BOSTON – News, notes and observations while we wait for the NBA’s coaching carousel to kick into high gear:
• NBA, do we have a problem? ESPN reported this week that dozens of players were considering not hunkering down in Orlando for a resumed season. On a Ringer podcast, Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon said he had talked to a few who were “super interested in [possibly] sitting out.” The minimum time a team will spend in the Disney bubble will be 35-40 days, an official with knowledge of the league’s tentative timeline told SI.com, and the NBA has still not offered any clarity on who would be allowed in the bubble with players and specific rules on quarantining. For some players, the idea of a month-plus lockdown on a team that has little to no chance of competing for a championship isn’t appealing. For others, per Brogdon, the black community has gone through so much in recent weeks it doesn’t feel right to jump back into basketball. The NBA likely won’t fight players who beg off, but will teams pay them? Wouldn’t they have to pay them considering that nearly a third of the league was done for the season anyway? It’s a messy situation.
• On a call with local reporters this week, Hawks GM Travis Schlenk confirmed that the league’s December 1 target date for the start of the 2020-21 season was chosen with an eye on getting the NBA back on a regular schedule. The league could have a union problem there—NBAPA Executive Director Michele Roberts has already expressed some skepticism about the date—and really, what’s the rush? Who knows when crowds will be back in force, and Silver has made it clear just how significant that revenue is. Why not start the season around Christmas, finish in August and gather some data on summer basketball? If the ratings spike, the NBA could make the schedule shift permanent. If they slip, an August finish will allow the league, with a condensed offseason, to go back to the old schedule for the 2021-22 season. Seems like the league has an opportunity here to see if summer basketball really works.
• No surprise, but several team executives tell me that they are anticipating that the economic fallout of the stalled season will lead most, if not all, big-ticket player options to be picked up in the offseason. That includes Gordon Hayward ($31.9 million), Andre Drummon ($28.8) and Nicolas Batum ($24 million). San Antonio’s DeMar DeRozan ($27.7 million) likely will, too, but with the Spurs rebuilding, DeRozan, 30, could roll the dice on there being one more big contract out there for him in the fall.
• Powerful stuff from Spurs forward Lonnie Walker, who revealed on Instagram that he had been sexually abused as a child. In a caption to a video showing Walker buzzing his long locks off, Walker wrote that he started growing his hair out in the fifth grade as a “cloaking device.”
“I was sexually harassed, raped [and] abused,” Walker wrote. “I even got accustomed to it because, being at that age, you don’t know what is what. I was a gullible, curious kid that didn’t know what the real world was. I had a mindset that my hair was something that I can control. My hair was what I can make and create and be mine. And it gave [me] confidence.”
Walker said that the coronavirus pandemic forced him to “truly look at myself in the mirror.”
“My hair was a mask of me hiding the insecurities that I felt the world wasn’t ready for,” Walker wrote. “But now, [I am] better than ever. Out with [the] old. In with the new. I have shed my skin mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually.”
• Knicks owner James Dolan finally offered up a public statement on the killing of George Floyd, saying “Every one of us has a role to play in creating a more just and equal society, where there is no racism, bigotry, violence or hate. We stand with all who act for positive change.” That statement didn’t sit well with many, including Knicks superfan Spike Lee, who has been at odds with Dolan in recent months. Appearing on ESPN, Lee said Dolan’s statement had a familiar ring to it.
“That sounds like the guy in the White House commenting on what happened in Charlottesville, that there were good guys on both sides,” Lee said. “For me, that’s the same thing. That’s the same mentality.”
• There will be a big push for a huge black turnout at the polls come November, and LeBron James intends to be part of it. The Lakers star has started a group called “More Than a Vote,” which is focused on educating and protecting black voters while also energizing more to show up on Election Day. James plans to use his platforms, specifically social media, to fight voter suppression and any attempt to limit the voting rights of minorities. Just this week, in Georgia, voters waited hours in line to vote in person in the state’s primary election, with the longest lines reportedly concentrated in the state’s heavily black areas.
• Tom Thibodeau continues to look like the frontrunner for the Knicks head coaching job—Leon Rose, the Knicks new president, worked closely with Thibodeau at CAA—but where is the buzz for Kenny Atkinson? The ex-Nets coach is a proven developmental boss and New York is badly in need of that kind of coach.