The NBA has suspended play due to the coronavirus pandemic, reportedly for a minimum of 30 days. The league took this action after Rudy Gobert, the All-Star center for the Utah Jazz, tested positive for the virus. Since then, his All-Star teammate Donovan Mitchell has also tested positive. The San Antonio Spurs were scheduled to play on Friday against the Denver Nuggets in the AT&T Center but now no one knows when — or if — that game will take place.
The Spurs currently have a record of 27-36 and sit in the 12th seed in the Western Conference. San Antonio is four games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the eighth seed and have won only three of their previous eight contests.
While there is a lot of information to process and although basketball is obviously a nearly meaningless concern compared to the well-being of the nation and the world, let’s go ahead and think through how the suspension of the NBA impacts the Spurs.
1. If the Rest of the Season is Canceled, the Spurs Won’t Be Upset
There’s no gentle way to put this: If basketball is the only focus, the Spurs have to be rooting for the season to be canceled. If the NBA cancels the rest of the games, San Antonio would get a lottery pick and their record-tying streak of 22 consecutive seasons making the playoffs would stay intact. That’s the best of both worlds.
As far as the lottery pick is concerned, the Spurs have the 11th worst record in the league. That means they have a 9.4% chance of getting a top four pick and a 2% chance of getting the first overall pick. Otherwise, if the Spurs don’t get lucky with ping pong balls again, they’ll draft somewhere around 11th overall. On top of that pick, their second round selection would be 41st overall.
Keeping the postseason streak alive is at most a secondary concern at this point but, hey, if we’re formulating the optimal scenario with only basketball in mind, it needs to be added to the discussion.
2. The Spurs are Even Less Likely to Make the Playoffs
In discussions with people in the NBA world, their near unanimous belief is that this season won’t be canceled. Most individuals believe that the regular season will be truncated — and maybe even the playoffs (best of five instead of best of seven, for example). However, the prevailing opinion is that there’s too much on the line — and too much available wiggle room — for commissioner Adam Silver to pull the plug on the entire season.
In 30 days, if the virus appears to be under control nation-wide, many people associated with the NBA believe there could be a couple weeks of regular season games scheduled for the players to shake the rust off before the postseason begins. Even if the NBA has to stay on the sidelines for 60 days, it’s believed that the NBA would at least go forward with the playoffs — with or without fans in the stands.
There’s already talk that the NBA would be better served if the Finals is played in August instead of June and if the season started in December rather than October, so the league could use this situation as an opportunity to rearrange their calendar.
Regarding San Antonio’s playoff chances, they were already very slim. With a truncated regular season all but assured if the rest of the season isn’t canceled, it’s safe to say that chance is now near (or at) zero.
3. Gregg Popovich Coaching NBA Players in the Olympics Looks Iffy
Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has waited a long time to coach in the Olympics. Unfortunately for him, it’s not looking good.
First of all, if the NBA schedule is pushed back, it could be impossible for the NBA to be involved. Basketball games in the Olympics are scheduled to begin in July, which means that if the NBA is extended into August, Pop will be coaching the Spurs instead of the Olympic team.
Secondly, there’s no guarantee that the Olympics go on as scheduled. If Japan is still struggling to contain the virus, it would at least be postponed. If it gets pushed back, there’s no guarantee that they’d consider the NBA’s schedule when doing so.
And finally, even if they can, are NBA players going to sign up to play? They’ll not only have the virus to worry about, but the very likely possibility of a shortened summer.
4. The Injured Players are Unlikely to Miss Anymore Games
Before the suspension of NBA games, the Spurs had three injured players: Jakob Poeltl, Dejounte Murray and Lonnie Walker IV. If the NBA resumes after a 30-day break, it’s likely that all three of those players will be able to play. The only one who may still be sidelined is Murray, whose calf injury hasn’t been given a firm timeline. That said, he too should be ready to play.
LaMarcus Aldridge returned last game after missing six contests with a shoulder injury but he said that his shoulder was still bothering him. A month from now, he’ll likely be a lot closer to 100%.
5. DeMar DeRozan Will Be Less Likely to Opt Out
While there was a report that DeMar DeRozan intended to opt out of his player-option if the Spurs don’t give him an extension, that just became less likely. Why? League revenue is sure to drop severely from the projections, which will lower the salary cap. With a diminished salary cap, there will be less money available in the free agent market, which means DeRozan is even less likely to walk away from the guaranteed $27.7 million he is due next season.
6. San Antonio’s Summer Plans are Unlikely to Change
It was very unlikely that the Spurs were going to be able to dip below the salary cap this upcoming summer. The plan was for the Spurs to look to add talent to their roster via the mid-level exception. If the salary cap dips, San Antonio’s strategy will remain the same: look to spend the MLE in the best way possible.
7. Missing Out on Summer League Would be Bad for the Spurs
If the NBA season gets pushed back, that will likely wipe out the summer league, which usually takes place in July. Even if the season ends in June as usual, the NBA may deem it too risky to hold summer league. That’s an event where hundreds of players play at only a couple of locations per day. Getting everyone tested thoroughly before the games begin would be difficult — and likely to be considered not worth the effort.
The timing of a missed summer league is unfortunate for the Spurs. Players like Keldon Johnson, Luka Samanic and Quinndary Weatherspoon would play big roles in summer league and gain valuable experience. Plus, San Antonio wouldn’t be able to determine how much each player has improved. Instead, they’d have to wait to make those assessments until next season’s training camp.
8. The Spurs Could Have an Advantage in the Draft
With March Madness canceled, scouts all over the world have been sent home and individual workouts could be impossible before the draft. If San Antonio’s reputation as doing their homework early on the draft is deserved, the Spurs could have an advantage. If their information is already in place, San Antonio would have to feel good about their ability to out-draft other franchises.
Speaking of the draft, there’s talk that it won’t be pushed back — even if play is still happening on the court. The 2020 NBA Draft is scheduled for June 25th and that should remain the date, no matter the status of the coronavirus.
Stay safe, everyone.