SiriusXM NBA Radio: "We'll most likely be on [December] 22nd" Lakers Free Agent Forward @JaredDudley619 tells @TheFrankIsola that he expects the season to begin before Christmas. https://t.co/szn3lcYSqO
The National Basketball Players Association is planning to hold a vote on Thursday night or Friday morning regarding the Dec. 22 start format to the 2020-21 season amid the coronavirus pandemic, sources told The Athletic.
The NBPA, led by executive director Michele Roberts, started formal conference calls with players from all 30 teams this week. Players have been holding calls with the NBPA beginning Monday and will go through Thursday morning. Players coming out of several meetings believe a Dec. 22 start is inevitable, sources said.
Shams Charania: NBA/NBPA are deciding between two ‘20-21 scenarios: - Dec. 22: 72 games, regular season ends mid-May, Finals finish around July 22, Christmas revenue - Jan. 18: 60 games, regular season ends in June, Finals end around Aug. 21
The NBA is opening lucrative new revenue streams to help teams offset steep losses from last season and limit financial hits should games next season be played in front of a limited number of fans or in empty arenas. Teams now will be able to sell the previously off-limit baseline apron areas near the baskets as new high-profile sponsorship inventory. The baseline apron hard signage will be allowed only on local regional sports network broadcasts; no decision has been made on extending the signage to national broadcasts.
In addition, the league will allow teams to sell three global sponsorships as part of its International Team Marketing Program that previously was limited to two global deals. The international marketing program is entering the second year of a three-year pilot program.
Other new revenue ideas also are under consideration. The NBA recently allowed teams to sell large belly patches on practice jerseys and the league is discussing ways to allow more patch advertising on apparel, including putting ads on shooting shirts as well as allowing a second jersey patch on game jerseys.
Bill Self knows having an NBA team in Kansas City might not be the best thing for nearby college programs — at least from a ticket-sales perspective. And yet, the KU basketball coach seems fully on board with the idea of the Toronto Raptors potentially putting down temporary roots in Kansas City, if indeed they needed to relocate.
Last week, Self, entering his 18th year as KU's coach, was asked what he thought of that initiative. "I would say this place is obviously a hotbed for basketball," Self responded. "This place obviously loves their ball. And you go back historically to all the NCAA tournaments and the NCAA being here that was held in Municipal Auditorium and those sorts of things. I think that would be a big sell because we’ve shown that we love ball historically."
And Self also believes a successful run as a temporary home could put Kansas City on the shortlist to get an NBA team. "I saw firsthand, and we all did, what happened with the Hornets," Self said. "When Katrina hit New Orleans and they relocated to Oklahoma City, you saw how that market rallied around that team to make them basically an automatic to get a franchise if anything else was going to transpire. And then of course the Sonics moved there. I can see [KC] doing the same thing. I think people would rally around it."
On a conference call with the league's general managers on Monday, NBA commissioner Adam Silver told the top team basketball executives that "time is running out" on the possibility of starting the 2020-21 season prior to Christmas Day and potentially salvaging hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, sources told ESPN.
Discussions with the National Basketball Players Association continued over the weekend and into Monday, but the union's reluctance to agree to a Dec. 22 start and a reduced 72-game regular season has left the league fearful it has only several days left before opening training camps around Dec. 1 for a pre-Christmas tip is no longer a realistic possibility, sources said.
Optimism still exists that an agreement can be reached on the pre-Christmas start, but it has been tempered in recent days, sources said. NBPA executive director Michele Roberts and union leadership have been talking directly with players about starting the season so quickly after a mid-October finish to the Finals in the Orlando, Florida, bubble, and so far have expressed a preference for a mid-January start to the season. The NBA believes there is somewhere between $500 million and $1 billion in revenue losses next season and beyond by failing to start the season in December, sources said.
The NBA has pushed back to Friday a deadline that keeps open the option of terminating the collective bargaining agreement, which would essentially blow up the league's financial structure that allows for a 50-50 split of basketball related income (BRI) under the provisions of the CBA. Because of the coronavirus pandemic triggering a force majeure clause in the CBA, both sides have the option of serving notice of 45 days on terminating the agreement, sources said.
And without assurances that the pandemic will allow for fans in arenas this season -- and projections that their absence could cost the league more than $4 billion in lost revenue -- the NBA fears delaying the start of the 2020-21 season until January could cost the league an additional $500 million to $1 billion in revenue losses next season and beyond, sources said.
