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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - BUENA VISTA, Florida: Luke Walton was trying to find the right words to motivate his players to finish the season strong.
The Sacramento Kings had been eliminated from playoff contention, which was nothing new for the team with the NBA’s longest streak of missing the postseason.
Yet, even players who’d spent their whole careers with the organization had never heard the type of speech their coach made this week. This wasn’t the normal talk of playing for pride, of trying to make an impression for next season.
“He said something like, ‘We don’t know when the basketball is going to come back after this time,’” guard Bogdan Bogdanovic said.
The 22 teams who qualified for the NBA’s restart will be down to 16 by the end of the weekend, when the playoff bracket is set. The other six clubs exit World Disney World the same way as tourists who normally pack the place.
With only a limited number of people allowed inside the bubble and a commitment among them to making sure it worked, players could count on a safe environment.
Their fun is over. Now it’s back to the real world, and the real world in 2020 is an unsettling place.
“The unknown, none of us like that,” Washington coach Scott Brooks said.
Uncertainty awaits at the end of every season for teams that miss the playoffs. Coaches might not be retained. Free agents may not be re-signed. This time, though, the questions go far beyond simple basketball matters. The coronavirus pandemic forces teams to wonder whether they will be safe, and when — or where — they might be back together again.
“I mean, we’re leaving the happiest and safest place on earth and it’s definitely going to be tough, but it’s also going to be exciting because we all get to see our families and that’s what we miss the most,” Brooks said. “But we don’t know what the next step is going to be.”
NBA teams have been on campus since early July and there has not been a player test positive for the coronavirus during that time. Meanwhile, the virus has raged on elsewhere in the US, strengthening in some places as the number of cases in the country soared past 5 million.
With only a limited number of people allowed inside the bubble and a commitment among them to making sure it worked, players could count on a safe environment. They were tested daily and reminders about mask wearing, social distancing and hand washing were so ubiquitous that Brooks said the Wizards could pretty much memorize the video the league gave them.
“Honestly, the NBA’s done a great job,” New Orleans guard Jrue Holiday said. “This has been the safest place on earth. Seriously, the safest place on earth.”
Players aren’t assured of that security now. Mask wearing isn’t required in some places, not enforced in others. A common commitment to following medical recommendations is one of the reasons the US has struggled so badly to slow the spread of the virus in the first place.
Walton said there is obvious concern for those already gone or on their way out of Florida.
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