When the time comes for Dwane Casey to return to the sidelines, he’s ready. The question of when that time will be isn’t something that he has to think about, at least for now.
With the NBA inviting only 22 teams into their resumption of the season in late July, the Pistons will be on the outside of the bubble, seeing how things work in the confined space at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.
There are still many questions surrounding the NBA’s plan to restart the regular season amid the COVID-19 pandemic, including which members from each team should be allowed in. Coaches, players and other staff are necessities, but determining how many and which ones to bring can create a debate.
Even allowing some members of the coaching staff has come under scrutiny in recent weeks. Those aged 65 and older are at a higher risk of experiencing complications if they test positive for COVID-19, especially if there are underlying conditions.
Three head coaches among the 22 teams fit in this group: Gregg Popovich (71), Mike D’Antoni (69) and Alvin Gentry (65).
At 63, Casey is just below that threshold but said that if the Pistons were included, he wouldn’t have a problem with returning, despite the implicit health risk, pointing to the league's protocols and the steps they've taken to be sure the bubble is safe.
“I wouldn’t have any trouble whatsoever to go back coaching if we were going (to Florida),” Casey told The Detroit News. “The league is going to be extra-vigilant to keep everyone safe, whether it’s washing hands or wearing gloves and masks.”
Casey noted that in most cases, professional coaches stay active and are in better physical condition than some others their age. Coaches often have fitness regimens that they weave into their long days at a practice facility and they are more careful about nutrition and rest.
That's just part of what it takes to make it through a grueling professional season.
“If you’re coaching in the NBA or NFL, most coaches are in pretty good shape physically and well-conditioned, unless there are some underlying conditions,” Casey said. “If they’re in the 60-65 (age range), it’s almost like a regular (person’s) 40-45 (age range). We’re in pretty good shape.
“All the research is showing that everybody is at risk if you’re not careful and to go by the guidelines.”
As it stands, Casey possibly won’t be back on the sidelines until December, the tentative timeline for the start of the next regular season. There has been some talk, though, of the eight teams not finishing the season in Florida potentially having some inter-squad scrimmages, in an attempt to have some competitive interactions.
Otherwise, they will have been dormant for nine months, from March to December.
It’s still unclear whether there will be a replacement for the Las Vegas Summer League, which normally would have been held in early July. The NBA Finals and draft have been pushed back to October, so the calendar already is very constricted for any additions to the schedule.
Since the NBA Board of Governors approved a return to play, the focus has shifted to figuring out all the details, including how many people will be allowed per team in the bubble. That number seems to be 35, which includes all of the trainers, medical staff, coaches and players.
That can make for some interesting decisions about who’s in and who’s out.
“Seventeen players and (possibly leaving) coaches off or medical staff or training staff. How (definite) is that 35?” Casey said. “That’s another issue that teams are facing. That would be difficult to tell a player he can’t go.”
Players also have a tough decision about whether they want to go back into the bubble, which will last for three months for teams that make it to the NBA Finals.
Maintaining the sanctity and integrity of the bubble will be the toughest part. With the 22 traveling parties, the NBA is expecting about 1,600 people in the “soft” bubble, meaning there won’t be strict security, and to some degree, it’s on the honor system.
Getting accustomed to that change begins with testing next week and ramps up with more restrictions, leading up to all of those teams going to the Disney resort to begin play at the end of July. While they’re training and doing basketball activities, things could be a bit easier, but in the downtime, there will be more scrutiny on ensuring they’re taking all the needed precautions.
“That’s the biggest challenge; it’s not going to be easy. Even a two-week road trip is a long time, but August, September and October is a long period of time,” Casey said. “Keeping everybody confined to the bubble will be a challenge. That’s probably the challenge that most players have, to be in quarantine for three or four months.”