Every weekday for the next three weeks, Denver Stiffs writers will be putting together preview articles to prepare Nuggets fans for the Orlando quarantine playoffs. From specific players to questions hanging over the entire team, Denver Stiffs is the place to read Nuggets bubble preview content. Check back in every weekday for a new bubble question.
During his media session on Sunday night with local Denver media as well as some national folks, Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone went through his normal round of questions. He answered questions about Nikola Jokic (who still isn’t in Orlando), how the team is adjusting to the bubble, how they will approach the seeding games schematically, and the messaging around the team on social inequality and policy change.
He answered a question about Denver’s goals leading into the bubble playoffs this year and began with this statement: “I think our first mission is to get everybody here.”
The question that really caught my eye came from Michael Spencer of CBS 4. He asked specifically about Michael Porter Jr. and whether he was in the Orlando bubble. Below is coach Malone’s full response:
“Yeah, I’m not going to get into the details of who’s here and who’s not. We have some players here, and unfortunately, because of the coronavirus pandemic, we have some players that aren’t here. Due to respecting their privacy, I’m not going to confirm or deny who’s here or not.”
Anonymity has been the NBA’s policy for protecting players and sharing a positive coronavirus test. This was enacted after Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell, and Christian Wood all were outed as having tested positive for the virus back in March. Other players willingly shared their diagnosis, but the NBA has decided that sharing such a diagnosis is up to the players and should not be shared publicly at this time.
Of course, that same sentiment of privacy wasn’t shared when Nikola Jokic tested positive for coronavirus, so take that for what you will.
What’s notable about Malone’s answer above is that Denver’s coronavirus cases have been (mostly) hidden from the public eye, and the only Nuggets player to have contracted coronavirus publicly is Jokic. That being said, “some players” is clearly plural in the quote above. There is at least an implication that other players on the Nuggets roster have tested positive and aren’t at the bubble with the team.
A quick glance at the photo gallery the Nuggets provide publicly after every practice shows pictures of nine players working out and practicing across the three days the Nuggets have practiced thus far.
Players we have seen pictures/video of in Orlando:— Ryan Blackburn (@NBABlackburn) July 13, 2020
Unless I'm miscounting, that's 9 of 17. https://t.co/hl5BvdAoGu
With the Nuggets roster at 17 players, that leaves eight unaccounted for, including some very important pieces of Denver’s roster:
- Nikola Jokic
- Gary Harris
- Michael Porter Jr.
- Monte Morris
- Torrey Craig
- PJ Dozier
- Vlatko Čančar
- Keita Bates-Diop
Now, let me be as clear as I can be: this is NOT a declaration that any or all of those players have tested positive for coronavirus outside of Jokic and his very publicly shared case. Those players are simply the ones that have not been photographed in Orlando as of Sunday evening. There could be any number of reasons why those players may not be with the team just yet, but regardless, the Nuggets clearly don’t have their full complement of players available. It’s also possible that some of the above players may be in or traveling to the bubble on this Monday morning and they just haven’t been photographed yet.
It begs the question: when will Denver’s entire roster be ready to go? Once players enter the Orlando bubble, they will have to quarantine for at least 36 to 48 hours while awaiting the results of multiple coronavirus tests. Until players enter the bubble and have the requisite number of negative tests, there can be no personal interactions between teammates, coaches, and any members of the traveling party, which truly brings to light the difficulty of Denver’s situation (as well as that of other teams). Denver’s first exhibition game is nine days away, little more than a week out. Denver’s first actual seeding game on August 1st against the Miami Heat is 19 days away.
In any normal situation, a team that didn’t have its full complement of players while preparing during a preseason training camp would be behind the curve. Even if those players were rehabbing injuries, building up the chemistry and camaraderie of the group is extremely important. Factor in the difficult situations presented by the bubble, and camaraderie becomes of even greater importance.
Malone has been consistent in his messaging and the goals the Nuggets have heading into the bubble: get everyone here safely, build up that chemistry and comfort factor, and then worry about playing basketball beyond that. From an outsider’s point fo view, it appears that the Nuggets are still on Step 1 of that mission.
The quicker the Nuggets can move from Step 1 to Step 2, the better chance they will have at competing in these playoffs. It doesn’t sound like the team is too worried about that step in the process just yet though, and for good reason. The Nuggets will need their entire roster to take down opponents in the playoffs, and until everyone arrives, there will be concerns about how the Nuggets will perform in such an unforgiving environment.