The Utah Jazz lead the NBA in a handful of categories. Most of the three-pointers, just like they did last season. Most points per game. Most rebounds per game.
They are also the last to use the word “protocols”.
It is still not accurate to say that every team in the NBA has had a coronavirus problem this season. No Jazz players have been placed on the league’s health and safety protocol list this season, making Utah the only team that has not yet lost a player to a virus-related issue.
This is particularly impressive considering what is happening. Right now, the vast majority of the league’s 30 teams are currently waiting for at least one player to drop off the list, with some of those teams waiting for more than one player to be eliminated.
“I have no particular pride,” Jazz manager Quin Snyder said when asked to be the last team standing in the race for protocols. “I think we were lucky.
“We’ve tried to be smart about a lot of things. A lot of teams have done that, just in terms of raising the level of awareness. I think we’ve been lucky. I also think it’s kind of a – wood situation at some level.”
He doesn’t really think the rush of fortune will last. Snyder knows it is “inevitable” that the Jazz will join the rest of the NBA. The numbers around the championship indicate that that day will come sooner or later.
December 2021 was a tough month for the NBA, in any case, arguably the toughest since March 2020. It was then that the decision to close the championship was made on the night jazz center Rudy Gobert became the first player to be positive at Covid -19.
More than 500 players took the floor this month, a record for every month in the league’s history. Well over 100 players have entered the protocols and the list of postponed games has grown to nine. The NBA had no choice but to grant teams an unlimited number of difficulty contracts, agreeing not to have emergency calls counted against a team’s salary cap or luxury tax numbers.
But just as it should every new year, January is likely to bring a newfound optimism.
The league now has a shorter return-to-play plan in place for those who tested positive. It is reasonable to think that the percentage of players who received boosters – 65% was the last known figure – will increase soon, especially since each team has been ordered by the NBA to organize an event to make them available to players, staff and family members by Friday.
Although over 100 players tested positive in December, few were known to have much more than a bad case of a cold, probably largely due to the league’s 97% vaccination rate.
“We all want to put this behind us,” said Portland assistant Scott Brooks, who will coach the Trail Blazers while head coach Chauncey Billups is in the protocols.
Brooks pointed to the bright side he sees right now: the opportunities the roster expansion has created for G League players and others to enter the NBA.
A great example of the new opportunities comes from Indiana and the newly signed Keifer Sykes.
It is underpowered, a 6 foot guard. He wasn’t heavily recruited before enrolling in Green Bay to play ball in college. He participated in the Summer League with Cleveland, Golden State, Denver and Indiana. He went to training camp with the Pacers and San Antonio. He played for a couple of G League teams in the United States, in addition to the “Winner Takes All” summer event known as The Basketball Tournament, and wore jerseys for professional teams in South Korea, Turkey, Italy, China, Greece and Australia.
And now, finally, he’s in the NBA.
Sykes got the call from the Pacers on Sunday night. The first person he spoke to was his mother, who wanted to scream with joy.
“Don’t scream yet. I have to pass the Covid test,” Sykes told her.
It is gone. Mom can scream now.
“Happy for him,” said Pacers manager Rick Carlisle. “This is a great opportunity for him. This is his first official NBA bout and he has been an opportunist in his career. And I know he will do well.”
Even in troubled times for many in the NBA, there have been stories worth savoring. A difficult month is finally ending. The League can only hope that the best of this season is yet to come.