For weeks since the NBA and its players association agreed on a Dec. 22 start date for a 72-game regular season, the league held its draft and free agency against the backdrop of the unknown, with teams unclear exactly how they would play and travel amid a global pandemic without the protections of the "bubble" that helped restart last season.
On Saturday, just days before training camps for the Clippers and the Lakers open with individual workouts limited to no more than four players and four coaches at one time, the league outlined in more detail its proposed health and safety protocols, according to a copy obtained by The Los Angeles Times. The players union must approve the guidelines.
The number that matters most to teams and players is that the NBA's return-to-play guidelines require that at least 12 days must pass between a first positive polymerase chain reaction test or end of symptoms, if any, and a return to activity.
Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 can return to work by going one of two routes.
The league's time-based procedure requires an infected person to isolate for at least 10 days after the first positive test or the start of symptoms, if any, wait at least 24 hours since their fever has passed without using any fever-reducing medications and ensure that other symptoms have improved.
The testing-based procedure requires anyone infected to test negative twice from samples collected at least 24 hours apart and includes the 10-day isolations.
Once cleared by a team's physician and infectious disease specialist to end their isolation, infected players cannot join their teams immediately. They must work out by themselves for two days while wearing a mask at all times and take part in a cardiac screening.
In either case, a positive test begins a multistep process that includes informing local health authorities and contract tracing.
Training camp officially begins Tuesday, but the first full team practice will not take place for several days.
Players can choose to begin individual workouts either Tuesday or Thursday, and the workouts cannot include more than four players and four coaches at one time, according to a league memo teams received Nov. 22 that was obtained by The Times. It is the same "one player, one coach, one basket" policy that teams abided by to begin the NBA restart last summer.
Also during the first five days of training camp, no more than two players and two staff members will be allowed inside the weight room at the same time, with everyone required to wear a mask.
The earliest a team may require group training, and thus hold a full practice, is Friday — but only if every player has agreed to participate in individual workouts starting Tuesday. More likely, however, is that many teams will not be permitted to hold group training until Dec. 6.
Where teams used to be able to glimpse a new-look roster's potential together weeks before camp opened during unofficial pickup games at team facilities, the medical protocols now mean teams' first previews won't take place until only days before preseason games begin Dec. 11.
The Lakers and Clippers play that day and again Dec. 13. The Lakers will close their preseason schedule with games at Phoenix on Dec. 16 and at home against Phoenix on Dec. 18. The Clippers' three-game preseason ends Dec. 17 at home against Utah.
Players and staff members must return negative PCR tests for three consecutive days before being allowed to enter the facility for individual workouts, according to the memo, and teams must continue to administer daily testing in addition to daily symptom and exposure screening.
The NBA was vague on what could require the season's suspension.
"The occurrence of independent cases or a small or otherwise expected number of COVID-19 cases will not require a decision to suspend or cancel the 2020-21 season," the 134-page manual said.
Unlike the NBA restart, which sequestered 22 teams with playoff hopes on the campus of Walt Disney World near Orlando, Fla., the upcoming season is an attempt to play games in each team's home market, and the memo acknowledged that the league can no longer keep team members inside a protected bubble at all times.
Beginning Thursday, "players and essential basketball operations and practice facilities staff will no longer be required to self-quarantine at home when not participating in activities at team facilities, and instead will be subject to other less restrictive rules regarding activities outside the practice facility," the memo said.
Travel restrictions related to COVID-19 have already forced one team to relocate temporarily. The Toronto Raptors, unable to play in Canada because of pandemic-related travel restrictions, will play in Tampa, Fla., this season.
It remained unclear how the local restrictions in Los Angeles County announced Friday would affect the Lakers' and Clippers' plans to begin their seasons. The measures, which take effect Monday and run through Dec. 20, prohibit all public and private gatherings with individuals not in one's household.