Reopening night is 16 days away, and NBA teams are in Phase 4 of the return-to-play plan, meaning that they are practicing and working out in groups. As players are getting used to their new life at Disney World, the surrounding area is in the middle of a COVID-19 crisis: On Monday, Florida reported more than 12,600 new cases, a day after it set a single-day U.S. record with more than 15,000. Forty-seven hospitals in the state reported that their ICUs are completely full.
That's where we'll start with this latest 3-Man Weave, a discussion about the restart of the 2019-20 season featuring CBS Sports' Jack Maloney, Jasmyn Wimbish and James Herbert:
1. All 22 teams are on campus now. How are you processing the NBA returning in the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic?
Jack Maloney: I'm not sure I have a good answer for you, to be honest. In general this whole thing is surreal and infuriating when you stop to think about it for more than, like, two minutes. In terms of the NBA I guess I've reached the point of acceptance. I've felt all along that they shouldn't be playing, but they've made it pretty clear over the past few weeks that it doesn't matter what anyone thinks, or what happens in terms of the pandemic. I'm obviously going to watch, but I can't say I'm all that excited. Mostly I'm just hoping everyone gets out of there without any careers being ruined.
Jasmyn Wimbish: I compare it to the "this is fine" meme, with the dog sipping coffee while the house around him is on fire. Florida shattered the record for single COVID-19 cases in a single day with over 15,000 (!!!) positive cases in 24 hours, and in addition to most of the NBA being at Disney World, the happiest place on earth just opened to the public. This is most definitely not fine.
James Herbert: There is something discordant about watching players describe life in the bubble on Zoom while my Twitter feed is filled with an endless stream of horrifying COVID-19 news. The same public-health experts who praised the NBA's health and safety protocols are now calling out the league (and others like it) for pushing forward despite an ongoing medical catastrophe in the area. Daily testing and rapid turnaround times sounded great before this massive outbreak, which has regular people waiting six days or more for their results in Florida.
Maloney: I think it has to be the Lakers, just because they have the most unknowns, especially after the Rajon Rondo injury. Between him and Avery Bradley, who's sitting out, that's 45 backcourt minutes per game that have to be replaced. Alex Caruso is going to be a major part of that, so how will he handle his increased role? How else will they adjust their rotations? Are we going to get playoff J.R. Smith and/or Dion Waiters? Will they try to play even bigger than they had been in the pre-pandemic portion of the season?
How they respond to that challenge is going to be interesting, as will simply seeing what LeBron looks like after the layoff. He was so refreshed after his extended break last summer, and now has basically gotten a second offseason. With his age (35) and the way he plays, he might benefit more from the hiatus than any other player.
Wimbish: I'm interested to see how the Clippers handle load management with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. The long hiatus allowed both of them to rest up, but trying to ramp back up to compete in the playoffs after only eight regular-season games is a huge ask. Will we only see Leonard and George in half of the seeding games to prepare for the playoffs? Will they feel loose and comfortable enough to compete in every playoff game so soon? We've seen Leonard take his game to another level in the postseason before, but there was never anything like this pandemic that halted his season and required him to get ready for the playoffs in such a short amount of time.
Herbert: The Bucks have the likely MVP and Defensive Player of the Year. They have the best record and by far the best point differential. They are compelling, though, because virtually no one sees them as unbeatable. I'm interested in whether or not they look any different than they did before the shutdown, but beyond that I want to know if they'll be more adaptable in the playoffs than they were last season. This isn't just about Giannis Antetokounmpo dealing with double teams; it's about the role players making shots and the coaching staff making adjustments.
3. Celtics, Raptors, Rockets: Should any of these teams be considered contenders? Is your answer different than it would have been in March?
Maloney: No and no. I've felt all along that there's a pretty significant gap between the Bucks and the two L.A. teams, and everyone else. Those three teams are in the next tier, and I'd probably throw the Nuggets in there as well. It feels somewhat slimy to be thinking this way, but if the virus starts causing havoc, I think a team from that group is most likely to step up and contend, but if everyone stays relatively healthy -- knock on wood -- I'd be pretty surprised if the Bucks, Lakers or Clippers weren't the champs.
