Coronavirus has been a massive storyline for months, having dominated everyday life in every way imaginable. Obviously, this engulfed the NBA as well. I have an especially poignant memory of that time, entering a Costco with the sense that the virus was still a world away and leaving only to see that Tom Hanks and Rudy Gobert have the virus (not to mention he mocked the virus a couple of days earlier by touching microphones). From that point, it was clear that the NBA is going to be the first league to go down. Since then, plenty of noteworthy consequences have emerged, which I will do my best to compile.
Let’s begin with the most obvious consequences. The season has been suspended for two months and players have fallen out of performing shape. Quarantine weight is real and could be an issue for the less than motivated star. This site outlines some of the benefits of supplements to assist in shedding that extra pounds but getting back into playing shape is the biggest concern. Many individuals around the insist it would take about three weeks to get everyone back to form, which is of the utmost importance because the season, if returning, would enter straight into the playoffs.
At this point, the very minimal result is a lost quarter of the regular season, which I tend to first connect with lost career stats. One thing that comes to mind for me is LeBron James’ chase for all-time leading scorer. It would unequivocally be a strong argument in the greatest of all-time debate against Michael Jordan to have the most points in NBA history. Considering it is on pace to be a very close call, 20 games is a significant loss since a 25 point per game stretch over that time would have been 500 points.
Speaking of foregone accolades, if the playoffs also never take place, that will open up another can of worms in that this was the most open race for NBA champion in a very long time. You will now have Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, James Harden, and even Russell Westbrook fans saying that their player of choice could have obtained an NBA championship this particular season, which, along with a likely finals MVP, would bolster their resume significantly.
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This is a very problematic foregone opportunity for all of these players as LeBron is in the process of making the best case possible for greatest of all time, while Harden and Westbrook are known by some as playoff underperformers. Giannis without a win is more likely to leave the Milwaukee Bucks and also likely to begin developing an underperformer label, and Kawhi relies on postseason accomplishments to compensate for a career with comparatively fewer regular-season statistics and accolades. Players are also taking shorter contracts these days, with Kawhi and Paul George the prime example. They only have one more guaranteed year together after this, which raises the stakes on the following year significantly.
The league faces a precarious situation next year as well. Fans, in my opinion, are more than likely out of the question for all of next season for the simple fact that all teams should follow the same guidelines out of fairness. This then results in the need for accommodating extreme situations like New York City (COVID-19 epicenter of the world). A vaccine is the only guaranteed solution available, and the medical consensus is that it will be widely implementable in about a year.
As a result of significantly decreased revenue, the league will also experience a salary cap decrease, which results in a free agency that is really tough to navigate. Just like role players were extremely overpaid during the cap spike in 2016, they will suffer the most in this instance. In 2016, we saw Joakim Noah, Timofey Mozgov, and Luol Deng sign massive contracts with subpar teams like the Lakers or Knicks, which suddenly had more cap space yet could not attract a star like Durant. Facing the option of spending or saving the money, teams spent it on mid-level players, presumably with the mindset that inaction is equivalent to falling behind. Fast forward to the summer the cap goes down, a new decision tree will take place. Since the luxury tax penalties will kick in much earlier, consider the exact same 2016 scenario. A team now has five million in cap space instead of 25. They can sign Durant for 30 million a year, or Mozgov for 16 million per year if Durant does not work out. Because 25 of Kevin Durant’s 30 million is over the soft cap, pretend that, after penalties, the cost to the team ends up being 50 million. Mozgov, for the same reason, ends up costing 25 million. Consider that for the most part, max salary players are worth above the max salary, while players paid below the max are being paid fair market value. If you “inflate” the salaries of each player, the star will still be a worthy investment while the role player will not. If teams still only think Mozgov is worth 16 million, the fair price for him is now something like 11 million with luxury tax considered. A possible effect of this is that contenders will stack up on vets. A skilled role player vet typically can choose between more money on a bad team or less money on a competitive team. If the money gap shrinks, competitive teams will look more appealing.
The psychological effect of no fans cannot be overlooked. Whether it’s a player like Westbrook who feeds off the fans or Kevin Durant who enjoys dominating to spite the opposing fans, their intensities and approaches will undoubtedly be altered in the near future. Relationships and chemistry within teams may also be damaged. We all had front row seats to see how Donovan Mitchell’s relationship soured with Rudy Gobert. Gobert displayed reckless behavior in the days before the diagnosis, and since Mitchell also got Coronavirus, Gobert could easily be culpable.
The relationship seems to have improved since it cratered, but the memory will never fade. This same situation could have repeated on other rosters like the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets, where multiple players were reported to contract the virus but remain unnamed. Even the very fact that some players were hesitant to come forward and tell people they had the virus shows the stigma around it. Players will inevitably be more focused on hygiene moving forward regardless of the virus being present, and this will spill over into events like autograph sessions and pictures with fans for the long term future.
I am personally hopeful that the current season playoffs resume in some way, shape, or form. Playing all games at a centralized location, such as the Orlando location which is being considered by the NBA currently, would be interesting considering there will be no home court advantage. This would be damaging for the Lakers in a Lakers/Clippers series, for example. The champion would, without a doubt, have an asterisk by their name, but there can be worse asterisks, or should I say “Astro-risks”.
Beating a fully healthy opponent in this setting would, in my opinion, still be a more worthy accomplishment than the Toronto Raptors beating a Golden State Warriors team who, when listing players who did not miss any time in the series, featured one shooter in Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala (playing with a hamstring strain), and bench-caliber talents like Jordan Bell. Even the Warriors’ 2015 championship, which they nabbed against a Cavaliers team missing Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, has seemingly lost its stigma for the majority of fans. All in all, fans relegated to a lifestyle of watching TV, working out, going to the park, and going shopping will welcome any sports they can get, even if the layout looks very different.