- Covers the Oklahoma City Thunder for ESPN.com
As teams prepare to depart for Orlando in the next week, entering into the campus “bubble” environment, Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard expressed serious doubt all the protocols and rules will be strictly followed by players.
“My confidence ain’t great,” Lillard said with a laugh on Wednesday. “My confidence ain’t great because you’re telling me you’re gonna have 22 teams full of players following all the rules? When we have 100 percent freedom everybody don’t follow all the rules. I don’t have much confidence. But hopefully it’ll be handled to a point where we’re not putting everybody at risk or in a dangerous position.”
The 22 teams that are part of the NBA restart will arrive in Orlando beginning on July 7 and will be tested, isolating for up to 48 hours, and then tested again. From there, it will become a bubble environment, with interaction between the outside world basically eliminated. Close family members will eventually join the bubble beginning with the second round of the playoffs.
In Florida, COVID-19 cases are rising sharply, which has led to questions about the NBA’s plan.
“The fact that we’re going to be in a bubble, it kind of knocks it down and limits the chance of us being exposed to everybody else outside the bubble in Orlando,” Lillard said. “I think it is a safer situation. But I don’t think it’s possible for them to protect us 100 percent. I think everybody’s going there understanding that.”
The league gave teams a 113-page document outlining all the protocols and rules of the bubble. A player who breaks the bubble and leaves campus will be quarantined for at least 10 days and have to undergo deep-nasal testing. Players can’t go into each other’s rooms but can eventually socialize with video games, one-on-one ping-pong and golf.
Lillard said his plan for handling the circumstances will be simple: basketball and chill.
“I know they’re going to activities for us and all that stuff, but I mean, I’m gonna be chilling. I feel like there’s still a possibility for something to spread within that bubble, just with so many people doing so many different things that we’ve got to follow to be safe, even though we’re not exposed to the public. So for me, it’s going to be what time is practice, what time can I get in the weight room, what time can I get some shots up, what’s the plan for gameday. And then I’m gonna be in the room. I’m gonna have my PS3, my PS4, I’m gonna have my studio equipment, my mic, my laptop, I’m gonna have all my books. That’s it, man. I’m gonna be in the room, chilling.”
When facilities re-opened for voluntary workouts, there wasn’t an official restart plan in place and Lillard said following the protocols were challenging — no locker room access, can’t help a teammate with long rebounds, specific towels and water bottles, no weight room or showers.
“It was just so many rules where everybody was like, ‘Man, are we even playing? Is this even worth it?'” Lillard said. “And when they were like ‘Alright, we’re playing, this is where the location is,’ it seemed like it was rolling at that point. Guys showing up more consistently … Just having something to look forward to, something to work for helped a lot.”
Lillard said he’s going in with an open mind, but won’t know how good the plan really is until he sees it in action.
“We’ll see if it was really well thought out and if they really had our best interests once we get there,” he said.
The Blazers enter the restart in a difficult position, 3.5 games back of the Grizzlies for the 8-seed. The Blazers need to be within four games of the 8-seed to at least force a play-in round.
“It’s basically an eight-game season and we’re starting off behind,” Lillard said.
But the Blazers do have one thing working in their favor: health. They expect to have center Jusuf Nurkic back, who missed the last year recovering from a gruesome broken leg, and Zach Collins, who missed three months early last season because of shoulder surgery.
Lillard was vocal before the league’s plan was announced, saying he wasn’t interested in participating in a restart if the Blazers didn’t have anything to play for. But he said with the way things are set up, he’s excited for the chance to go play again.
“The only thing I asked for was the opportunity to make it,” he said. “And we’ve been given that, so we’re going to show up and do what we gotta do. Simple as that.”
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