The NBA and NBPA are still at odds over a start date to the season, with the union resisting thus far a league plan to open a shortened 72-game regular season on Dec. 22 and complete the NBA Finals before the Summer Olympics in July, sources said. The union has countered with a mid-January start, but wants to continue discussing the issue with its players, sources said. There is a level of impatience growing within the NBA, which wants to get a deal executed and get plans for a new season moving quickly, sources said.
Significant gaps remain between the NBA and NBPA on how the league will account for reductions in players' salaries in light of the significant financial losses for 2019-20 and steeper projections of losses next year, sources said. The NBA and NBPA split the basketball related income (BRI), and the league recently told teams that 40% of that revenue could be lost without gate receipts this season, sources said. The NBA's revenue was down 10% to $8.3 billion for the 2019-20 season, according to data provided to teams from the league.
The NBA and NBPA have extended that opt-out window four times this year, including again Friday, as a good-faith gesture toward reaching structural changes to the CBA. For now, the union and league will continue talks through the weekend and into next week, sources said. For the season to start on Dec. 22, however, there's much work to be done.
The new goal of the league, sources said, is to put together a 72-game slate with reduced cross-country travel. In that scenario, the subsequent 2021-22 season can go off on its normal October-to-June trajectory — perhaps with New Yorkers packed together underneath the Garden’s famous ceiling again.
Lakers swingman Danny Green, of Long Island, said James may sit out the first month of the season if Dec. 22 is opening night. Let him — as long as King James suits up opening night for the ring ceremony and on Christmas, the bonanza day of its television partners. “Certainly, it creates some challenges,’’ Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told The Post. “But challenging times require adaptation. I have no doubt we will be fine.’’
Shams Charania: The NBA and NBPA are extending today’s deadline to Nov. 6 for either side to serve notice on terminating the collective bargaining agreement, sources tell @The Athletic @Stadium.
Scott Agness: Just in: NBA and NBPA to push back a potential decision to terminate the CBA to Nov. 6.
Adrian Wojnarowski: ESPN Sources: For fourth time, NBA and NBPA agree to extend deadline to serve notice on terminating the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Extension goes to Nov. 6 now, which allows additional time for talks on CBA modifications. Discussions are ongoing this weekend.
Adrian Wojnarowski: There's still a gulf between NBA and NBPA on a start date for the 2020-2021 season, sources tell ESPN. NBA wants pre-Christmas; NBPA still preferring mid-January. Economic issues remain significant, including escrow withholding on player salaries w/ revenues down b/c of no fans.
Tim Reynolds: It's a one-week extension of the opt-out window for the NBA and NBPA, AP is told. The CBA could expire Dec. 14 (and likely chaos ensues) if either side decides to opt out once the new Nov. 6 deadline hits.
Michael McCann: In the unlikely event NBA or NBA serves notice to terminate CBA, both sides would then be obligated to engage in good faith negotiations for 60 days. No strike or lockout during that time. If still no deal? Then it could get litigious fast, with antitrust law entering the room.
Jared Dudley: Can’t play 50 games .. Thats a hard no for the players! Has to be a min of 72.. the real question is what change in a week? The league kept saying January January.. Everybody knew how big Christmas was and Olympics being late July months ago.. TV just mentioned it now??
Shams Charania: The NBA has informed its 30 teams that they are now allowed to open practice facilities for group practices, workouts and scrimmages with up to 10 players, sources tell @The Athletic @Stadium.
Adrian Wojnarowski: NBA players must be tested every day for the coronavirus and return a negative test each time to be allowed to participate in offseason workouts at team facilities, according to a memo shared with teams today.
Tim Reynolds: One thing to note from the offseason workouts memo shared with teams today detailing how they can open facilities: In a big departure from the past norms, teams cannot make their facility available to players who were not under contract with the team when last season ended.
Marc Stein: NBA players may only be offered a 50-game season, I'm told, if the union insists on a mid-January start rather than the Dec. 22 proposal, because the league's television partners do not want the 2020-21 season to stray past mid-July ... or clash with the Tokyo Olympics
Marc Stein: A 50-game season would reduce player salaries significantly in 2020-21, since NBA pay adheres to a regular-season schedule The NBA's 72-game model calls for teams to play roughly 14 games a month through May, followed by the playoffs through mid-July -- before the Olympics begin
Tim Reynolds: Can confirm that the league’s television partners are adamant — they want to start Dec. 22, though what I’m hearing on a season potential end date is slightly different than what Marc has here (but he’s in the Hall of Fame and I’m barely allowed to buy a ticket to go there).
