Indiana Pacers star Victor Oladipo has changed course and is now expected to attempt to play in the Orlando bubble when the 2019-20 NBA season resumes later this month. The shooting guard has been participating in five-on-five scrimmages, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.
Oladipo tore his quad tendon last season, and made his return in late January, just about six weeks before play was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic. As a result of his health situation, Oladipo told The Athletic in an interview just a few weeks ago that he didn't feel comfortable returning to play under the current circumstances.
"I really want to play, and as a competitor and teammate this is tearing me apart. I feel like I'm at a great place in my rehab and getting closer and closer to 100 percent. With all the variables, from how I have to build my 5-on-5 workload back up, to the increased risk of a soft tissue injury which could delay my rehab, and the unknown exact set up of the bubble I just can't get my mind to being fully comfortable in playing. I have to be smart and this decision hasn't been easy, but I truly believe continuing on the course I'm on and getting fully healthy for the 2020-21 season is the right decision for me."
Both Oladipo and the Pacers have maintained all along that he is healthy and progressing well. However, heading into the bubble they thought that returning to play under such stressful and unique conditions was not worth the risk. Especially considering the fact that players who suffer the same injury as Oladipo are more susceptible to soft tissue injuries in the ensuing years. The fact that Oladipo was still planning to travel to the bubble despite all of these comments raised some eyebrows at the time. Why put himself through the entire process just to sit on the bench? Now, it seems clear that he was hoping to play all along, and has finally gotten the OK from the team and medical staff.
There are also financial implications involved in Oladipo's decision. Oladipo has $3 million remaining on his contract for the 2019-20 campaign, and under the rules that the league established for the restart of the season, players who were healthy but decided not to play would not get paid the remainder of their salary. According to ESPN's Brian Windhorst, Oladipo's situation is proving to be a bit of a gray area, as he is technically healthy, but he's coming off of an injury and initially wanted to sit out to protect his health. From Windhorst:
In the days since, lawyers from the players' union and the NBA have reviewed the situation and there is dispute over where Oladipo's situation falls. The union believes Oladipo, who went to Orlando with the Pacers and then cleared quarantine so he could practice, should be paid his remaining salary, sources said.
The league, largely in an effort to set a precedent in case other players who are deemed healthy want to leave Orlando and no longer play, believes Oladipo has opted out and should not be paid, sources said. His public comments about feeling healthy has only solidified the league's position on the matter, sources said.
The Pacers organization is supporting Oladipo, and are willing to pay him his salary regardless of whether or not he plays, per Windhorst. If he ultimately does opt to play, this will be a moot point, as he will then receive his salary as an active player. Oladipo's return would a big boost for the Pacers. Heading into the restart they are tied with the Philadelphia 76ers for fifth place in the Eastern Conference at 39-26, and while they are still within striking distance of the Miami Heat for the fourth seed, getting there doesn't matter as much with no homecourt advantage anymore.
Indiana was actually a bit worse with Oladipo on the court (minus-2.6 net rating differential) in the 13 games after he returned, but he's by far their most talented player and raises their ceiling significantly in the playoffs if he can recapture some of his pre-injury form.
The good news for Oladipo and the Pacers is that what was essentially an extra offseason gave Oladipo plenty of time to continue rehabbing and strengthening his body, and this mini training camp will provide crucial practice time to help him reintegrate into the team. Trying to do that on the fly in the middle of the season is almost impossible.
We'll obviously have to wait and see what Oladipo and the Pacers look like when the games get started again, but they're a much more interesting team than they were a week ago.