Sport

NBA’s challenge: Keeping level playing field as different states start to reopen

As NBA teams start to re-open their practice facilities to players so they can work out, the league faces a real challenge to one of its core principles:

What if the Dallas Mavericks players, living in a state that re-opens relatively early, get to work out in their team facilities in early May, a full three weeks before the players from the Los Angeles Clippers (in a more restrictive state) can get into theirs? As the standings are set right now, these two teams would face off in the first round of the playoffs — would Dallas have an unfair advantage because of the earlier start?

How does the NBA keep its competition fair during rolling re-openings across the nation?

It’s a topic among players and others around the league.

The league has told teams in states that are slower to re-open it will “help find alternative arrangements” for players, the original report from Adrian Wojnarowski said. Which sounds good but is a logistical nightmare.

Teams want to get players back into facilities to workout — it’s an environment they can control, with social distancing (one player, one coach, one basket) and a lot of sanitization of equipment. It’s also fair to question if even that will be safe enough, especially in some areas that have been hotspots for the disease. And what happens if (or really, when) one NBA city becomes a new hotspot for COVID-19 after re-opening the city or state leads to a spike in cases of the disease?

In the offseason, there is a policy where players from another team can workout at another team’s facilities — a lot of players have second homes in Los Angeles and workout at the Clippers and Lakers facilities, for example — and the NBA could allow that again. However, due to travel restrictions, that’s also not going to be fair right now.

Could the Clippers find a workout facility in Georgia or Oklahoma and have their players move there for a couple of weeks to start getting up shots. Would every team be able to follow that pattern?

There are no easy answers here, just like the re-opening of the nation in general.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has said consistently from the start that player health and safety will be the top priority and will guide decisions. As it should be. But there are other factors as well and competitive balance is one of them, especially if the NBA is going to play out the postseason in a “bubble” somewhere.