The 2019-20 NBA season is set to resume in Orlando 142 days after Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19, a hiatus 13 days longer than the period of time between Kawhi Leonard hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy in Oakland in a Toronto Raptors jersey and Leonard getting the best of LeBron James on opening night in a Los Angeles Clippers jersey. The stoppage will be one day shorter than the pre-shutdown portion of the season, in which all 30 teams played 63 to 67 games.
To signify some semblance of normalcy, the NBA is basing the schedule on what remained of each team's regular season. Yet beyond the fact there will be 22 teams, living at Disney World, under restrictions designed to lower the risk of spreading the still relatively new and deadly coronavirus that shut the league down in the first place, the simple passage of time means that this is a resumption of the 2019-20 season in name only. Players have not experienced the shutdown in a homogeneous way, and rosters will be tangibly different than they would have been had the season continued on March 12.
It is too early to account for all of the after-effects of those 142 days, and it is impossible to predict the injuries that might result from ramping back up for bubble ball. Already, though, one can consider how each team that will compete from July 31 onward will have changed:
After the All-Star break, Kemba Walker had his left knee drained and had an injection. He missed five games, and when he returned he shot poorly. Maybe the hiatus has allowed his knee to get the rest it needed, and maybe it has been beneficial for Jaylen Brown's right hamstring and Gordon Hayward's right knee, too. Brown missed the Celtics' last four games and Hayward missed two games in early March.
Kevin Durant recently confirmed he's not playing in Orlando. Kyrie Irving might be there, but he's not planning on playing either, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. Fortunately for the Nets, they will likely be able to fill their roster spots, per Wojnarowski and Bobby Marks. Chris Chiozza deserves to get his two-way contract converted into a regular deal, and perhaps Justin Anderson will get another shot in Brooklyn, too.
One other consideration: Jacque Vaughn might be the only interim head coach in NBA history to have the luxury of a training camp. Every coaching staff has had plenty of time to think about X's and O's tweaks, but by virtue of Vaughn's position Brooklyn could make big stylistic changes.
The main thing to know is that Luka Doncic should be healthy. He missed seven games before the All-Star break with an ankle sprain, and he played through thumb and wrist injuries after the break.
When the season stopped, Seth Curry was also dealing with an ankle injury and Dorian Finney-Smith had a nagging hip injury. Dallas should have more depth at Disney World, although Dwight Powell and Jalen Brunson are still expected to miss the rest of the season. The front office will have the option of signing replacement players if that is the case.
Are you ready for Skinny Nikola Jokic?
Nuggets president Tim Connelly called him "beach ready." Coach Michael Malone called him a "lean, mean, fighting Serbian machine." Jamal Murray confirmed Jokic has "a little four-pack" and is "moving a lot better."
Jokic lost 20 to 25 pounds during the first part of the season, by his own estimation, and played like the superstar that he is after a slow start. Maybe he'll be even more dominant when games resume, though it's worth noting that he has previously said that he "didn't feel right" when he lost so much weight that opponents were pushing him around.
Another Nuggets note: They have a roster spot, which they could use to convert PJ Dozier's two-way contract.
The most interesting player in Houston is suddenly Eric Gordon, who was not himself in the first part of 2019-20 as a result of a right knee injury that required surgery. The Athletic's Kelly Iko reported that Gordon has dropped 12 pounds, and if that is a sign that he's healthy, the Rockets could be much better than they looked when they were stumbling in early March.
Before the shutdown, P.J. Tucker was playing through nerve damage in his shoulder. Russell Westbrook wasn't playing back-to-backs as part of a maintenance plan after having surgery on his right knee and his left hand last summer. Houston is fourth in pace and smallball can be taxing defensively. Maybe the Rockets needed a break.
The other Houston-related variable to watch here is how the NBA intends to deal with older coaches. Mike D'Antoni, 69, clearly wants to be on the sideline, and Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, the president of the coaches association, said that commissioner Adam Silver "admitted that he jumped the gun" by saying on TNT that certain coaches might not be allowed there. (This is also relevant to Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry, 65, and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, 71.)
