The Phoenix Suns are scheduled to leave today for Orlando, to begin the Grand NBA Bubble Experience of 2020.
Before anyone can get on the plane — each team has a 35-person-max traveling party, including 16 players — must come back negative on COVID-19 tests on consecutive days right before leaving. Any player who misses either of those tests, or comes back positive on either, cannot travel with the team and must make their own way to Orlando after they’ve cleared multiple COVID tests.
Suns General Manager James Jones did not name any names, but he did acknowledge that something less than the whole team will travel on Tuesday.
“Logistically we are still trying to figure out our schedule,” Jones said in a Zoom call with local media on Monday, July 6. “We will have players traveling at a later date at some point. Who those players are, we haven’t determined yet.”
Reports surfaced that there were at least two positive test results on the team two weeks ago. The NBA and the Suns have tested all members of the 35-person traveling party every two days since June 23, and so there’s a level of worry that they can get there in one whole piece.
“Our anxiety is getting to the bubble healthy,” Jones said.
Many teams — seven with leaks to the public — have had players with positive tests who will need to get cleared before rejoining their teams. The Suns are no exception. They just can’t wait to get more oversight on the players once they are in Orlando.
“The GMs I’ve spoken to, we all agree the safest place to be is in the bubble,” Jones said. “Here in Arizona the cases are skyrocketing. All across the US, the cases are spiking. Our players are a social generation. The more constraints you can put in place, the better. The structure of Orlando will be beneficial for us.”
Once the Suns traveling party hits Orlando and settles into the Yacht Club hotel with the other non-playoff-positioned teams invited, then the real quarantine can begin.
First, every person is immediately quarantined to their rooms, unable to leave for any reason, until they again pass consecutive COVID-19 tests with negative results for the virus. For those who are math-challenged, that would be four consecutive negative results — two in Phoenix, two in Orlando — before they are allowed to start the next phase of the bubble experience.
Even then, teams will be restricted to their hotels when not at the arena for individual or team workouts. There will be plenty of gaming opportunities in hotel common spaces for those who successfully test negative. And of course, all the food and spa treatments their hearts and bodies desire.
They cannot start full team workouts for another week, on July 13.
“Those first five days will be tough,” Jones said on the call. But he said once they can actually get back on the court as a team — for the first time in four months — the players will settle into a routine and be fine with the outside restrictions.
From July 13-30, the team will undergo their second training camp of the season and play three intra-squad scrimmages, sans the players who have to travel later. Once the team sets up a schedule, the media relations folks promised some post-practice Zoom calls with the coach to give us updates from the bubble.
Only a few actual working media will be on hand to break stories about COVID-positives and whatever else happens. Those media will follow all the same rules as the team traveling parties, and will have to pay $550 per day for the privilege of quarantine in the Bubble (including room, food, travel to and from the arenas, and more). Yes you read that right: $550 per DAY. I, on the other hand, will be sitting at home and get coach/player access via Zoom calls along with all the other local media.
Jones is excited for the games, once they finally start, saying the players will need to adjust to playing real games without fans.
“I do think once the ball goes up,” he said. “You just start playing the game. I think they (fans) will recognize it more than the players will.”
He did have a comment on quiet arenas that surprised no one but was a head-nodding chuckler nonetheless.
“I do think the NBA needs a mute button,” he said with a smile. “You’re gonna hear a lot more about what’s going on in the game.”
As far as late-traveling players, ESPN reported that the players will have to find their own way to Orlando while taking the four-test dance before they can join the rest of the team for the Bubble Games, which start for the Suns on July 31 vs. the Washington Wizards in a basement battle.
Kelly Oubre Jr. wants to join the team and keep with his rehab. James Jones was positive about Kelly’s rehab, even hoping he might be cleared to play before the two month stay is over, though unclear about whether Kelly would fly on Tuesday or come out later.
“It’s a challenging environment for anyone, specifically for athlete’s that are trying to recover from injury,” Jones said of Oubre, who is recovering from a meniscus surgery that happened right before the shutdown. “You can’t come to the gym. You can’t go into the therapy clinics. You can’t get on the court. All you can do is just sit and wait. And as an extreme athlete you can’t rush that back.”
But Jones then pivoted to Oubre’s inclusion in the Suns plans in Orlando.
“Kelly’s been here in market, he’s been rehabbing,” Jones said. “So my expectations for him are the same as every other player. Come in every day, practice and compete, and get yourself in position to play.
“And hopefully that’s before Orlando ends.”
Watch out, Suns fans! Basketball is coming back very soon, though we may just get another extension of the injury bug. Soft tissue injuries are somewhat expected in this situation with a short ramp-up to playoff-intensity basketball.
And of course the inevitable COVID-positive test results that will not only test for the virus but also test the NBA’s and teams’ resolve to keep playing despite a few quarantines.