The Philadelphia 76ers will face the Denver Nuggets today with just seven healthy players. Technically that’s one below the minimum required to participate in an NBA game, but the blurry lines around the definition of “injury”, plus ongoing COVID-19 issues, are creating a grey area in which the team would prefer not to play but the league is insisting they do.
Sixers guard Seth Curry tested positive for COVID on Thursday. The result came during the first quarter of their game with the Brooklyn Nets. Curry was isolated immediately, but teammates Tobias Harris, Shake Milton, Matisse Thybulle, and Vincent Poirierwere now fall under the contact-tracing protocols of the league’s health and safety guidelines, making them ineligible for the Denver game.
According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, other Philadelphia players have tested negative, but stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons were already listed as out for the Denver contest due to injury. Combined with other injuries and absences, this leaves Philadelphia eight players, the minimum required. But technically forward Mike Scott was returning from injury and not supposed to receive minutes in this game. The Sixers will have to suit him up, but not play him, to make the threshold.
Mike Scott will go through warmups, but is unlikely to play today, sources tells ESPN. Essentially, he's needed to wear a uniform on bench to avoid a forfeit. The Sixers are preparing to play with seven players vs. Denver today.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) January 9, 2021
Philadelphia Head Coach Doc Rivers reportedly favors rescheduling the game, but the league mandates that any team meeting minimum requirements must play.
Doc Rivers says "I don't think we should" be playing, but that it isn't up to him to decide that. He reiterates he's concerned about the health of his available players, and the minutes the healthy guys are going to have to play.— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) January 9, 2021
Doc Rivers: "An hour ago we were told we were playing. We have eight active players. One is Mike Scott, and I can tell you right now there's no way I'm going to play him."— Mike Singer (@msinger) January 9, 2021
Said 76ers essentially have seven players.
"Dwight Howard's going to play point guard ..."
A public-relations tug ‘o war has ensued, with media members weigh in on various sides.
It’s a slippery slope when games start getting postponed even if teams have the minimum 8 players mandated.— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) January 9, 2021
I’m in favor of expanding the rosters to 20 players but only with those who have 0-3 years of service. Salary like a 2 Way would not hit the cap.
1. NBA should postpone this game and clearing a player 2 hours before tip is insane.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) January 9, 2021
2. The Sixers should forfeit because they are actively pursuing a track away from best chance to win.
3. “We have to play 72 for the money but also it doesn’t matter if the games are a joke”
If the Sixers were like “We want to play, we’re professionals, we’re COMPETITORS” then OK, sure. But the Sixers are like “We’re just here so we don’t get fined.”— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) January 9, 2021
What are we doing here.
this game being played is honestly…dumb. what's the point of releasing half the schedule to provide room for postponements/rescheduling if you don't reschedule a game when it's obvs necessary? https://t.co/K3pPHZje6G— Holly MacKenzie (@stackmack) January 9, 2021
Either way, it looks as if the tip will happen on schedule, at 5:00PM Eastern, 2:00PM Pacific.
As soon as the NBA stepped outside of a secured bubble, these issues were on the horizon. Franchises can lose half their roster at a moment’s notice, operating under protocols. Safety is the primary concern for all involved, but that truism waffles under the reality of asymptomatic contagion and the league’s desire to play scheduled games. The ethical ramifications of the process are up to debate, but it seems pretty clear that NBA fans should get used to a fluid definition of “roster” and “games” in 2021.