Portland Trail Blazers star CJ McCollum is urging the NBA to adopt a balance between proper coronavirus safety measures and players getting back to work with the league allowing teams to open their facilities on Friday.
The Trail Blazers, along with the Denver Nuggets and Cleveland Cavaliers, plan to open their facilities Friday in states in which the government has eased the stay-at-home mandate during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s been almost two months since the NBA suspended its season on March 11, and the league is seeking to exhaust all options in hopes of salvaging the 2019-20 season. Players are encouraged to stay in shape until health experts are able to decide whether a return to league play is feasible.
“I am worried like the rest of the world, but I like that it is optional and I’m pleased with the caution, structure and measures the Blazers organization has put in place to ensure the safest environment possible for all parties involved,” McCollum told Yahoo Sports. “I get the measures [the league is] taking, but you have to think at some point when there are drastic measures that need to be taken, ‘Is it really worth it?’ It’s either safe or it’s not.
“ … And let’s just be honest, man, it’s not like it will be the first time players got gym access outside of the team’s facilities. Some people have been working out, if we’re being honest.”
Despite feeling uneasy about working out at the team facility, McCollum — who is also vice president of the National Basketball Players Association — intends to go in on Saturday to evaluate if it’s possible to safely execute a workout with so many restrictions.
“The issue is you can go to your practice facility, but there’s all these stipulations,” McCollum told Yahoo Sports. “You can’t use certain stuff, can’t do certain stuff. Now they’re talking about you might have to be 12 feet away from your strength coach. How are you going to lift 12 feet away from somebody?”
A league memo sent to teams on Wednesday read:
“If a team’s practice facility is no longer subject to a state or local government restriction that would prohibit use of such facility, the team may make its facility available for use by the team’s players for workouts or treatment on a voluntary, individual basis. … Each team making its facility available for use by the team’s players may designate up to a total of six assistant coaches or player development personnel who are permitted to provide individual in-person supervision of a player’s individual on-court workout, if requested by the player (i.e., “one player, one coach”). As with players, no more than four assistant coaches or player development personnel may be in a team facility at one time. It remains the case that head coaches may not participate in or observe such individual workouts (whether in close proximity or from a distance). Within two days of the first player workout or treatment at a team’s reopened facility, the team must submit the names of these six coaches [permitted to be at the facility].”
On the "77 Minutes in Heaven Podcast,” Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban explained why his organization wouldn’t be opening up its facility anytime soon.
“The problem, obviously, is that because we can’t test people, then we can’t assure anybody’s safety whether they’re basketball players or anybody else,” Cuban said. “Even though we can try to take all different kinds of precautions, it’s just not worth it — particularly when our guys are staying in shape and they’re going outside and shooting on outdoor hoops and working out in various ways. So, I just don’t think the risk is worth the reward.”
McCollum has had his mind on a lot more than the league’s possible return lately.
His great aunt died a few weeks ago. Just a week prior to her death, she was scheduled to undergo a heart procedure. The McCollum family doesn’t know whether COVID-19 was the cause of her death, but that’s what it suspects.
He’s also mourning the loss of Brandon “Chef B” Johnson — Damian Lillard’s cousin — who died last week. Johnson, whose cause of death is not yet known, served as the personal chef for Lillard and McCollum.
“Outside of that, everybody else is doing fine,” McCollum told Yahoo Sports. “At home, we’re just getting used to being in the house, getting used to things that aren’t normal becoming normal, with wearing a mask and gloves in the grocery store and trying not to touch stuff. Having to put hand sanitizer in the car, trying to clean your hands before touching the steering wheel. Just little stuff that you’re not accustomed to doing.”
Todd Forcier, the Trail Blazers’ head strength and conditioning coach, sends McCollum workout plans to complete at home.
“Our staff has done a great job of calling and checking in and going through daily checklists,” he said.
McCollum’s daily workout grind consists of stationary bike rides, running out in fields, jumping rope, weight training, cone drills and form shooting. He hasn’t seen the ball go through a basket since the season was put on hold.
“On my form shots, I imagine I’m making eight out of 10,” he said.
Why not 10 out of 10?
“You’ve got to be realistic,” McCollum responded with a chuckle. “I haven’t shot in two months, so chances are I wouldn’t be 10-for-10. But it’s still wet enough to be eight out of 10 and four swishes. You’ve just got to be creative with it. As a player, you're trying to hold out for hope, but at what point do you figure out how you should be approaching your training? Am I training for a return, or am I training for October or am I training for December?
“It would be nice to have a timeline of some type of action at some point. Some days I’m training like I’m in season, and some days I’m training like I’m in the offseason. You’ve just got to find your balance. It also depends on the resources you have. I have a good amount of stuff I can utilize to where I can get me some good work in. And mentally, you just have to psyche yourself almost. You’re used to training for something. Now it’s like, ‘Um, am I training for now or am I training for Christmas or for Halloween?’”
The longer this basketball hiatus continues, the likelihood of canceling the season increases exponentially. McCollum is just like everyone else when it comes to not knowing what’s going to occur.
“I don’t know, man,” he said. “I’m probably as optimistic as the casual fan. Some days you feel like there’s a chance, and then some days you’re like, ‘I don’t know.’ But in the meantime, if you go to work out at the facility, I get it. Work out, but we’ve got to figure out a balance between what’s safe and what’s forcing it.”
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