Indiana Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon said that he "absolutely" expects Friday's deadline for the NBA or the National Basketball Players Association to opt out of the collective bargaining agreement to be pushed back, as the two sides work through several issues ahead of returning to play for the 2020-21 season.
"Absolutely," Brogdon, an NBPA vice president, said Thursday in an appearance on ESPN's The Jump, when asked if he expected the deadline to be pushed back. "The way talks are going, this is a super complicated issue, and there's a lot to balance. [There's] a lot of minds working on this collaboratively, on both sides. So it's going to take some time. I don't think a few weeks, but I think it will take at least a few more days."
"I think those are the two options," Brogdon said. "We're either going to start MLK Day, which I think a lot of the players are leaning towards, or we're going to start the 22nd, Christmas time. But the huge difference is revenue. Revenue, and trying to get the season back on track to start in that September-October range. So I think calculations are being done on both sides on how much revenue would be lost for each potential date, and we'll have to come to some type of agreement and go from there."
The sides are close on the salary cap and tax figures, Roberts told The Athletic. Multiple sources say the cap and tax are expected to be $109 million and $132 million, respectively.
Ahead of Friday’s deadline between the NBA and National Basketball Players Association for either side to serve notice to terminate the collective bargaining agreement, NBPA executive director Michele Roberts told The Athletic that the union and players are continuing to review the league’s proposal to begin the 2020-21 season on Dec. 22 and that she does not expect any decision by the end of the week. “The union and the players are analyzing all of the information and will not be rushed,” Roberts told The Athletic. “We have requested and are receiving data from the parties involved and will work on a counterproposal as expeditiously as possible. I have absolutely no reason to believe that we will have a decision by Friday. I cannot and will not view Friday as a drop dead date.”
Roberts added that she wants to make sure the players have enough time to prepare for the upcoming season, whenever it may begin. “The players are now being asked to re-pack their bags and head back to camp in a little over a month. The prospective loss of revenue largely forms the basis of this proposal. Since its receipt a week ago, the NBPA — as is our practice — is reviewing and assessing the proposal and its underlying thesis. We will do so as expeditiously as practicable. Our focus will also include an analysis of any relevant health and safety implications. Simultaneously, we will be addressing these issues with our players. And, while we are all anxious to resolve these and other substantive issues outstanding between the parties, we plan to proceed at a pace that provides our players ample opportunity to determine the best way to proceed.”
“Given all that has to be resolved between now and a Dec. 22 date, factoring that there will be financial risks by a later start date, it defies common sense that it can all be done in time,” Roberts told The Athletic. “Our players deserve the right to have some runway so that they can plan for a start that soon. The overwhelming response from the players that I have received to this proposal has been negative.”
For the 2020-21 season, the NBA is expecting flexibility in its scheduling and plans to release the schedule in two halves, sources say. The league is aiming for three-to-four preseason games to allow teams to reset their arenas for regular-season play, according to sources. If a Dec. 22 start is agreed upon, training camp would begin Dec. 1 and a set number of days would be used to begin coronavirus testing before team activities.
The change of heart allows the NBA to showcase its league on the year’s most important day for its TV partners — Christmas. And it gives Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau little time to get organized as training camps will have to start around Dec. 1. “It’s interesting Silver talked behind the scenes about waiting until a March time frame if it meant getting a vaccine,’’’ one NBA insider said. “That’s until the finance committee showed him the numbers.’’
“The priority is getting back to the October-to-June format for 2021-22,’’ one industry source said. “They found out the hard way not enough people watch TV in the summer. The virus and real-life struggles obscure the reality that sports on TV in the summer don’t generate enough viewers.’’
The NBA Board of Governors is currently faced with an uphill decision on targeting an exact date for the 2020-21 season to commence. After much deliberation, it appears that commissioner Adam Silver has made an aggressive front towards the league resuming play in possibly December, with January coming as a last resort. Even so, that leaves certain teams that recently wrapped up their 2019-20 with little time to regroup before the start of the next season. Circling back to what Beal had to say on the podcast. Fir on the restart itself, then on the Nets: “Definitely surprised because I was under the impression that we won’t start till February, looking at March probably as the legit start date,” said Beal on his thoughts of a quicker start. “It definitely changes my routine and how I am working out. But I think the monetary impact is what the board of governors is looking at.”
Kevin O'Connor: Sources: The NBA held a call this afternoon with team GMs & presidents to detail the plan for a 72-game season set to begin December 22 & end before the Olympics in July. The league intends to schedule games in a way that reduces travel by 25% with teams playing MLB style series.
