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Report: NBA stars, including Blazers' Damian Lillard, unite on finishing season during conference call

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports reported that a group of the NBA's biggest stars "formed a united front to resume the 2019-20 season" during a private call this week.
Credit: Kelvin Kuo
Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, left, goes up for a shot in front of Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James.

DETROIT — The National Basketball Players Association is reportedly polling players about whether they want to resume the NBA season.

Divides are emerging.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports reported that a group of the NBA's biggest superstars, including Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, "formed a united front to resume the 2019-20 season during a private conference call Monday."

Haynes said other stars on the conference call included the Los Angeles Lakers LeBron James and Anthony Davis; the Brooklyn Nets' Kevin Durant; the Milwaukee Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo; the Los Angeles Clippers' Kawhi Leonard; the Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry; and the Houston Rockets' Russell Westbrook.

"Toward the end of the call discussing the ramifications of the coronavirus pandemic, all parties were in agreement to take the court with proper safety measures once the league is given the green light to commence, sources said," Haynes wrote.

Haynes also reported that the "majority of players who are essentially eliminated from postseason contention would rather the league start back up with the top eight teams in each conference competing in some sort of playoff."

Shams Charania of The Athletic tweeted an update along the same lines:

This does not contradict the first report: Players do want to finish the NBA season, but for some players on teams well out of the playoffs that means something different — without them — than it does for players on playoff-bound teams.

This is effectively a return to Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations. Remember, it’s not just owners vs. players. It’s also owners vs. owners and players vs. players. People within each “side” sometimes have competing interests.

The uncertainty caused by the coronavirus only adds complications.

Of course, players want to return once “proper” safety measures are in place. But which safety measures are “proper” are in the eye of the beholder. Remember, the league office and Kings thought it was safe to play March 11. The Pelicans disagreed.

Life is never perfectly safe. Nobody should let that become the standard. Yet, coronavirus adds danger and discomfort for players who’d have to travel to and live in a bubble

The cited stars might have different visions of “proper” safety measures.

The group certainly comes from differing situations.

LeBron’s and Davis’ Lakers, Leonard’s Clippers and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks are prime title contenders. Russell Westbrook’s Rockets are a championship wildcard, and Paul’s Thunder are capable of a playoff run.

But Lillard’s Trail Blazers are outside postseason position (though within striking distance). Though Durant’s Nets are in the top eight, he doesn’t plan to return this season. Curry’s Warriors – the only team already eliminated from the playoff race – have made the most noise about being finished.

Yet, those stars all share a common goal of resuming the season (and will surely be influential with other, less-heralded players).

On the flip side, some players on lottery teams surely want to return. NBA players are highly competitive and generally just want to play basketball.

Money will drive some decisions.

Players’ collective salaries are determined by league-wide revenue. So, players who go on long playoff runs help increase the pot while drawing from a relatively modest playoff pool ($20 million in 2017-18 with changes from there based on season-long revenue).

That works well enough in normal times. But if only playoff teams return to help the league generate revenue, should those teams’ players – facing greater-than-usual danger – get a larger cut? It’s not necessarily fair for some players to stay home and let other players work to protect everyone’s salaries.

Then again, the more people in a bubble, the more risk of coronavirus infiltrating. And how much revenue would lottery teams generate, anyway?

At some point, the NBA will present a specific return-to-play plan to players. They’ll determine whether it’s acceptable.

In the meantime, battle lines are being drawn.

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