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NBA’s plans for older coaches on bench in limbo amid pandemic precautions

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said older coaches in the league could be prohibited from sitting on the bench at games when the league returns from a coronavirus-related suspension, due to safety precautions.

Silver made the comment Thursday on TNT’s Inside the NBA. Some of the older coaches responded with opposition to the idea. Silver later admitted the league needed to work together to find a safe solution to the issue.

NBA team owners on Thursday approved a 22-team season resumption. The approved format starts July 31 at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla. The NBA has been suspended since March 11 due to the pandemic.

San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, 71, is the oldest coach in the league. Four other coaches are at least 60 years old. The league includes three more coaches who are 58 or 59 years old.

“I think one of the things we know, we’ve learned a lot about the virus since we shut down in March, and the data is demonstrating that for the most part, and there are exceptions, that [it is] healthy young people that are the least vulnerable,” Silver told TNT. “But there are also people involved in this league, particularly some of the coaches, who are obviously older people and we also know people at any age who have underlying conditions are most vulnerable.

“So we are going to have to work through protocols that maybe, for example, certain coaches may not be able to be the bench coach. They may have to retain social distancing protocols. And maybe they can be in the front of a room, a locker room or a ballroom with a whiteboard, but when it comes to actual play we’re not going to want them that close to players in order to protect them. So those are all issues that we are continuing to work through.”

New Orleans Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry, 65, told ESPN Silver’s suggestion “doesn’t make sense.” He also said he wouldn’t be able to coach if he wasn’t on the bench.

NBA Coaches Association President Rick Carlisle said he spoke with Silver after the comments.

“The health and safety of our coaches is first and foremost,” Carlisle said. “It’s entirely possible that an NBA coach in his 60s or 70s could be healthier than someone in their 30s or 40s.

“The conversation should never be solely about a person’s age. Adam assured me that we would work through this together to help determine what is both safe and fair for all of our coaches.”

Silver said the league is still in the process of learning about the coronavirus and still considers the possibility of allowing fans to attend the games at some point. Gentry questioned if the league would line up coaches and give them physicals to determine their underlying conditions and that older coaches wouldn’t necessarily be less healthy than younger coaches.

“I think it’s unfair if that’s what they’re doing,” Gentry said of the league’s idea to keep older coaches off the bench. “To base something strictly on age when there’s nothing out there that says I’m more susceptible to catching it than anybody else. I understand the risk that I’m taking if I do get it. But hell, I want to be with my team and do my job. That’s what they hired me for.”

The NBA’s plan includes a typical 16-team playoff with four rounds of best-of-seven-series. The league also left open the possibility for a play-in tournament for the ninth seed. Silver said the NBA “doesn’t believe” the season would have to shut down if a player tests positive for COVID-19. The NBA Finals will end no later than Oct. 12 as part of the restart plan.

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