The OKC Thunder is not among the teams returning to practice facilities yet while teams with local health authority approval can test players and staff even if they are asymptomatic.
Friday marked the first day NBA teams began to return to practice facilities. So far, seven teams have advised they are set to return in the next nine days but the OKC Thunder are not among those teams.
The Portland Trail Blazers and Cleveland Cavaliers were the first to open facilities. On Monday the Denver Nuggets, Toronto Raptors, and Sacramento Kings will join that group. Two other teams have announced plans to open their facilities including the Orlando Magic on Tuesday, May 12th, and the Houston Rockets on Monday, May 18th.
The reason for the tiered return is some states are still in the process of loosening stay at home restrictions. While others aren’t comfortable proceeding yet like the OKC Thunder.
In the Friday conference call between NBA commissioner Adam Silver, NBPA executive director Michele Roberts and players there were some who voiced concern over feeling pressure from their franchise to return to practice. Silver was not happy about this revelation and asked players to advise him directly so he could contact the teams and emphasize they cannot force players to return.
Yet, as teams begin to return in small groups there is another elephant in the room — testing. The NBA has maintained its stance on not taking away valuable tests from people in need like front line workers and those in the community. This is going to be an ongoing issue as each state will differ in terms of how many tests they have available. That fact alone brings up the issue of some teams gaining an edge in terms of getting back in shape sooner.
Although the NBA issued a statement to not test asymptomatic players as it would use up numerous tests and take away from those in the community this stance changed. Now, teams can test if a team receives approval from their local or municipal health authorities.
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Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN noted at least three teams are already planning to test their players and staff including the Lakers, Clippers, and Magic.
In the same article Wojnarowski notes both the Blazers and Cavaliers intend to participate in a Mayo Clinic Coronavirus Antibody Study.
Among teams that opened up facilities on Friday, including Cleveland and Portland, those testing options weren’t in place, sources said. The Trail Blazers and Cavaliers are among the teams planning to participate in the Mayo Clinic Coronavirus Antibody Study — an NBA and National Basketball Players Association partnership — that will provide confidential test results to players within two days of the clinic receiving samples, sources said.
Throughout the planning stages to get players back practicing and figuring out a return date the NBA has suggested the league would need approximately 15,000 tests when/if the season resumes. And, Silver has definitively stated they will not reach that point until there is widespread tests available for all in need.
What teams will do in the interim is take player and staff temperatures prior to allowing them into practice facilities.
Undoubtedly this process will require constant monitoring and shifts as tests become more readily available or if there is any sign of players showing signs of having the virus.
For the moment, the OKC Thunder and GM Sam Presti remain cautious and patient in how they’ll proceed. The timeline for a full return to normalcy remains unknown but at least these small steps offer a glimmer of optimism.