Bobby Marks: There’s a path to getting a deal done between both sides but it’s going to take the players association to sell their members on why a 12/22 start is critical when it comes to future revenue. Starting in mid-January would be detrimental to the economic growth of the league.
The NBA is open to the idea of regional pods and intra-conference scheduling to lessen team travel and exposure to the coronavirus, sources said. The NBA hopes that it can play games with fans in home arenas in 2020-2021, but it has also been exploring the possibility of modeling a bubble environment similar to what Major League Baseball used to finish the season's playoffs, sources said.
With the NBA’s owners proposing to start next season around Christmas, should the players view it as an early holiday present? Or would they like to return the gift? "I don’t know what I think yet," Michele Roberts, the executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, told USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday. "We are in the throes of discussing it and in the throes of evaluating what it means in terms of the revenue-related issues that have been raised. Frankly, we’re also spending some time trying to get information on what this means in respect to player health."
These are the three main reasons a December start, after the longest N.B.A. season, suddenly became the target: This is what the league’s television partners want. Throughout the N.B.A.’s three-month stay at Walt Disney World, all signs pointed to the 2020-21 season beginning in 2021. League insiders frequently cited mid-January as the earliest possible start date, and several said they would not be surprised to see the wait extended until February or March. Playing the long game, it was often suggested, would enhance the chances of fan attendance for at least a portion of the regular season.
Of course, over the two-plus weeks since the season ended, daunting projections about the spread of the coronavirus this winter have led to rising pessimism about the league’s ability to admit even small crowds anytime soon. Multiple teams thus began to whisper last week that momentum was building to start the new season around Dec. 25 to preserve the ability to broadcast five games on Christmas Day.
Disney, which owns ESPN and has been described by Silver as the league’s biggest partner, badly wants to continue that Christmas tradition and have five games to televise on either ABC or ESPN. Turner, the N.B.A.’s other primary broadcast partner, would get its traditional opening night doubleheader on a Tuesday if the union agrees to the Dec. 22 proposal. The league, for its part, has informed the union that it projects a difference of $500 million in revenue if it can start the season in December rather than mid-January. All of those factors resonate pretty loudly after the season that the N.B.A. just endured.
The league wants to give fans (and players) their summers back. Starting the new season before Christmas would probably enable N.B.A. players to participate in the Tokyo Olympics in July 2021. And several of the league’s top international players, such as Italy’s Danilo Gallinari, Marco Belinelli and Nicolo Melli and France’s Evan Fournier and Rudy Gobert, have said in recent weeks how important it is to them.
The league wants to make that happen, if possible, which would also prevent high-profile N.B.A. playoff games from clashing with the Summer Games. But the bigger motivation for preventing the playoffs from straying too far into July is to avoid playing throughout the summer for a second successive season, while also restoring free agency as the centerpiece of the N.B.A.’s summer calendar.
League officials have publicly downplayed concerns about the recent ratings decline, pointing to the N.B.A.’s mammoth social media following as a source of optimism about its broader appeal. Vocal critics — with little to no evidence — increasingly attribute the plunge to a leaguewide embrace of social justice causes, but the dip has had an impact even if there is no clear-cut explanation. Long-held fears among N.B.A. traditionalists that the viewing audience will inevitably shrink after July appear to have been validated.
Making this move sets up the N.B.A. for something resembling normalcy in 2021-22. The sudden shift to a December start, even if it is accepted by the players, would create chaos across the league. [...] But making sure the 2020-21 season ends in July at the latest would increase the N.B.A.’s readiness for a traditional October-through-June run in 2021-22, which appears to be its next real opportunity to regain access to the crowds, sponsors and ancillary arena income that, as Silver said in May, typically accounts for 40 percent of the league’s annual revenue.
Shams Charania: The NBA has sent its 30 teams the game presentation protocols for 2020-21 in conditions of limited/no fans: - Enhanced theatrical lighting - Crowd from arena noises/NBA 2K/prerecorded chants - Possibility of team arena entertainers
The news reported by our Shams Charania that the NBA is targeting a 72-game season that begins on Dec. 22 has everyone scrambling, because it’s a dramatic reversal of a trend in which the target date for starting 2020-21 steadily slipped backward. Until this week, the working assumption from league insiders was that the season might not begin play until mid-January or even later. Under that model, the 2020-21 season could drag deep into summer before declaring a champion.
