With a surge in COVID-19 cases forcing the postponement of several games, the NBA and the players association Tuesday bolstered the league’s health and safety measures, including adding several new ones that essentially limit players and staff members to mainly basketball activities at home and on the road.
Even before learning of the tightened protocols, Spurs center Jakob Poeltl acknowledged that playing during the pandemic is taking a mental toll on him and his teammates.
“It’s tough because the work/life balance is suffering a little bit,” Poeltl said after shootaround Tuesday morning in Oklahoma City. “You come home from practice, you come home from a game, and there’s not much to do. And then on top of that, they are restricting more and more in practice. It’s not easy.”
The most stringent of the new measures prohibits players and staffers from leaving hotels for nonteam activities and from having visitors in their hotel rooms.
Previously, players were allowed up to two guests in their hotel rooms, including family members and close friends.
When not on the road for at least the next two weeks, players and staffers will be required to stay home except for team-related activities, exercise or “essential activities” and “extraordinary circumstances.”
Interactions away from work will be limited to family members or household members, including personal staff regularly working in the home. Staff members entering homes must be tested twice per week.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich declined to comment on the tighter protocols.
“They just got put on my desk, and I haven’t read them yet,” he said before the game.
Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said compliance should be more important than personal comfort.
“The main challenge is the same challenge that everybody is having that is following the guidelines in our society, which is (that) doing the right thing is not convenient and it is fatiguing over time,” he said. “But if you want to be safe and you want to do everything in your power to contain the spread of the virus, you have to be compliant.”
The NBA has had to postpone six games because of the spike. Thirty-four players, including the Spurs’ Drew Eubanks, are self-isolating after positive COVID-19 tests or in quarantine because of contact tracing.
Two other members of the Spurs, assistant coach Becky Hammon and an unnamed staffer, are also in quarantine with Eubanks in Los Angeles, where they have been since last Thursday. The quarantine process can last up to 14 days.
“We just got to get through it,” Poeltl said. “Keep on moving, and hopefully it will get better soon.”
Poeltl indicated he would get vaccinated whenever Texas gives the green light to people in his age group. The NBA cannot force players to be vaccinated without first negotiating that requirement with the players association.
“I haven’t done a whole lot of research on it and we haven’t had a lot of meetings on it either, but my initial instinct is I want to take it,” Poeltl said. “I am assuming if they are available to us, that they have done enough research on it and it’s safe. It’s not only for my benefit but for the benefit of everybody else as well.”
Forward Rudy Gay and guard Lonnie Walker IV said last month they would need to do more investigation before endorsing mandatory vaccination.
“I’m in the middle of research and can’t really answer that question right now,” Gay said when asked if inoculations should be an NBA job requirement. “I strongly advise everyone to do research before they take a shot or anything.”
Asked whether he thought vaccination should be mandatory within the NBA, Popovich said, “Decisions like that, I have full faith and confidence that the league will do what’s appropriate and best.”
DeRozan out again
to be with ill father
Tuesday’s game marked the second in a row that the Spurs have been without DeMar DeRozan, their leading scorer and playmaker. He left the team to be with his ailing father after scoring 38 points in Saturday’s 125-122 win over Minnesota in overtime.
DeRozan could return to the Spurs as today, Popovich said.
“If the situation stays the same today and tonight, there’s a good chance he’s going to fly back to us tomorrow,” Popovich said. “He’s in a real difficult situation with his dad. We want him to stay as long as he has to. At this particular point, he thinks that might be the appropriate thing to do. But it could change.”
moved to national TV
The Spurs announced that the start time for their home game against Houston on Thursday has been moved to 6:30 p.m. after Turner Sports decided to broadcast the game nationally on TNT.
The game no longer will be aired on Fox Sports Southwest.
Staff writer Jonathan Feigen contributed to this report.