After a series of COVID-19 cases and related quarantines that are threatening to paralyze its season, the NBA is toughening up its protocols for at least the next two weeks.

The new restrictions include requiring players to remain at home except for only team and other essential activities; limiting pregame meeting times and spaces; avoiding socializing pre- and post-game as much as possible; no non-team guests at hotels; stronger requirements for facemask use while on the bench; and testing for people who visit the homes of players and staff, such as friends, family or private employees.

The new rules were agreed to by the NBA and the National Basketball Players’ Association on Tuesday morning, creating an environment that the league hopes will help players and staff be more mindful and reduce the risk for COVID-19. It adds on to some 150 pages of protocols the league created before the season and has tacked on new restrictions in the weeks since the season opened.

Teams like the Lakers and Clippers have experienced limited cases among players so far, but the looming shadow of COVID-19 is putting everyone on alert.

“I think likely, knock on wood, we’ve been very fortunate so far and we can control only what we control,” Lakers center Marc Gasol said. “It’s a lot of stuff that is hard to control because you just don’t know. But the things that we can control, I think we’re doing a great job at it.”

Since opting to not repeat the bubble experience that led to zero confirmed positive cases on the Orlando campus, the NBA has faced the same problems that have dogged every other sports league that has hosted games in a world stricken by a pandemic.

While nearly every team has been touched by quarantine protocols that have kept a player or a staff member out of a game, positive test results have roiled the league in the last week leading to five cancellations – including three games of the Boston Celtics, who haven’t been able to field enough players since star Jayson Tatum returned a positive test. Other teams, such as the Chicago Bulls and Philadelphia 76ers, have muddled through despite quarantine protocols that have left them without key personnel.

According to The Associated Press, 36 players were listed as unavailable on Tuesday due to COVID-19 protocols – which could range in severity from a positive coronavirus test to being in contact with someone who has tested positive. This has also affected staffers: Seven Clippers support staffers were quarantined after a road trip to Salt Lake City (no players were affected).

The biggest effect might be on families and guests of players and staff, who will be subject to the same stricter rules. Gasol, who has children, acknowledged that aspect of the next two weeks will be challenging.

“It’s tough, when you have a family too, it’s hard,” he said. “You can’t keep your family in the house. They’re going to go outside. They’re going to play in the park. You get stuff delivered at home. It’s hard to be 100 percent. Nothing is 100 percent proof, so we do as best as we can.”

The NBA had previously tried to limit socializing in home markets and on the road to approved locations only. Teams have been allowed to practice after testing daily. But the new guidelines also call for extra levels of planning and nuance, such as making the seating chart for the team plane similar to the bench groupings at games to limit spread between players on the same team.

The restrictions have inhibited normal team bonding activities, Clippers forward Nicolas Batum said, and could restrict them further: After a road trip to Golden State, Batum recalled several Clippers staying behind for extra time in the locker room, which would seemingly not be an approved activity under the new protocols.

“There are different ways to bond,” Batum said. “And we have to adjust. We have to adjust because the situation and the time we’re living in is pretty crazy, but we still find ways to regroup and spend time with each other.”

Although the G League has plans to have a shortened season at the Disney campus starting next month, there is little appetite in the NBA to return to a bubble environment. LeBron James quipped that being asked a question about it gave him PTSD: “I start shaking and start thinking about 96 straight nights in that place.”



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