I should note that the Players Association would have to agree with the NBA on any proposed season format. But, as always, the winner in any negotiation between the two parties is usually the almighty dollar, and it appears it will be here as well.
The unspoken piece is that having buildings full of fans is likely a pipe dream. The league is adjusting to the reality that the pandemic is nowhere close to under control in the U.S., and it may in fact be worse by the time the league tries to tip off. With basketball being an indoor sport, it may not even be able to have the few fans that the NFL, MLS and MLB have let into some stadiums.
The initial thinking was to push the start of the season back to allow a potential vaccine to permit a 2020-21 season with full arenas. As that hope becomes more distant, the logic has shifted. At this point, 2020-21 is a bit of a sunk cost. The league is unlikely to get much from it in terms of ticket revenue regardless of when games start, so it might as well bang it out quickly in the time frame that is most conducive to TV audiences.
The bubble is fine for fans and TV, but none of the participants are anxious to repeat it anytime soon. Certainly, it is a total non-starter for the regular season, plus the league now has the experience of in-market games in Major League Baseball, MLS and the NFL to learn from.
The NBA could always change course and move to a bubble format to ensure the integrity of the playoffs — and the Finals in particular — but doing so would be a last resort and it doesn’t need to make that call for several months. As for the regular season, the league-wide expectation is that teams will complete games in market, with the exception of Toronto.
No decisions have been finalized on next season and talks with the National Basketball Players Association remain ongoing on many matters, including the financial parameters for the coming year. Those talks, especially on the money issue, would have to be concluded before any real decisions about next season are made. The NBPA has not made any final decisions on how it wants to see the league proceed, either. But this plan, starting in December and ending in June, would get the 2021-22 season — virus-permitting — back to normal, with 82-game slates starting in October.
Shams Charania: NBA league office informed Board of Governors of projected value for teams and players with Dec. 22 start versus later: More than $500 million, sources tell @The Athletic @Stadium.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the NBA is proposing several changes to next season that includes a 72-game regular season, a play-in tournament and the likelihood of no All-Star Game and All-Star Weekend in Indianapolis, sources said. The league is considering a two-week break at the midway point of the season, sources said.
Around the league, there's support to be playing again by Christmas, but a realization that it's going to become a chaotic challenge coming out of a Nov. 18 draft, free agency and training camps that would need to be open shortly after Thanksgiving. Without a bubble environment, the NBA will be facing positive coronavirus tests for players and staff.
Josh Lewenberg: The Raptors remain hopeful they’ll be able to host games in Toronto next season, I'm told. Several contingency options have been discussed internally, in case thats not possible, but nothing's imminent. Much is still unknown. Louisville was never on the table for the organization
Chris Mannix: A concern several team executives have expressed to @SInow about a late December start: Free agency. With training camps needing to open in early December, free agency would have to be crammed into a couple of weeks.
Chris Mannix: Something league officials are wary of: There have been predictions from health officials of significant COVID spikes over the holidays, specifically Thanksgiving. Coming back in a non-bubble environment may not be feasible in some parts of the country.
This would mean a return close to the NBA’s normal schedule, significant financial ramifications to start early, a potential finish before the 2021 Summer Olympics, and allow a window for stars to play in the Olympics, sources said. The NBA wants to continue to incorporate the play-in tournament that was utilized in the Orlando restart to determine the eighth seed in the Eastern and Western Conference playoffs, according to sources. ESPN first reported that a Christmas start and playing fewer than 82 games would be discussed on Friday’s call.
The National Basketball Players Association would need to sign off on any plan to start the season on Dec. 22. Around the NBA, league governors and executives — as well as star players — have become aware of the league aiming toward a start around Christmas Day, which is quicker than expected following an Oct. 11. end to the season. An increasing amount of those people also have warmed to the possibility due to the fact that it is in the best interest of returning to the NBA’s typical schedule, generating revenue.
“It may be too quick, but it also makes too much sense,” one high-ranking team official told The Athletic. The NBA suspended its season on March 11 due to the coronavirus pandemic, restarted on July 30 and crowned the 2019-20 champion this month. The league had no players test positive for the coronavirus during the four-month resumption.
USA Basketball has begun reaching out to star players to gauge their interest in the Olympics, should the end date of the 2020-21 season provide ample time to prepare for the Games, sources said. The NBA continues to prefer in-market play for the 2020-21 season — instead of a bubble or multiple bubbles. The league is also looking into ways to reduce travel during the season, including possibly playing a team multiple times.
