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If you thought the NBA bubble in Orlando was an oddity, the 2021 NBA season already has it beat.
Nearly three years into the COVID-19 global pandemic, and professional sports are still being largely affected by the virus.
The latest strain, known as the Omicron variant, has been rapidly spreading throughout NBA locker rooms and overloading the league’s health and safety protocols list.
NBA Commissioner David Silver openly said that the league is not considering shutting down again, so it implemented a new rule allowing teams to sign non-rostered players to 10-day hardship deals. This is when things got interesting.
The introduction of the 10-day hardship deal evoked nostalgia in NBA fans as we saw a series of ‘blast from the past’ names.
The signing that received the most attention was when the Los Angeles Lakers agreed to terms with point guard Isaiah Thomas.
It has been a long road for the guard who rose to stardom with the Boston Celtics, only to be traded for Kyrie Irving the next season.
Since then, Thomas has been mostly out of the league with stints in the G League.
More Blasts from the Past
It has been a fun few weeks seeing all of these names pop back up in the league, some of them even garnering considerable playing time due ravaged rosters.
Another name that received a lot of attention was when the Celtics signed Joe Johnson to a contract.
The last time we saw Iso Joe was back in 2018 for the Houston Rockets.
Since then, Johnson has been playing in the Big 3, which was a league that rapper Ice Cube put together for players out of the NBA.
Other players who were signed to 10-day hardship contracts include Lance Stephenson, Darren Collison, Al-Farouq Aminu, Brandon Knight, and Emmanuel Mudiay.
While we hope that the COVID-19 issues run their course so we can get back to seeing competitive NBA basketball, it has been nice to see some of these names get another shot in the league.
It will be interesting to see if any of them stick around for a full-time contract following the conclusion of the hardship contracts.
By Christmas Day, there were over 100 active NBA players on the health and safety protocols list, including the newest additions: Bradley Beal, Karl Anthony-Towns, and D’Angelo Russell.
These players join recent additions that include Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic and Detroit Pistons rookie and number one overall pick, Cade Cunningham.
As Omicron continues to spread throughout the United States, we could continue to see more players added to the list in the new year.
Will the NBA Finish the Season?
Given Adam Silver’s insistence on keeping the league going, there is a slim chance of the coronavirus derailing the rest of the season.
Even though there have already been nine games postponed so far, the NBA and NBPA are working towards loosening restrictions for asymptomatic players that have been vaccinated.
The health and safety protocols would likely decrease from ten days to six days for the length of the quarantine. The player can also test negative twice in PCR tests that are at least 24 hours apart.
It has been quite the season so far for the NBA, and with the Christmas slate just wrapping up at the time of this writing, the push for the playoffs truly begins.
To add intrigue to the stretch run, two of the favorites for the NBA Championship are adding key pieces back to their rosters.
The Golden State Warriors will be welcoming back Klay Thompson at some point in January and the Brooklyn Nets appear to be getting back Kyrie Irving in a limited capacity.
Irving will not be allowed to play games in the state of New York or in Toronto, but most other road games he should be available.
Although it may seem hard to imagine, it seems like the NBA and all professional sports will continue to be affected by COVID-19 for a third straight year.
Even with higher vaccination rates and more information about the vaccine, the NBA is taking no chances with sitting its star players out of games.
The result has been one of the strangest NBA seasons in history, and we aren’t even at the half-way point yet.
Here’s to hoping that the Omicron variant passes us by, and the NBA can have a competitive and healthy end to the season.