Wimbish: If Jayson Tatum picks up where he left off in the last month before the season was postponed -- 29 points and eight rebounds per game, 44 percent from 3-point range -- then the Celtics could very well find themselves in the Eastern Conference finals. Before the hiatus, they had one of the best defenses in the league, Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward's scoring production was trending upward and their center-by-committee plan was holding up. It might be difficult for Boston to find that same success it had back in March, but it has the makings of a team capable of making a deep postseason run. It was true in March, and now, with Kemba Walker expected to be fully healthy, it's true in the bubble.
Herbert: Fringe contenders sounds right to me. The Celtics' statistical profile, the Raptors' flexibility and the Rockets' upside are all significant, and by the end of the "seeding" games there might not be clear separation between these teams and the top tier. All three of them can point to health as a reason for optimism, but the only one I see much differently than I did in March is Houston -- if the real Eric Gordon is in Orlando and Luc Mbah a Moute can defend like he did two years ago, it's a different team. (It's also a vastly different team if it is without Russell Westbrook, who announced he tested positive for COVID-19, and James Harden, who has yet to join the Rockets in Orlando.)
4. Superstars excluded, name one player to watch in Orlando.
Maloney: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. His backcourt mate, Chris Paul, has been the main story in Oklahoma City for good reason, but SGA might just be the coolest player in the league. If you haven't had a chance to catch much Thunder basketball this season, you should take advantage of the fact that at least half of their seeding games are going to be on national TV. Standing 6-foot-5 with an almost 7-foot wingspan, Gilgeous-Alexander is a completely unique player who can do just about everything. Defensively his size and athleticism allows him to guard multiple positions, but it's on offense where he really shines. He has an innate ability to manipulate the defense in the pick-and-roll, and he plays at a funky rhythm that throws off his opponents. Blessed with incredible touch in and around the paint, he's often tossing up absurd floaters or off-balance layups. Few players in the league will leave you scrambling for your remote to rewind and double-check what exactly they just did as often as SGA.
Wimbish: Let's go with Shake Milton. Philly has been using him as the starting point guard in practices down in Orlando, and before the season was suspended, Milton impressed with his shooting and playmaking abilities. Essentially, he is slowly becoming what Philadelphia thought it would get with Markelle Fultz. In the eight games preceding the hiatus, all of which he started for an injured Ben Simmons, Milton averaged 17.9 points, 4.4 assists and shot well over 50 percent from both the field and 3-point range. Finding out a way to use him and Simmons together in the starting lineup might just be the shake-up the Sixers need.
Herbert: In theory Justise Winslow is precisely the type of player Memphis needs, capable of guarding any position and taking some playmaking pressure off Ja Morant. In reality the team only has eight games, all of them meaningful, to integrate Winslow before the playoffs. We don't know if he'll shoot well enough to help the Grizzlies when he doesn't have the ball, and we don't know if they'll give him the ball enough for him to find his comfort zone. If he fits in right away, then the league's most exciting young team will also be one of its most balanced.
5. We're saving the best for last: Let's hear your Brooklyn Nets thoughts.
Maloney: My primary Nets thought, at least in regards to the players who will be available for them in Orlando, is that Jarrett Allen rules. Then obviously it will be interesting to see what Jamal Crawford and Michael Beasley can do, and a throwback J-Craw game would be pretty cool. Other than that, though, I can't say I have too many strong takes about Brooklyn. It's going to be pretty weird watching them field a team of largely replacement players knowing that it was necessitated by a number of their players feeling the effects of a potentially deadly virus.
Wimbish: The Nets should've opted out of the restart. It'll be intriguing to watch Jamal Crawford lace 'em up in the bubble, and I did tab Chris Chiozza as one of the two-way players to watch for in Orlando, but this isn't a good team. A good chunk of these guys just got signed to fill roster spots like two weeks ago, and now not only do we have to watch the Nets play for eight games, but there's a very good chance they hold on to one of the final playoff spots.
Herbert: My hottest Nets take is that Chiozza should play 30-plus minutes a game even though they signed Crawford and Tyler Johnson. My most boring Nets take is that I expect Caris LeVert to put up crazy numbers. My hope is that Jacque Vaughn's coaching staff tries to use this as an audition for next season, installing its Kyrie-and-K.D.-oriented offensive system and instructing Crawford and Michael Beasley to do their best impressions of the two stars.