OKC Thunder: CBA delay until July will undoubtedly affect NBA return date

OKC Thunder: Zhang Zhuo #22 of Beijing Ducks in action during Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) League. (Photo by Fred Lee/Getty Images)
OKC Thunder: Zhang Zhuo #22 of Beijing Ducks in action during Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) League. (Photo by Fred Lee/Getty Images) /

Another delay in the return of the Chinese Basketball Association lends itself to the belief OKC Thunder and NBA games won’t be back anytime soon.

The first full month since the OKC Thunder and Utah Jazz game was postponed and the season subsequently put on suspension has passed. The emphasis remains on practicing physical distancing to optimize staying healthy.

The clear hope is for these efforts to snuff out the spread of the coronavirus and flatten the curve of positive COVID-19 tests. While everyone navigates this new world there is uncertainty regarding when communities will be able to return to a semblance of normalcy.

To that end, the NBA is also trying to plan for a return to action but do so in a manner that will keep players and fans alike safe. To meet those goals the association is considering phases to bring back games. The first phase theoretically would involve isolating the teams in one location and playing games without fans, likely for the remainder of this campaign.

Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the association has viewed the Chinese Basketball League and their decisions as the test case for how the NBA could potentially return.

The CBA had earmarked a return to action in mid-April, then postponed until May and as of late Tuesday evening have once again pushed back their return date to July. That date isn’t in cement and will ultimately depend on the Chinese Government and health officials. At the end of March the delays were a direct result of large-scale gatherings being banned in order to contain the virus.

Although China witnessed a flattening of the curve there were concerns of second outbreaks that could arise. These decisions were happening in concert with foreign players returning to spend a two week quarantine period in preparation for the April re-start. They are now in China awaiting next steps while some foreign players never returned and are now unable to given the lockdown and ban of anyone entering the country.

As per writer Jonathan Givony of ESPN:

"Caught in limbo are more than a dozen Americans who returned to China and have finished their 14-day quarantine period. CBA teams have been conducting basketball activities in varying formats, some with full-contact practices and others through social distancing methods.Considering the Foreign Ministry’s ban on incoming travel from non-citizens, returning to China in June may prove impossible for those now leaving the country. Some of the top players in the CBA told ESPN they intend to stay in China as long as they are receiving salaries, rather than conducting two additional 14-day quarantines."

Unless the Chinese Government changes direction the revised July start will undoubtedly have an impact on the NBA plans for a return. The first case in China was traced back to November 17th but the outbreak became fully recognized in December. The CBA postponed their season on February 1st. Considering these dates we shouldn’t be focusing on the Feb. CBA postponement but the December outbreak since it’s the time frame a country will take to fully contain and erase the coronavirus. That would equate to a seven month period of containment should the CBA return in July.

Granted, the situation in the two countries isn’t exact and North America may be able to contain the virus sooner. A vaccine would be the best resolution but all reports seem to point to a year time frame being optimistic and 18 months more realistic.

If the U.S. and Canada follow the same trends as China the NBA would be looking at an August return date. That seems untenable unless the return featured a drastically different timeline. The issue is with that much time off players would need close to a month of preparation.

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Unless there were efforts made prior to quarantine teams for training campus the league would be then be looking at a September return. At that point, you have to believe it would be better to simply cancel this season and start on the normal schedule for next season.

This is based on the knowledge we have at hand and is speculation so don’t take this as set in stone. Again, the NBA could find ways to deal with the situation differently which could offset the dates.

What we do know is players will need time to get back in game shape and the NBA isn’t about to risk injuries to their stars just to squeeze in the 2020 playoffs. Given the variance of what players are able to do during their home distancing, it solidifies the necessity for a longer preparation period. And, should games resume expect to see some wonky efforts worse than preseason and the start of each season.

That’s because this isn’t a situation where players are shaking off the rust of not playing with each other — this is players like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum and others having not shot a basketball at a hoop for six months or longer. How quickly their form returns will vary from player to player and it’s doubtful we can apply the ‘it’s like riding a bike” analogy to the situation.

I vacillate daily on whether the season will return or be canceled. Each comment made by a team official or new player insight creates shifts in my thinking.

The one certainty, is just like Adam Silver was the first of all major league sports leagues to postpone gameplay, he’ll also be the one to exercise the most caution and wisdom in a return. And, for as much as I’ve given in and admitted I have an addiction to watching basketball, that fact gives me peace.

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Stay safe and healthy all.