Victor Oladipo has played a total of 337 minutes in 13 games since rupturing his quad tendon in January of 2019. He has played only 242 of those minutes next to Malcolm Brogdon, who started the season playing like a fringe All-Star, making the most of his opportunity to run the offense, a responsibility he rarely had in Milwaukee.
In his first season as a Pacer, Brogdon dealt with injuries to his hamstring, back and thigh, and he was out of the lineup for Indiana's last three games. In late April, he said he was 100 percent healthy. If he and Oladipo can find their rhythm, this team could have real upside, even though Jeremy Lamb will remain out with a torn ACL.
Indiana could sign a replacement player because of Lamb's injury.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers weren't dealing with any major injuries in March, but I suppose the stoppage has allowed Kawhi Leonard to put less stress on his knee. I'm curious how the Clippers approach his minutes and availability during the "seeding games" that will precede the playoffs.
Los Angeles Lakers
JaVale McGee has asthma and was hospitalized for pneumonia in December 2018, which has led to speculation about him staying away from the bubble for obvious reasons. He has said that he isn't worried, though, per the Los Angeles Times' Tania Ganguli.
Three months ago, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke were close to returning to the Grizzlies after being sidelined for weeks with a knee injury and a quad injury, respectively. Justise Winslow, whose season had been derailed by a back injury, was close to making his Memphis debut.
The Grizzlies' injury woes led to Anthony Tolliver, John Konchar and Josh Jackson getting real minutes and Jarrod Uthoff and Dusty Hannahs getting G League call-ups. Konchar might have played well enough to get his two-way contract converted, and Tolliver could get a minimum contract after joining the team on a 10-day, but the point here is that Memphis will have much more available talent than it did in March. Everybody will be watching how Winslow fits in.
Tyler Herro played seven minutes against the Hornets the night that the season shut down, after missing more than a month with an ankle injury. Meyers Leonard also had an ankle injury, and he hasn't played since Feb. 3, days before the Heat acquired Andre Iguodala and Solomon Hill from Memphis, and "it would've been a tight squeeze to get him ready if it was normal playoff time, coach Erik Spoelstra told reporters on a conference call. Now Miami expects to have its full squad.
Giannis Antetokounmpo had missed a couple of games with a minor knee injury the last time we saw the Bucks, and George Hill was dealing with a groin injury. The only way I can concern-troll them is to point out just how much time will elapse before their next meaningful game -- they've almost clinched the top seed in the East, and they should steamroll their first-round opponent. The second round will start around Sep. 1, per The Athletic's Shams Charania.
New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans' playoff odds aren't what they were in March, but that's more because of the format than their roster. Games against the Hawks (twice!), Knicks and Hornets are no longer on the schedule, and in a weird quirk, Portland has the tiebreaker over them if they end up having the same record in Orlando, simply by virtue of having played two more games before the season shut down.
The big questions are what kind of shape Zion Williamson will be in and whether or not Lonzo Ball can pick up where he left off with his shooting. Beyond that, JJ Redick will be back from the hamstring injury that sidelined him in March, and New Orleans could theoretically sign a replacement player because Darius Miller is out for the season. This roster is already so deep, though, that adding another player doesn't feel necessary.
Oklahoma City Thunder
There are two things to note involving defense-first small forwards:
- Luguentz Dort, an undrafted rookie, started the Thunder's last 21 games even though he wasn't on a full NBA contract. All signs point to OKC using its open roster spot to convert his two-way deal.
- Andre Roberson might be set to play his first NBA game since January 2018. On a conference call, Sam Presti told reporters that Roberson is healthy, but the team can't be exactly sure of his status until he practices and takes contact.
Jonathan Isaac could be a game-changer. The 22-year-old forward was one of the best defenders in the league before his knee injury on New Year's Day, and when the regular season was still expected to end in April, team president Jeff Weltman said Isaac was done for the year. Asked if that had changed in a recent interview with The Athletic's Josh Robbins, Weltman was noncommittal.
