Team USA was preparing for its final exhibition game when the news broke that guard Bradley Beal was going into quarantine because of health and safety protocols.
Navigating through COVID-19 testing and safety protocols has become the new normal for the NBA, and it’s extending to Team USA ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.
It hit close to home for Pistons forward Jerami Grant, who went into quarantine himself just after the announcement about Beal, who later was removed from the roster and did not make the trip to Tokyo. Grant was later cleared and was able to play in the exhibition finale, but the scare was a reminder of the times we’re in during the pandemic.
“I think it’s tough any time you’ve got any scares like that, but I think they were just being precautious and very, very safe,” Grant said Thursday from Japan. “I just quarantined for a few days. Nothing too serious, but it was a little scary.”
The missed practices didn’t amount to much, but it’s a reminder of how tough it is for athletes on Team USA to navigate through the perilous times, and an abundance of caution underlies all that they do, in ensuring that there isn’t a wider spread in case someone tests positive for COVID-19.
“It’s definitely a little tough, but I think that’s what we do; we’re professionals and we’re very highly skilled and very intelligent,” Grant said. “Whatever time we get to come together, we’ve got to come together and make it work. That’s why we’re here. That’s why he brought us here; I think we’ll be fine.”
That new normal isn’t all that new. The NBA has been dealing with it since the league paused its season in March 2020 and resumed in the summer. It’s continued with this past truncated season, and although testing and other precautions have become part of the routine, it’s still disappointing when there’s an issue.
“We’re all kind of used to it by now. We’ve all been through it in the NBA season. You just kind of roll with the punches,” Team USA assistant coach Steve Kerr said. “So, more than anything you just cross your fingers and you hope that everybody is testing negative and being able to play.
“We all feel terrible for Bradley Beal, who was having a great camp and so looking forward to playing in the Olympics and then for him to have that opportunity taken away, it’s devastating. It’s 2021, so we’re all sort of used to this by now we just have to keep pushing forward.”
Back at it
There’s no rest for a couple of the Team USA members who will have a quick turnaround after finishing the NBA Finals on Tuesday. Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday, of the champion Milwaukee Bucks, and Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker will join Team USA and have a quick turnaround from their NBA season to the start of the pool play in Tokyo on Sunday.
The trio will arrive Saturday and they’ll have little time to get acclimated before they start practicing. How much they’ll play early in the tournament isn’t clear, but getting them up to speed on what Team USA has worked on will be paramount. Jeff Van Gundy is assisting the coaching staff and will try to help the players learn what Team USA is doing as quickly as possible.
“Jeff is helping coach the team and we’re hoping that Jeff can share some of the concepts, some of the ideas that we’re trying to impart to the players and some of the ways we’re trying to attack and defend,” Kerr said. “We play the next night, so it’s a quick turnaround and one of the big topics in our coaches meetings is how quickly can we play those guys, because chances are, all three going to be in our rotation. The great players, there’s a reason they’re on the team.
“They’re three of the best players in the world, so we need to figure that out, it’ll be a collaborative effort with them. We’ll see how they’re feeling the day after they arrive and we’ll see if they’re ready to go but we can’t really predict any of that.”