Memphis assistant Brad Jones walked into what he thought was the Grizzlies’ locker room in Brooklyn a few days ago, then wondered if he was in the right place.
There was only one other person in the room — and Jones had no idea who the person was.
“Am I in Brooklyn’s locker room?” Jones asked.
Turns out, he was in the right place. The other person in the room was a 7-foot-1 rookie named Jon Teske, who had just been signed to a 10-day contract as the Grizzlies tried to fill roster holes created by having players lost for various COVID-19-related reasons.
Such is life in the NBA these days, with constant roster shakeups — and, as Jones learned from a text message he read upon waking up at 7:15 a.m. Saturday, shakeups to coaching staffs as well. He was serving as interim coach for the Grizzlies’ game against the Los Angeles Clippers after Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins went into the league’s health and safety protocols Saturday morning.
Jenkins became the 14th head coach in the 30-team league to miss time in recent weeks because of a virus-related issue, a figure that doesn’t include numerous assistant coaches, other team staff and about 300 players.
The other head coaches to have done a protocols stint this season: Indiana’s Rick Carlisle, Sacramento’s Alvin Gentry, Phoenix’s Monty Williams, Philadelphia’s Doc Rivers, the Los Angeles Lakers’ Frank Vogel, the Los Angeles Clippers’ Tyronn Lue, Denver’s Michael Malone, Portland’s Chauncey Billups, Chicago’s Billy Donovan, Milwaukee’s Mike Budenholzer, Atlanta’s Nate McMillan, Dallas’ Jason Kidd and Oklahoma City’s Mark Daigneault.
“I had COVID, but no symptoms,” said Daigneault, who returned to the Thunder on Friday. “I was actually really contagious, based on my COVID levels, and yet asymptomatic, which gave me a very tangible example of how this thing spreads so quickly. If I was just not in a testing protocol like we are I wouldn’t have thought to test, and yet I would have been breathing all over everybody.”
Also in the protocols and unable to play Saturday: Grizzlies center Steven Adams, who was the only Memphis player to appear in the team’s first 40 games this season and who entered the day as one of only 17 players around the league to not miss a game yet in the 2021-22 campaign.
“Yes, we have to plan when we find out that so-and-so’s got COVID or so-and-so’s got an injury,” Jones said. “Who’s the next man up, blah blah blah. … It’s a challenging time, obviously.”
And the Grizzlies already have a sense of how to navigate a game without Jenkins, who had to miss a recent Memphis contest because of a death in his family. Jenkins was fully involved in Saturday’s game plan, Jones said, noting they spoke several times that morning alone.
“Hopefully, other than a different-looking, uglier guy, older guy on the sidelines, you guys won’t notice any difference with what’s going on out there,” Jones said.
The number of players in the protocols has dropped considerably in recent days, from around 125 during the last week of December to around 50 on Saturday. Numbers still change rapidly and some players on the list are closer to a return than others, plus the league has shortened the amount of time that some players need to spend in isolation after testing positive.
But the league — with 97% of its players known to be vaccinated, at least 65% known to be boosted and with 100% of its head coaches vaccinated — is hoping the worst of this surge might be over. No games have been postponed in more than a week, after 11 had to be pushed back between Dec. 14 and Dec. 30.
The league entered Saturday with 584 players having gotten into at least one game this season, 44 more than the previous record for any full season — and this one isn’t even half over.
“The NBA has done a great job of navigating this,” Jones said. “Obviously this caught not just the NBA but the whole world off-guard. We’re going to look back on this in a few years … we’ve been through a lot of crazy times, but this last month has been nuts.”
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