The NBA took early and bold action when it suspended its season March 11, the same day just one player tested positive for coronavirus. Now the league is exercising caution as it navigates a potential return to action.
After announcing that players could work out in practice facilities beginning Friday, the league has pushed that plan back one week to May 8, according to ESPN senior NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski.
ESPN obtained a 16-page league memo on Monday that detailed to teams the requirements of reopening facilities, including allowing only four players in a facility at one time and having only one staff member supervising. No coaches are to be allowed in the workouts with players, the memo said. A distance of 12 feet must be kept among individuals on the court.
The NBA also told teams that there would be a process put in place to help teams in closed states find options to get back onto the floor on this limited basis, the memo said.
Among a dozen general managers reached by ESPN, most said they had apprehensions about bringing back players into facilities in regions where politics, not science and medical expertise, seemed to be driving the reopening of businesses. "We are going to wait and see what happens in the state over the couple weeks," Atlanta Hawks president of basketball operations and general manager Travis Schlenk told ESPN, with Georgia the first state to take steps to open its broader economy. "If there's a positive response, we'll slowly open up. If it's a negative response, we'll make sure our staff and players remain healthy."
Players have been prohibited by the NBA from using public gymnasiums or training facilities during the league's shutdown.
Meanwhile, ESPN's Kevin Arnovitz reported that the Los Angeles Lakers have returned approximately $4.6 million that they received from a federal government program intended to help small businesses weather the economic burden caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Lakers, one of the NBA's most profitable franchises, applied for relief through the Small Business Administration's Paycheck Protection Program, and were among the companies and nonprofits granted loans during the first round of distributions. But after reports that several large or highly capitalized entities were securing aid from the program's initial $349 billion pool — while hundreds of thousands of smaller businesses were shut out — the Lakers said they returned the money in a statement to ESPN on Monday.
"The Lakers qualified for and received a loan under the Payroll Protection Program," the statement said. "Once we found out the funds from the program had been depleted, we repaid the loan so that financial support would be directed to those most in need. The Lakers remain completely committed to supporting both our employees and our community."
As reported by ESPN, the Lakers' value was estimated to be more than $4 billion prior to the virus outbreak. They have the league's most lucrative local broadcast deal, which generates more than $150 million in annual revenue. In addition to the Buss family, which presides as the controlling owners, the franchise has three billionaire minority partners — Philip Anschutz, Patrick Soon-Shiong and Ed Roski Jr.
As a tentpole NBA franchise, the Lakers have the capacity to borrow at favorable rates. For instance, the NBA extended its credit line to $1.2 billion soon after it suspended the season. Teams in need of cash can tap the league's credit facility program, so long as they abide by the NBA's $325 million debt limit. Sources say at least one team has pursued this option.