At least two Lakers have openly expressed concern about the league’s plan to restart: Avery Bradley and Dwight Howard. And just a day before players have to inform teams if they plan to sit out the NBA’s restart next month, at least one of their teammates isn’t sure that either player will come.
On Tuesday, Danny Green said on his “Inside the Green Room” podcast that he had been in contact with both players in the past few weeks, and couldn’t say with certainty that they were going to play. While Green said he believed Howard would join the Lakers in Orlando after a conversation over the weekend — Howard told Green that he never said he wouldn’t play — but Green said he would understand if Howard opted out.
“There’s a lot of other things going on behind the scenes that people don’t know about, and I understood,” Green said. “I said, ‘Obviously we need you man, we love you like a brother. You’re family. We want you to be a part of this. But regardless of what your decision is, we know it’s bigger than basketball and that there are things that are more important.’”
Green said he was hopeful that he would talk to Bradley again soon.
This was set against the backdrop of the NBA testing members of the proposed travel parties for the 22 NBA teams, its first big step to creating a campus at Walt Disney World Resort meant to insulate players and staff from the ongoing COVID-19. But that step offered some foreboding developments as word leaked of at least two teams with positive tests.
The headliner was Nikola Jokic, the franchise center of the Denver Nuggets, whose positive test will delay his return trip to the United States from his native Serbia, the Denver Post reported. Two Phoenix Suns players also tested positive, according to the Arizona Republic, which shut down their voluntary workouts at the facility.
The Lakers, too, were tested Tuesday, but results were not immediately available. While the Lakers previously disclosed in March that two players had tested positive for COVID-19 and remained asymptomatic, the NBA has generally transitioned to not disclosing positive test results for medical privacy reasons.
Players also have a chance to opt out of the restart if they feel unsafe. The deadline for players unwilling to participate to notify their teams is Wednesday. Those who have not been determined to be at high risk by a physician panel could face a loss of pay per game missed. Two players, Portland’s Trevor Ariza and Washington’s Davis Bertans, have already acknowledged that they will not participate. ESPN reported that the NBA and NBPA agreed to “an enhanced insurance plan” for those who contract COVID-19 or are injured during the restart.
The timeline was designed in part because positive tests were anticipated: There are still two weeks before teams are scheduled to privately charter to Disney World where the NBA is planning a July 30 restart. Traveling members will face more testing and quarantines when they arrive.
But the NBA hasn’t made clear exactly how many positive tests it is willing to withstand to return to play. The 113-page health memo only briefly addresses the potential for cancellation, saying: “The occurrence of a small or otherwise expected number of COVID-19 cases will not require a decision to suspend or cancel the resumption of the 2019-20 season.”
ESPN reported that several league executives had been nervous about a flood of positive tests once players returned to their respective markets. Nationwide, the U.S. is seeing a surge of COVID-19 cases, particularly in the South and West. California set a daily record for new cases with more than 6,000.
Could Cousins come back?
As part of the NBA’s restructured agreement for the CBA, teams are allowed to sign free agents to their roster if they have a spot. Intrigue has circled around center DeMarcus Cousins for the last few weeks: The former All-Star has spent most of the last year recovering from a torn ACL he suffered last July, and the Lakers waived him in February to sign Markieff Morris.
But Cousins’ readiness is still unclear: The Athletic reported that interested teams were told that Cousins was planning to skip the restart and continue to rehab for next season. The Los Angeles Times reported that Cousins had not yet made up his mind.
Excel Sports Management, Cousins’ agency, did not immediately return a request for clarification to Southern California News Group.
Cousins has remained close to the Lakers: He’s a friend of franchise forward Anthony Davis, traveled on team trips when he was injured, and was permitted to continue rehabbing at the Lakers’ practice facility after he was waived. The Lakers could potentially sign Cousins if they chose to free up a roster spot by waiving someone else.
Described as an X-factor before his season-ending injury, Cousins has still shown effective scoring and rebounding when healthy, but has struggled to regain All-Star form since a 2018 Achilles tendon rupture.