NEW YORK – The Brooklyn Nets have enough players to fly to Los Angeles and play their Christmas showdown against the Lakers, though Kevin Durant might not be among them.
But news worsened for many other teams in the league Thursday, including Minnesota, which placed Karl-Anthony Towns — who previously revealed that COVID-19 caused the death of seven of his relatives, including his mother — on the health and safety protocols list. Towns also missed time last season because of a positive test.
“Can't catch a ... break,” Towns wrote on Twitter.
Meanwhile, a person with direct knowledge of the matter said the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association are continuing discussions on whether to change the current protocols about returning to play after a positive test — something that typically has taken 10 days or more in most cases. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because nothing had been finalized.
Brooklyn coach Steve Nash said Thursday that James Harden has cleared the protocols, but he said the Nets don’t expect any of their players still in the protocols to come out in time for the game. That would include Durant, the NBA’s leading scorer.
Brooklyn planning to play on Saturday was a positive sign, as was Chicago coach Billy Donovan announcing after practice Thursday that the Bulls no longer have any players on the protocols list. The Bulls had as many as 10 on that list last week, when the league postponed two of their games as a result.
But the numbers continued rising around the league, with 101 players in the protocols as of Thursday night. The Timberwolves now have seven in the protocols.
“He's in the best spirits possible,” Minnesota coach Chris Finch said of Towns. “It's unfortunate, obviously. It happened right before the holidays, too, so it'll affect the next couple days for everybody being around him. But he was in the best spirits possible.”
Washington's Bradley Beal was another big name added to the protocols list on Thursday. Beal, who missed out on the chance to play in the Olympics last year after testing positive, said before this season he was unvaccinated.
Others remaining on the list included Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic and Trae Young. All three were scheduled to be part of the NBA’s five-game Christmas schedule.
And Detroit said on Thursday it had added four players to the protocols, where they joined rookie Cade Cunningham, the team’s leading scorer.
The Nets have had their last three scheduled games postponed — among the NBA’s nine postponements thus far — after a coronavirus outbreak left them with a league-high 10 players in protocols. Nash said Harden, Paul Millsap and Jevon Carter had also cleared protocols, though rookies Cam Thomas, Kessler Edwards and David Duke Jr. had since entered.
Teams need a minimum of eight players to start a game. Nash said the Nets have more than enough.
But it’s unclear if they will have another practice before the game Saturday. Nash said it’s only in the last day that healthy players have been able to return for individual workouts.
“It’s tricky,” Nash said. “We haven’t been able to do a lot, but we do what we can and we’ll continue to just adapt as the rules and mandates come in.”
It is important to note that players can enter and exit the health and safety protocols list quickly in some cases, some teams do not release updated numbers except when mandated by league rule, and not everyone on the list has tested positive for COVID-19.
Also important: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said earlier this week in an interview with ESPN that positive-testing players who have received booster shots tend to show, at worst, very mild symptoms. The league says 97% of players are fully vaccinated; the NBPA says 65% are boosted, and it is a top priority of the union to get that number much higher.
Durant was placed in protocols last Saturday along with Kyrie Irving, a day after the Nets said they were bringing the unvaccinated point guard back to play in road games. There's still time for Irving to return two negative tests 24 hours apart to be cleared, though Nash said the Nets weren't expecting that.
With the Lakers’ Anthony Davis already sidelined with a sprained left knee, Durant’s absence would remove another superstar from what was expected to be one of the marquee games of the regular season when it was scheduled.
The Nets have the best record in the Eastern Conference, but Nash said it's going to be difficult to pick up where they left off after not playing for a week.
“We’re one of the few teams around that league that’s had a pause, so to jump back into the rhythm of the league is a difficult task,” he said. “But we have to approach it with excitement and opportunity, and also not put too much pressure on ourselves to re-enter.”
Along with Durant, starters LaMarcus Aldridge and DeAndre' Bembry remain in the protocols, along with Bruce Brown, James Johnson and rookie Day’Ron Sharpe. Nash said all of the players were experiencing nothing more than mild symptoms.
Teams are being allowed to sign players to replace those sidelined by positive tests, and at least 40 such hardship contracts — which won’t count against a team’s salary cap or luxury tax numbers — have been executed in the last few days. Some of the players are relative unknowns or new to the league; others, like Boston’s Joe Johnson, Atlanta’s Lance Stephenson and the Lakers’ Isaiah Thomas, have largely been out of the league for years. The 40-year-old Johnson played on Wednesday, his first NBA game since 2018. Stephenson also debuted for the Hawks on Wednesday, his first NBA game since 2019.
AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds contributed to this report.
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