Sacramento Kings forward Harrison Barnes wants something to play for
For Sacramento Kings fans and NBA fans everywhere, the last week or so has been filled with optimism.
News that implies the NBA will return in some shape for this season over the next few months has come out, and the most likely outcome seems to be that the NBA picks up at Walt Disney World in a campus environment. The NBA itself has announced it is having preliminary discussions with WDW.
This is all great news, but there is a lot to be sorted out. And though overwhelmingly, NBA players, coaches, employees, and fans want the NBA to return, voices saying they might not want to play are starting to come up as well.
Chief among them is Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers.
Lillard and the Blazers currently are out of the playoff picture. It remains to be seen exactly how the NBA will return, but the league has a financial reason to try to bring back all 30 teams to get the greatest broadcast reach possible, thus boosting revenue for the league when it picks the season back up.
Nothing is official, but there is a chance the teams out of the playoff picture are brought back for merely exhibition games.
Lillard pointed to the inequity there is in that. The NBA would be asking those teams to come back and put their safety at risk with no shot at competing in the playoffs.
"“If we come back and they’re just like, ‘We’re adding a few games to finish the regular season,’ and they’re throwing us out there for meaningless games and we don’t have a true opportunity to get into the playoffs, I’m going to be with my team because I’m a part of the team. But I’m not going to be participating. I’m telling you that right now. And you can put that in there,” Lillard said."
Sacramento Kings forward Harrison Barnes sides with Damian Lillard
"“I think Dame is right, I mean, if you come back and play, you want to be playing for something. Right? You know, the risk of traveling, you know, being in Orlando in that type of environment, there’s many precautions that can be taken, you know, there’s risk in that. So if you’re going to be playing you want to be playing for something. And you know, all of us, who have been in isolation, we’ve been training, we’ve been hoping for this moment. And you know, you want to see that rewarded.”"
None of these players are saying they don’t have the desire to play competitive basketball again this season, or that they think the NBA shouldn’t resume. Simply, they don’t want to put themselves or their families at risk when there is no possible path to the Finals.
It’s a logical line of thinking, and for the NBA it might not even make sense to bring these teams in if they have nothing to play for.
Logistically, it’s a major challenge to bring more and more teams. Limiting the field to only the playoff teams may be the most convenient option. If they’re brought back for simply the exhibition period/regular season wrap-up, will the league simply send them back home a few weeks later?
"“If you’re gonna be in a situation where you do all this training, and you come out there for a few games, you’re not able to qualify for the playoffs then, I mean, it makes sense that you probably just have playoff teams and go from there,” Barnes said."
Fair? No. Harrison Barnes realizes that.
"“Nothing’s going to be quote-unquote fair,” he said to Beck."
Aside from the inherent risk with COVID-19 for players traveling and grouping up in a campus environment in Orlando, Barnes worries about the discussion about so rapidly coming back to gameplay. He believes that the data from previous lockouts shows how dangerous it can be for a player’s body to be off and out of commission for so long, only to have to ramp up so quickly for game action.
"“You see the rise in soft tissue injuries [after the lockout],” Barnes said. “Training I think during this time is important.”"
This would be even more of an issue than in a lockout season. In a lockout, the team at least has a training camp and then regular-season games, mild in comparison to the rigors of the postseason.
If you tell a team it’s “win or go home,” or “win two games or go home,” don’t you think players are going to go as hard as they can? After months away, that could lead to strain on the body.
"“This is just my personal bias of having a larger window of actual games before the playoffs, because naturally, the body, it’s going to take time,” Barnes said."
Or, perhaps Barnes just never wants to shave his beard.
As it stands, the Kings are 3.5 games back from a playoff spot if the league allowed the top eight seeds from each conference in. A straight 16-seed playoff regardless of conference has been suggested as well, which would place the Kings just one game back from the playoff pool.
Sacramento is in the most awkward place to be. The league will have to make tough decision that heavily impacts Sacramento on how they return to play.