Last week, some NBA teams began emerging from COVID-19 isolation and opened their practice facilities for players to resume limited workouts.
It’s an initial step toward returning to finish the final portion of the regular season that was suspended on March 11 after the first positive tests of coronavirus were revealed. The Cleveland Cavaliers and Portland Trail Blazers reopened their practice facilities on Friday and several other teams were set to open this week.
The Pistons, though, are taking a more cautious approach.
They don’t plan to open the Henry Ford Health Pistons Performance Center for at least a few more weeks. In Michigan, there have been more than 47,000 confirmed positive COVID-19 cases and more than 4,500 deaths.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has extended the state’s stay-at-home order through May 28, which is the guideline that the Pistons are using to steer their decision of when to reopen.
“We’re adhering to that,” Pistons senior adviser Ed Stefanski told The Detroit News, “when the governor of Michigan will let us open the facility and the league is going to allow the players to come back if they want to, to get workouts.
“We have plenty of protocols to set in place already, and we’ll be ready when they’re allowed.”
Whenever the Pistons reopen the practice facility, it will be under some very strict protocols established by the NBA to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. That includes having no more than four players in the facility at a time, with one player and one staff member at each basket, spaced at least 12 feet apart.
Trying to figure out all the contingencies in the midst of a pandemic means thinking through all the possibilities, including logging who enters the facility, who works out and mandating that they take off their shoes before entering the facility.
“We’re ready for all that. They’ll take their sneakers from the street off and have their own bag assigned to them. We’ll do temperature checks and ask them other questions,” Stefanski said. “There will be precautions with wiping down equipment as soon as they use it. The coach will have a mask and gloves on catching the ball.
“Coaches have to be aware. Don’t body up or play close defense. It’s just getting shots up and some cardio and that’s how it has to be until further notice.”
The Pistons had 16 games remaining when the season was suspended and with a 20-46 record, they had very slim playoff hopes with the fifth-worst record in the league.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver has been in regular communication with team owners and with the players association with details on the evolving situation and potentially finishing the season. The most recent proposals have included “bubble” locations, where teams could be tested and cleared and then quarantined away from the general public.
Other options include skipping the remainder of the regular season and proceeding to the playoffs. The draft lottery and combine, both scheduled for this month, have been postponed indefinitely, but the draft still is scheduled for June 25 — at least for now.
COVID-19 has disrupted the normal routine of the season and although some players are eager to return to complete the season, many have been staying engaged mentally and physically by doing individual workouts, with help from the performance staff.
“Our performance people have been in regular contact with (the players) and we’ve sent equipment to (players') homes to use. They’re figuring it out,” Stefanski said. “It’s not a normal routine of going to the gym and getting a lift and working with a coach. They’re thinking of different ways, on football fields or tracks and using different methods of stretching.”
Whenever players are ready to return, there likely will be a mini-training camp that could last three weeks before the regular-season is completed. The domino effect is that the playoffs will be pushed into the fall and the 2020-21 season may not start until late December.
Stefanski lauded the way Silver has guided the league during the pandemic and reiterated that the Pistons will follow whatever the NBA and players association decide to proceed.
“(Silver) is not giving us any target date or cut-off date where the season would be over. He’s always said he’s going to go with what the scientists tell him on what we should do,” Stefanski said. “Silver is one of the best commissioners in all of sports. He figures things out and I feel very comfortable with where we’re trying to do this.
“We’re trying to do this in a very healthy and smart fashion. Time will tell. I’m hoping there’s more testing and a vaccine soon.”