As NBA players reported for workouts July 1, the league’s restart plan was close to becoming a reality. The first teams were scheduled to arrive at the Disney World campus in Orlando, Fla., site of the NBA’s bubble, in only a few days. Optimism was high.
There was another reality to consider too. Cases of the novel coronavirus were rising swiftly throughout the country again, and especially in Florida. That was concerning, Clippers guard Landry Shamet said that day. So was knowing that coaches and players were vulnerable to the virus leading up to their arrival.
“There’s no option with no risk at this point,” Shamet said. “You can go get it going to get gas today down the street.”
Much to Shamet’s frustration, he soon proved himself right.
Rather than take a seat on the Clippers’ charter flight to Orlando on July 8, Shamet remained at his California home in “corona quarantine,” as he wrote in a social media post earlier this month. The second-year guard, who started during last season’s playoffs but had moved into an off-the-bench role this season, didn’t arrive until Saturday, one day after the arrival of starting center Ivica Zubac, another Clipper who’d become infected with COVID-19. Shamet watched the Clippers’ third and final scrimmage from the bench Monday.
“I felt really good” throughout the spring “and then obviously with all that news, and what I went through, you know, it was a little frustrating,” Shamet said on a video conference Tuesday. “But you know, I put that work in. I built myself up, and I didn’t lose all the work that I did for the months leading up to me getting it. So it was tough, but I mean, it ran its course. I did what I had to do. Stayed locked in like I could, and I’m here, and that’s all that matters.
“I’m here before the season starts, and you know, we’re in it for the long haul. So I’m just excited to go through my process and get back to, you know, to me.”
That long-haul approach is why the Clippers, despite all the attention generated by Thursday’s official first game against the Western Conference-leading Lakers, have made clear that they place more value on getting everyone healthy in time for the playoffs, which begin Aug. 17, than how they look during the league’s eight-game seeding round.
Coach Doc Rivers indicated as much again Tuesday. Though Shamet will be available to play against the Lakers, Rivers called it “impossible” to think the guard would be prepared to play big minutes.
“Landry has been off for three months, and now he’s going to practice the next two [days] and we’re going to throw him into an NBA real game?” Rivers said. “That’s asking a lot. So, I’m in no hurry with Landry. I’m going to be patient. If he plays great, great. If he doesn’t, that’s fine too. We have some time before the playoffs. That’s the good news, and that’s the way we’re going to view it.”
Shamet’s opportunities were squeezed in late February and early March as improved health led to a deeper lineup and the signing of point guard Reggie Jackson allowed high-scoring reserve Lou Williams to take more of the off-ball role with the reserves that Shamet had previously occupied.
If the Clippers’ offense during the seeding round looks anything close to its form during the league’s warmup scrimmages, then Shamet, a career 41% three-point shooter, could be in line for more time. More than 50% of the Clippers’ field-goal attempts during their three scrimmages were taken behind the three-point line, a sharp uptick from the regular season, when the Clippers’ 37% three-point rate ranked just below the league’s median.
While waiting to join his teammates in Florida, Shamet said he felt connected to the rest of the group.
“You know, you’ll get texts and whatnot, people saying we need you, [can’t] wait to have you here,” he said. “… It was never — that was never a question that I always felt, you know, supported and thought about by not only my teammates but staff and everybody involved.”
The NBA did not play national anthems before tipoff of its scrimmages during the last week, but that will change starting Thursday, and the moment is expected to bring demonstrations from not only players but coaches.
Though the league’s rulebook states that “players, coaches and trainers must stand and line up in a dignified posture along the foul lines during the playing of the American and/or Canadian national anthems,” The Times has learned that players plan to kneel as a demonstration of support for Black Lives Matter. Thursday’s games also coincide with the debut of league-approved social-justice messages being worn on the back of players’ jerseys.
Coaches visibly supported social justice efforts during scrimmages by wearing “Coaches for Racial Justice” pins on their polo shirts. Now, some coaches might kneel when seeding games begin as well.
“I really believe this — and I believe this for all of us what I call ‘old folks’ — we need to follow the youth on this movement,” Rivers said. “We need to follow what they want to do and listen to what they want to do and say, and then follow them. And so as a coach, I’m going to do that. I’m going to let my players lead, and I’ll follow.”