Shams Charania: The NBA is targeting Dec. 22 for the start of the 2020-21 season and a 72-game campaign that finishes before the ‘21 Olympics, sources tell @TheAthleticNBA @Stadium.
Marc Stein: The league had never taken a Christmas Day start off the table, but all signs coming out of the Bubble pointed to next season being pushed into 2021 Christmas is obviously a huge day for the NBA and its broadcast partners ... but MUCH must happen quickly quickly to preserve it
There has been some discussion among owners about starting as soon as Christmas Day to take advantage of that historically prime NBA showcase, sources said. Though numerous teams contacted by ESPN over the last several days weren't sure such a timeline was feasible. Others have been pushing for a start around Martin Luther King Day weekend in mid-January, sources said.
As with so much during the current COVID-19 pandemic, such plans are constantly in flux. That course could ultimately be still followed, but in recent days some governors have pivoted and begun considering the quicker timeline. Others continue to want to hold out for fans to be permitted into more arenas.
March 22, 2023 | 9:21 pm EDT Update
Walt “Clyde” Frazier said he’d been “meandering” all day on Wednesday, one day after the loss of his longtime friend, captain and championship teammate, Willis Reed. “It took me so long to get dressed today,” the famously fashionable Frazier said softly before working Wednesday’s game between the Knicks and the Heat as the longtime analyst for MSG Networks. “It’s been devastating. After seeing him on the video for the 50th anniversary, I didn’t know he was that far gone. Everybody was really surprised.”
Law Murray: Clippers injury report for Thursday night: – Paul George (right knee) out – Norman Powell (left shoulder) out – Brandon Boston Jr. (tailbone) out – Jason Preston (G-League) out – Moussa Diabaté (2-way) out – Xavier Moon (2-way) out
Damichael Cole: A loud standing ovation for Ja Morant in his return to the floor. pic.twitter.com/0LrY2x5Afb
March 22, 2023 | 8:24 pm EDT Update
Mike Brown on Domantas Sabonis: He's as close to Draymond Green as a big man
Sabonis leads the NBA in rebounding and is dishing a career-high 7 assists per game. Every teammate — even Fox — knows to run the wings when Sabonis grabs a defensive board. “He is as close to Draymond Green as any big man I’ve seen in terms of someone who can get it off the glass, bring it up, and make the right play,” says Brown, who coached Green as an assistant in Golden State for six seasons.
During Sabonis’ rookie year in Oklahoma City, Russell Westbrook invited Sabonis to early-morning workouts to go through the nuances of pick-and-roll, says Billy Donovan, who coached that Thunder team. They drilled how to read a defender’s feet, when Sabonis could slip screens, how Sabonis could make himself available for pocket passes. (One of Sabonis’ rookie duties was supplying Westbrook with Snapple for team flights, Sabonis and others on that team recall.) Sabonis was astonished that Fox ceded so much ball handling to him right away, including letting Sabonis rush the ball up after rebounds. “I was really surprised,” Sabonis says. “He has been with the Kings forever. This is his team. He really let me do my thing. Not many franchise point guards would let their big man bring the ball up. He ran with me. He set screens for me. That’s what shocked me most. That’s what made the transition so easy. Neither of us care who is who. We just want to win.”
Sabonis suffered an avulsion fracture in his right thumb and ligament damage in his hand. Fixing it required surgery that would cost between six and eight weeks. The Kings were 17-14, sixth in the West, only a couple games ahead of No. 11. Sabonis wanted to keep playing. “In my mind, sitting out was not an option,” he says. “Six to eight weeks — we can’t risk that.” He asked the team’s medical staff to wait to see if the swelling would subside. It did — enough. He joked that he didn’t use his right hand anyway. After consulting with doctors, trainers, and Sabonis’ agents, the decision was made: He’d play on. The training staff nicknamed him “Wolverine” for his apparent imperviousness to pain.
“He didn’t always understand — this should come from you,” Brown says. “To tape that thumb up and say ‘I’m playing,’ it sets the tone for the whole team. If he and De’Aaron are doing things like that, everyone else falls into line.”
In the weeks before the trade, Thunder officials had talked to Sabonis about playing him more at center — the position he preferred. He pictured himself in Oklahoma City long-term. As free agency approached, Sabonis heard rumors the Thunder might sign Blake Griffin and worried he could end up traded as a result. When news broke that the Clippers had re-signed Griffin, Sabonis was relieved and went to bed to rest up for his summer league game the next day. Minutes later, Thunder officials called to tell him he had been traded. “I was in shock,” he says. “Like, are you joking? I was not so happy.”