Returning from hiatus is going to impact the San Antonio Spurs on a small scale as well as the NBA world in its entirety.
Since the middle of March, the basketball world at large has been halted due to the coronavirus outbreak. The San Antonio Spurs are among the 30 teams to have their seasons suspended indefinitely because of the national emergency.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has been working diligently with health experts, the league’s board of Governors and leaders within the basketball community to find some resolution but it’s still too soon to tell what comes next. There’s been talk about playing out the rest of the season in a quarantined location, but there’s no imminent decision regarding what comes next.
With that in mind, the Spurs need to be wary of the potential fallout from this lost span on time. The league and team owners are losing a lot of revenue right now which is going to change the landscape of this season and without a doubt is going to impact the next one.
We might see radical changes to the way professional sports are conducted, people’s willingness to participate in these events and the way players need to handle their business for the near future. From finances to on-court participation, things are about to change in the NBA, and players, fans, owners and coaches need to be ready for it.
The most important possibility is one that’s the most obvious but in terms of the actual on-court product that is the NBA, it’s probably the most influential of the bunch.
Next: Shaking off the rust
1. Players are bound to be rusty
Rising star Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics has been a killer in his third season in the NBA, earning his first All-Star bid and leading the C’s back to the playoffs as the face of the franchise. He’s used his forward momentum to build an astounding offensive repertoire up to this point in his career, but that takes repetition and right now, there’s no opportunity for him to continue that growth.
In an interview from home with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, Tatum stated that he hasn’t picked up a basketball since the Celtics’ last game against the Indiana Pacers. Since he’s still on his rookie contract, Tatum isn’t getting paid according to his on-court impact and he’s living on a salary that hasn’t allowed him to get a hoop or a practice court in his home.
Most players leaguewide don’t have access to basketball facilities at this time and are stuck playing on driveway hoops, or even worse, no hoop at all. With that in mind, the Spurs’ young players like rookie Keldon Johnson who had just broken into the rotation before everything went haywire are bound to be rusty.
Even for those who have access to hoops and basketballs, social distancing and quarantining have taken way the ability to play competitive basketball or keep up the conditioning that these athletes are used to. There’s going to be a significant period of time before they reach the level that they were playing in before the season was shut down.
Eight months of consecutive basketball including training camp, the pre-season and the majority of the regular season are going to be wiped out and that’s going to be a huge adjustment for people who aren’t used to going more than a few days or at most, a few weeks without the game.
That leads to a whole other discussion about how the player’s rust might lead to more significant issues down the road.
Next: Concern for player's health
2. The looming possibility of injury
Lack of repetition makes muscles weaker and after months without practicing their athletic feats and acrobatic antics, these NBA players could see a spike in injuries when the league does return.
In a call with local reporters, Spurs Sports & Entertainment CEO R.C. Buford mentioned that one major concern for the team is “the threat of soft-tissue and structural injuries,” according to Tom Orsborn of MySanAntonio.com. Considering the lack of basketball-related activity that players have been going through lately, it’s going to take time for their bodies to adjust.
For players who have a history of basketball-related injuries like Dejounte Murray and Lonnie Walker IV, this is a major cause of concern. A huge reason why Dejounte was able to get back to the level that he played at in the 2019-20 season was because he was putting in the hours to get his body back to peak form from his ACL tear in the 2018 preseason.
San Antonio needs to be extra cautious about ramping up his workload so that they can ensure their point guard of the future doesn’t have any setbacks. The same goes for Walker, who suffered a meniscus tear last season and missed out on a large chunk of playing time during his one-and-done freshman campaign in Miami.
This will call for a slow rise in practice time for Spurs players and a training camp to get everyone acclimated to NBA competition, even if the league’s pace declines as a result of the hiatus.
Next: Reduced pay for players and coaches
3. Reductions to the salary cap
Even before the league suspended play, there was a looming issue regarding reductions to the salary cap that hung over their heads. When China cut ties with the NBA, the league lost a ton of is revenue because a decent percentage of the league’s viewership came from the region that restricted NBA viewership after Houston Rocket GM Daryl Morey’s controversial tweet.
To make matters worse, league owners are losing out on a ton of revenue as a result of the coronavirus outbreak that caused the stoppage of play. Between their other businesses and the lack of revenue being gathered from their teams, owners are going to have less money to toss around and the salary cap is going to take a cataclysmic hit.
This, combined with the implementation of the super-max contract that star players become eligible for by leading their team and reaching certain stat categories is going to drastically change how free agency operates. Role players are going to get less money and stars will need to take pay cuts to bring along enough talent to help them compete for a championship.
For small-market teams like the Spurs, it’ll make retaining superstar talent even more difficult while making it easier to hold onto role players. San Antonio has a star player eligible to enter the free-agent market this season and DeMar DeRozan is likely going to be looking for longterm financial security that would hinder the Spurs’ future.
Considering the team has a majority of its players age 24 or younger, they’re going to need that cap space to retain players, later on, so the likes of LaMarcus Aldridge and DeRozan might be heading out the door sooner than anticipated.
Next: Pushing the calendar back
4. Delaying the 2020-21 season and beyond
There’s been talk of pushing the start of the NBA season back for a few years now, but this gives the league a plausible opportunity to do it. Many consider Christmas Day the real starting date of the NBA season despite it beginning around Halloween because this is when teams figure out who they are and start taking things to the next level.
Every convention that we know about the NBA schedule is in danger of taking a dramatic turn due to the league-wide suspension from coronavirus. It was reported by reputable sources including Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that the league’s board of governors is heavily considering pushing the start date of the 2020-21 season to December, allowing for the rest of this season to play out and for a reasonable offseason timeline to take place.
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NBA Summer League would likely become NBA Fall League and the Draft would be more likely to get pushed to the middle of Autumn instead of mid-June like it is now. Nothing is set in stone, but after all of the mess that the league is trying to clean up because of this hiatus, they might need to take a bit more time to sort everything out before commencing with the 2020-21 season.
This might not actually be a bad thing since it would give the NBA a chance to continue through the summer, filling up a timeslot that competes only with Major League Baseball. It’d give them a chance to deviate from their biggest competitor, the NFL, and highlight Sunday Showcases from an earlier point in the season to draw more viewers during their free time.
Even before the hiatus took place, this was an idea that had been tossed around by the NBA community to create distance from the NFL and dominate more of the summertime airways that the Summer League currently occupies.
If this ends up being the case, the NBA calendar will forever be reshaped by this unsuspecting break.