of an outbreak within a team. For now, the Bulls, Nets, Hornets, Lakers, and Kings have seen a significant number of players in health and safety protocols at the same time, but fortunately, only the Bulls had to cancel games - two this week.
Long term view
As much as the new variant had brought question marks, the overall situation we are in is much better than it was when the NBA shot down and set up the Orlando bubble. We have several vaccination options, and drug companies are coming out with solutions for effective treatment once you get the virus. So while the increase in numbers calls for caution, it’s not dramatic as it was in 2020.
While canceling several regular-season games isn’t good, that’s not what everyone’s concerned about. The main objective is to set up procedures that will ensure we don’t have issues like this in the Playoffs. A few of your main guys test positive during a playoff series, and you can book tickets to Cancun.
So all the solutions and procedures the NBA and NBPA agree to now are just a testing phase to see if there’s any way to optimize them before April, May, and June. That involves testing procedures, having extra guys on the roster, and more stringent precautionary measures.
We don’t want to find ourselves saying, “Yeah, they won because they didn’t have an outbreak at the right time.”