Heat to fly pandemic-impacted players back to South Florida, otherwise continue with schedule

Ira Winderman, South Florida Sun Sentinel

The Miami Heat will move forward with a shorthanded roster due to both contact-tracing protocols and a player who has tested positive for COVID-19.

A party familiar with the plans of the Heat, who underwent additional coronavirus testing Monday in Boston, told the Sun Sentinel there will be two flights from Boston in the wake of Sunday’s postponed game against the Celtics at TD Garden.

One of the flights will take eligible players to Philadelphia for Tuesday’s game against the 76ers, who also are dealing with pandemic-related absences.

The other flight will bring players in contact-tracing quarantine back to South Florida. Those players, yet to be identified by the team, are expected to be quarantined for one week, which would also have them out for at least Thursday’s game in Philadelphia and Saturday’s game against the Detroit Pistons at AmericanAirlines Arena.

The Heat have not identified the player who has tested positive for COVID-19, but based on the team’s injury report for Sunday’s postponed game, all signs would lead to veteran guard Avery Bradley.

The plan, as of Monday afternoon, was to have the player who tested positive housed in a hotel. All NBA teams have designated spaces for such players in their home markets.

That planning came against a backdrop of the NBA seeking to tighten protocols amid outbreaks and absences around the league.

According to ESPN, “29 players around the league -- nearly 6% of all players -- are currently subject to the league’s health and safety protocols. All told, players have already missed more than 100 games due to COVID-19-related absences.”

In a Reddit question-and-answer session amid the Heat’s Monday testing in Boston, Heat guard Duncan Robinson addressed the mood of the moment.

“Definitely been a unique start to the year,” he said. “Been different challenges with all the protocols and new norms. I think the general sentiment is that everyone wants to play but also everyone wants to be safe first. The league is obviously doing everything they can to ensure both.”

The league also announced Monday that two additional games have been postponed due to the pandemic and roster issues, Monday’s New Orleans Pelicans at Dallas Mavericks game and Tuesday’s Celtics at Chicago Bulls game.

The league’s Board of Governors is expected to hold an emergency session Tuesday to address the situation, after discussions Monday between the league and players’ union.

The league has put an extensive “mandatory contact tracing program” into effect amid the coronavirus pandemic, with Erik Spoelstra’s team now left to deal with the immediate implications.

Per the NBA Health and Safety Protocols:

“In the event an individual returns a positive or inconclusive PCR test result, all teams must actively participate in and comply with a contact tracing program, monitored by the NBA and/or the local public health authority in the team’s market, to facilitate efficient identification of close contacts and other individuals who may have had significant exposure(s) and inform quarantine, testing, monitoring, or other follow-up measures in respect of any such other individual(s).”

Such was the process, and the timing of the process amid a back-to-back set of games that opened with Saturday night’s victory over the Washington Wizards, that left the Heat uncertain of whether the minimum required eight players would have been available Sunday night.

As for the definition of “close contact,” the NBA’s policy states:

“Any individual who (a) has been within six feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period (i.e., consecutively all at once or in multiple separate time blocks), starting from two days before illness onset for symptomatic individuals, and two days before specimen collection for asymptomatic individuals or (b) had direct contact with infectious secretions or excretions of the infected individual (e.g., being coughed on or bare-handed palm-to-palm handshakes or hugs).

“Whether a person’s exposure to an infected individual qualifies that person as a close contact can depend on a number of considerations, including the duration of exposure, proximity, location (including environmental factors), whether the infected individual is symptomatic or was wearing a facemask during the exposure, or other circumstances of the interaction.”

When it comes to the potential length of quarantine for those deemed to have been in close contact with a person testing positive for COVID-19, the policy is open ended.

As a recent example, Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant was away from his team for a week due to a contact-tracing issue. He returned Sunday night, in a loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Several other NBA players remain in such quarantine, some away from their home cities.

Per the NBA:

“Although a quarantine for every close contact . . . will not be required, whether or not a quarantine for a period of days is required in a particular case will be directed by the team and/or the NBA based on medical/expert review and/or consideration . . .

“If such a quarantine is directed by the team or the NBA, the person receiving the direction must comply.”