Weltman was no more forthcoming about Al-Farouq Aminu's status. Aminu had knee surgery in early January and Orlando received a disabled player exception for him. The Magic might want to use that exception to add some shooting, and if Isaac isn't ready they could theoretically add two players.
Prepare for Sixers optimism to return. Everybody knows that Ben Simmons was out with a back injury in March, but do you remember that Joel Embiid missed five games with a sprained shoulder just before the shutdown? Maybe Philadelphia will finally go into the playoffs with Embiid healthy!
I'll be encouraged if people around the Sixers start talking about Embiid the way people in Denver are talking about Jokic. In mid-May, Philly coach Brett Brown told reporters on a conference call that Embiid has "a real desire to be at a playing weight that equals his best since he's been in the league." Last week, Embiid said his mentality had "completely changed" after the All-Star break, via NBC Sports Philadelphia. His conditioning is going to be a storyline one way or another.
There are lineup questions, too: Will Al Horford go back to being the sixth man, like he was the last time both Simmons and Embiid shared the court? Will Shake Milton close games in the playoffs? Will either of the Sixers' trade-deadline acquisitions -- Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III -- be in the rotation at that point?
The Suns are extreme longshots to make the playoffs, but they should at least have Kelly Oubre Jr. with them. The forward had surgery on his torn right meniscus in early March, but in a recent radio interview Phoenix owner Robert Sarver said he expects Oubre to play.
Deandre Ayton should be fine, too. The center missed Phoenix's last three games with a left ankle injury. The last time both were healthy, the Suns started Ricky Rubio, Devin Booker and Mikal Bridges next to them, a lineup that has a plus-20.2 net rating in 226 minutes.
Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers deserve their own column, and fortunately my colleague Colin Ward-Henninger has written one. Not only are they the beneficiary of the aforementioned schedule quirk that gives them the tiebreaker over the Pelicans despite losing all four games against them, Portland will go from being paper thin in the frontcourt to having an abundance of options. Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic make this a thoroughly different team, and ideally Carmelo Anthony will be more efficient in a reserve role.
Marvin Bagley III has played in just 13 games this season and came off the bench in most of them. His last game was Jan. 20, and he will return from his ankle injury to a team that has almost no margin for error and a bunch of other options in the frontcourt. Jabari Parker barely played after Sacramento traded for him, partially because of a shoulder injury and partially because coach Luke Walton was trying to find minutes for Harrison Barnes, Nemanja Bjelica, Richaun Holmes, Harry Giles and Alex Len. One or two of those guys is going to be marginalized so Bagley get on the court.
San Antonio Spurs
Here comes Jakob Poeltl. The 24-year-old center missed the Spurs' last five games because of a sprained right MCL, but should start at Disney World if he has recovered, with a sidelined LaMarcus Aldridge recuperating from shoulder surgery. This is a perfect opportunity for Poeltl to raise his value, but it is terrible news for San Antonio's guard-heavy bench.
With the exception of OG Anunoby and rookie Terence Davis, neither of whom was a part of the Raptors' championship run, everyone in their regular rotation has missed significant time. The last time they were fully whole was in January, and people in Toronto seem psyched about Marc Gasol slimming down, even if they're only seeing him on Zoom calls.
The Jazz were confusing before the hiatus, but Bojan Bogdanovic was a clear bright spot. Without him, they'll need to put either Joe Ingles or Georges Niang in the starting lineup. It is difficult to find silver linings here, although perhaps Emmanuel Mudiay and Ed Davis will get another chance to be a part of Utah's second unit. Utah is also free to sign a replacement player because of Bogdanovic's wrist injury.
No, John Wall is not coming back, but presumably Ish Smith, who missed Washington's last four games with a hamstring injury, will be. Based on their net rating and record, the Wizards are the worst team going to Disney World, and unless some of their young guys have improved during this interlude, there is no reason to expect that will change.