This week, the Pistons are in the midst of one of the longest road trips of the season, with five games in eight nights out west.
During normal times, such a road trip is difficult
With the NBA’s enhanced protocols during the pandemic, there are more challenges, including increased testing and keeping players in their rooms to reduce the potential of contracting COVID-19 within each team’s traveling party.
The fragility of the whole operation was shown Monday, when the Pistons’ game at Denver was postponed because of issues with testing. An inconclusive test among the Pistons’ traveling party led to the postponement, which came just minutes before the scheduled tipoff.
Although the game likely will be made up in the second half of the season, it means another trip out west — likely when the Pistons go back to play the Portland Trailblazers Los Angeles Clippers and Sacramento Kings in March or April.
There’s the uncertainty of what each day holds and whether games will be played, based on the COVID test results. On road trips, players can’t leave their hotel rooms to take a leisurely walk and team meals, normally a staple of the daily travel routine, are either distanced or packaged to go.
It’s different all the way around.
It’s not quite as restrictive as the Orlando Bubble that the NBA used to finish the regular season and the playoffs last year. That stretched from July to October and yielded no positive COVID results, though most who were inside the bubble disliked all the restrictions.
In considering how to proceed this season, the NBA considered returning to a bubble, a plan that quickly was scuttled. There was also some thought of having several regional bubbles — possibly spread across the country.
With six teams in each bubble, teams could play the other five teams and then each moves on to a new region until they’ve played all of their games in the season. Each bubble could play for a few weeks and then take a week off before proceeding.
That seems like a simple enough plan.
Not so simple, actually.
Players hate the idea of a regional bubble and being on a campus for an extended period.
“Honestly, any type of bubble is not very appealing. It’s tough to have to be in a bubble. We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do,” Pistons guard Wayne Ellington said this week. “Prayerfully, we can we can get through the season as regularly as possible and keep things as normal as possible without having to enter a bubble or do anything too drastic.”
In the current system, there are so many potential pitfalls and in a full bubble, it’s too restrictive. So, finding a happy medium would be the best-case scenario — but there don’t seem to be many other options.
The idea of a regional bubble seemed to have some logic to it, where having players be separated from their families for an extended period would seem to be more preferable to being in a full bubble, like Walt Disney World Resort, with more freedom to move around because of increased testing.
“No, I hope not (for regional bubbles),” said Jerami Grant, who played with the Denver Nuggets last season in their run to the Western Conference Finals in September.
Though the restrictions eased toward the end of the playoffs, with some family members allowed to enter the bubble, most players balked at the notion of starting the new season in December in another bubble.
The new season is having its issues, though.
The Pistons’ game on Monday was the 23rd game the NBA has had to postpone because of COVID contact tracing or positive tests. The Pistons haven’t had any positive tests within their traveling party this season, but every day is a new challenge.
Coach Dwane Casey has preached to players the importance of remaining flexible in the face of so many changes in the protocols and trying to keep everyone safe. It’s just not the same as what any of them are used to.
“It’s totally different. A lot of things are fluid as far as our travel is concerned because of different testing protocols and systems in different cities, and how long it takes to get the test results back,” Casey said Sunday. “That has dictated a lot of our travel and our routines.
On the road, it’s a little bit different in the fact that even before we can get together in the morning, they have to test and then the players have to test after the game. Sometimes it takes the (COVID test) results a little longer to get back before we can get together to have shootaround.”
This season has provided more challenges to navigate, but for the most part, despite the restrictions, it seems to be the preference over playing in any kind of bubble, where there are more potential issues.
Been there, done that.