Opting out of Orlando: NBA’s most notable voluntary absences

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There’s perhaps no better way to sum up the spontaneous 2019-20 NBA season than how 15-time All-Star Kevin Garnett described winning an NBA championship: “Anything is possible.”

On March 12, the league came to an abrupt pause following the news that some of its players had contracted COVID-19. As the disease continued to spread at an alarming pace, the rest of the season looked to be as good as gone. But after three months of waiting, planning and readjusting to the unprecedented situation before them, the leaders of the NBA crafted an ambitious plan that will now attempt to bring basketball back into business. The idea is to shift the multibillion-dollar show to Disney World to create a safer environment for players and staff alike.

Disney World is located in Orlando, Florida, a state with a rapidly increasing daily rate of new coronavirus cases — exacerbated by relaxed social distancing measures. Since the start of this month, Florida has surpassed 200,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, reporting a national single-day record of 11,458 newly diagnosed patients July 4.

For many NBA players, recent spikes in the state’s coronavirus curve are, at the very least, concerning. Given the disease hot spot that Florida has proven to be, it’s understandable that Disney World currently doesn’t seem nearly as appealing to NBA players as Mickey Mouse markets it to be. After all, a “bubble campus” can only prevent so much — Disney staff will have to be present to maintain certain facilities and accommodations.

More gatherings of people mean more potential disease carriers. When players’ families (including their children) are brought into the mix, things can get messy.

Because of this, a fair number of NBA players are now opting out of play for the season’s restart. Though for some, COVID-19 is just one of many concerns. How all of this will shake up the NBA’s standings is yet to be determined. Hence, here are the most notable voluntary absences from Orlando.

 

Avery Bradley (Point guard/shooting guard, Los Angeles Lakers)

Reason: Concerns over 6-year-old son’s health due to past respiratory issues

Avery Bradley’s withdrawal from the Lakers roster is like a Razor scooter swung straight to the shin. It’s not debilitating, but it is painful.

For most of his career, Bradley has been an exemplary role player. He brings necessary depth to any lineup and does everything an already star-studded team needs to win a chip — score and defend without having to demand the ball. With Los Angeles, he puts up a consistent 8.6 points per game while shooting comfortably with 44% accuracy.

In terms of a team like the Lakers, Bradley fits in especially snugly. If LeBron James drives to the rack, there’s pretty much going to be only one of two scenarios. Either LeBron does what he does best and wrecks havoc in the paint, or he kicks the rock out to open shooters flanking the perimeter.

That’s where players such as Bradley come in. As long as Bradley is capable of shooting more than 35% from the 3 (which he is), the Lakers have sufficient scoring options for every spot on the court. It’s a match made in heaven.

With Bradley’s jump shot also comes elite perimeter defending. While he only stands at 6’3”, his lengthier 6’7” wingspan allows him to contest jump shots and poke the ball loose from the opposition, making Bradley just as effective as any other guard of average positional height. But I’d be wildly underselling Bradley to say his defense is just “average.”

He is quick on his feet, is relentlessly pesky and can go toe-to-toe with the biggest stars in the league. He can set the defensive tone for any Lakers lineup and pressures the ballhandler closer than anyone else on the floor.

As such, the Lakers — who are one of the favorite contenders to win it all — will have to regroup and reformulate. Sure, they’ve signed J.R. Smith as a replacement. But his defense is spotty.

When the Lakers inevitably face some of the best guards in the league — including the likes of Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard and Luka Dončić — the team is surely going to miss Bradley.

 

Victor Oladipo (Point guard/shooting guard, Indiana Pacers)

Reason: Focusing on post-injury rehabilitation and wary of NBA’s “bubble campus” setup

Make no mistake: The Pacers are a good team. But right now, they’re missing a winning piece in Victor Oladipo.

In his first season with Indiana at age 25, Oladipo won the NBA Most Improved Player Award, became a first-time NBA All-Star and led the league in steals. During his second season, Oladipo pushed the Pacers all the way up to the third seed in the Eastern Conference while averaging 18.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.7 steals a game.

He’s an adaptable, versatile combo guard who can pass, defend and light up the box score no matter the supporting cast around him. He can bolt to the rim and make a flashy dunk or draw in defenders to find an open man.

He can even sink a three when you’re down 2 points with seconds left to spare on the shot clock. We saw it against the San Antonio Spurs, and we saw it again against the Chicago Bulls.

But with invaluable talent may also come heartbreaking misfortune. On January 23, 2019, Oladipo suffered a ruptured quad tendon in his right knee while facing the Toronto Raptors at home. Consequently, he sat out the rest of the season, resulting in the Pacers falling down two conference spots and a first-round 4-0 playoff knockout by the Boston Celtics.

Since then, Oladipo has yet to get his groove back. In the 2020 season, Oladipo appeared in just 13 games before the NBA halted play due to COVID-19, during which he averaged 9.3 less points and 1.6 less steals than two years previous. Nonetheless, the Pacers are still in remarkably good shape, managing to position themselves in a respectable fifth-place slot in the East (partly due to the acquisition of Malcolm Brogdon and partly due to Domantas Sabonis’ All-Star-worthy season).

Thus, the question that remains is not whether Indiana will make the playoffs, but rather how far it’ll advance through the rounds. When Oladipo is healthy and ready to play, the Pacers can give any top-tier team a run for its money. But without him, they’re no better off than they were about a year ago: a better-than-average, first or second-round exit team with little to no shot of actually winning an NBA championship title.

 

Honorable mentions

Trevor Ariza (Small forward, Portland Trail Blazers)

Reason: Parenting responsibilities involving a custody case over 12-year-old son

Losing Trevor Ariza is going to be a bigger blow to the Trail Blazers than one would initially expect by looking at stats alone. At 34 years old, he’s lost some speed and athleticism, but is still a solid wing defender. By forcing turnovers from the opposition (1.6 steals per game) and drilling shots from outside range (40% 3-point average), Ariza does his part just fine with a team centrally focused on running its offense through its frontcourt — in this case, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Now that Ariza’s gone, Portland will have to devise a plan to fill in for its gaping defensive hole at the small forward position. All I have to say is, good luck with Carmelo Anthony.

 

Deandre Jordan (Center, Brooklyn Nets) and Wilson Chandler (Small forward, Brooklyn Nets)

Reason: Tested positive for COVID-19, and staying home with family due to COVID-19 concerns, respectively.

As if the Nets’ luck couldn’t get any worse, two more of their players are now gone for the season. They’ll join the sidelines with Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and possibly Spencer Dinwiddie (who also tested positive for COVID-19).

Deandre Jordan is a defensive anchor and rebounding machine. In four of six defensive ranking categories, he rates “good,” “very good” or “excellent” — including isolation, post-up and spot-up plays. Like Jordan, Wilson Chandler is also a capable defender who brings veteran leadership to the wing. Together, they play a critical role in balancing out team depth. If the Nets want a chance to win more games, they’ll likely have to go back to the drawing board, switch up game plans and craft new lineups from scratch.

Ryan Chien covers rowing. Contact him at [email protected].