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When the 2021-2022 NBA season started, we expected it to be affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic by some extent. However, after last season was largely played without major problems, we expected something similar for this season. In fact, most people probably expected fewer problems thanks to the vaccine and the experience that we acquired from dealing with the pandemic for so long.
All of that has been proven wrong so far and the ongoing rise in the number of players who have either tested positive or simply had to enter the league’s health and safety protocols is so high that it might endanger the entire NBA season.
Why Are So Many NBA Players in Health and Safety Protocols?
The NBA has been very strict when it comes to their health and safety protocols and players are rigorously and frequently tested for coronavirus. Still, we only saw 16 players go into the NBA’s health and safety protocols in the first six weeks of the season. However, the number of cases rapidly grew in December.
The reason for the major uptick in positive cases obviously lies in the new variant of the virus. The Omicron variant has already wreaking havoc around the world since it’s more contagious than previous variants and the Omicron surge is obvious in the US and the NBA as well. Luckily, it seems that this variant of coronavirus is less severe, but the ease with which it spreads is unprecedented.
As we said, only 16 players entered the NBA’s protocols in the first six weeks of the season. Right now, more than 100 NBA players are in league’s health and safety protocols, which forced the NBA to react in a few different ways.
How Did Omicron Affect the NBA?
Due to this unprecedented rise in positive COVID cases among the NBA players and staff, the league had to make a few changes that greatly affected the look of the teams and the entire NBA season. Here’s how the NBA is trying to deal with the ongoing surge of cases:
Postponing the Games
There are strict rules for postponing NBA matches and one of it says that a game will be postponed if a team doesn’t have the necessary minimum of eight available players. Although the NBA is trying to avoid this with changed hardship exemption rules, we have already seen eleven games being postponed so far.
Mandatory Hardship Exemptions
Not only did the NBA made changes to hardship exemptions to allow NBA teams dealing with COVID outbreaks to sign additional players under revised rules, they also introduced mandatory hardship exemptions to try and prevent postponement of games.
Under these new rules, the teams are allowed to sign one replacement player for every coronavirus-positive player under contract. Furthermore, they are obligated to sign at least one player for every two positive cases and three for every four or more positive cases, which should ensure that the teams have the necessary eight players to avoid postponing the game.
Another change to the hardship exemptions says that two-way players will not be capped at 50 appearances during this season, allowing them to play in as many games as they are needed.
All of this lead to some familiar faces signing 10-day contracts to get back to the league, such as Isaiah Thomas, Mario Chalmers, Joe Johnson and others. It also lead to a record-number of players appearing in an NBA season. The record was set a couple of days ago when Greg Monroe became the 541st player to appear in an NBA game this season – and the season is far from over!
Shortened Stay In Health and Safety Protocols
Another way in which the NBA is trying to combat the ongoing surge of COVID-19 cases is the shorter return-to-play policy for some players. This change allows players to clear health and safety protocols after six days, instead of ten, as long as they are asymptomatic and not contagious.
How Will the Rest of the NBA Season Unfold?
At this moment, it’s hard to predict how will the rest of the season go. The NBA has so far refused the idea of another bubble like we saw during the 2020-2021 season, but if the situation remains the same, the league might have to consider this as well. We have also heard suggestions for a break in the season that could perhaps slow down the outbreak and allow most players to clear the protocols, but that’s a far-fetches solution right now.
In any case, we can at least expect more games to be postponed and more 10-day contracts to be handed out, which greatly affects the look of the teams and their performances. Other than that, it’s an impossible task to predict what could happen next.