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NBA's next steps hinge on US results in virus fight

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Washington (AFP)

America's level of success at overcoming coronavirus and how fast that happens are likely the key factors in deciding when and how the NBA and other sports leagues return.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver imposed an indefinite hiatus on the league season on Wednesday after Utah's Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus, with every other major North American sports organization following quickly.

"We intend to resume the season if and when it becomes safe for all concerned," Silver said, who predicted the shut down would last "at least 30 days."

"In the meantime, we will continue to coordinate with infectious disease and public health experts along with government officials to determine safe protocols for resuming our games."

The hiatus will last to at least April 10, eight days before the scheduled start of the NBA playoffs, but Silver and team owners could extend it, delaying resumption of the campaign into June or later.

"Even if we're out for a month, even if we're out for six weeks, we can still restart the season," Silver said. "It might mean that the finals take place in July or late July."

Other leagues might continue to take their lead from the NBA, the first league with a player testing positive.

"We also recognize that because of how high-profile our players are, others in the public will take their lead from us," Silver said.

Silver also admitted it's possible the season will remain unfinished.

"Of course it's possible," Silver said. "I just don't know more at this point."

That option would cost the NBA hundreds of millions of dollars in broadcast income from missed playoff games, cutting salary revenue for the 2020-21 season.

"I think every player wants to finish the season," Los Angeles Lakers forward Jared Dudley told Arizona's KMVP radio.

"What I do know... it's on the table that the owners want to finish the regular season and (playoffs)... I got confirmation that they have no problem going late into the summer to finish it up."

The Chinese Basketball Association shut down in late January, but ESPN reported American players in the CBA have been told to return for games to resume in early April.

That timeline of about nine weeks, if duplicated in the NBA's situation, would see a mid-May resumption, about a month after the originally planned start of the NBA playoffs.

- NBA talent at Tokyo? -

That could push the NBA Finals into July and up against the Tokyo Olympics, where a US squad of NBA stars is set to compete July 24-August 9 for a fourth consecutive gold medal.

A 12-man US roster of NBA talent is usually named just ahead of training camp in early July in Las Vegas.

If the Olympics take place as planned and the NBA playoffs are extended, it might prevent top players from going to Tokyo if their teams make deep post-season runs.

It might keep LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard from Japan but Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Bradley Beal and Kevin Love are US team finalists whose clubs aren't in playoff spots.

Green told the Athletic he doesn't expect a return anytime soon.

"If they start the season back up and then somebody else catches it, then what?" Green said. "You can't just quarantine a few guys for some days and then start it all back up. That... ain't going to work."

- How to resume? -

As for resumption ideas, the NBA could play an abbreviated finish to the regular season then the playoffs, finish the last month of the campaign before the playoffs or return directly to the playoffs based on the results from before the shutdown, even with an uneven number of games.

The length of each playoff round could be trimmed from a best-of-seven series and possibly the start of the 2020-21 campaign could be delayed to allow for a normal-length off-season.

Pushing back the playoffs could delay the NBA Draft, set for late June, as well as free agency and the start of the next season -- an idea some like.

Atlanta Hawks chief executive Steve Koonin told ESPN before the shutdown his idea of starting the NBA season at Christmas with August finals to avoid the TV ratings juggernaut NFL.

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