Call it the opening of Training Camp II. A soft opening, perhaps, but enough to get adrenaline flowing again.
Although Pacers players have been filtering into St. Vincent Center for individual workouts for the past month or so, the virtual resumption of their season begins on Wednesday. A truck filled with equipment will leave for Orlando, a list of 35 names will be turned into NBA headquarters to identify the players and other employees eligible to attend the games there and the first non-voluntary workout will be conducted in the practice facility.
Such signs of life will be a welcome respite from the uncertainty and inactivity all NBA teams have experienced since the league shut down operations on March 11 because of the COVID-19 virus pandemic. The Pacers have not played since their game with Boston on March 10.
Like all 22 teams who have secured a playoff position or have a mathematical chance of doing so, the Pacers cannot conduct an official practice involving the coaching staff until after they arrive in Orlando. All members of their traveling party will have to quarantine in their room at the Grand Floridian hotel for 48 hours upon their arrival on July 9. They will begin practice on the 11th or 12th. The first of their rescheduled eight remaining regular season games will be played on Aug. 1 against Philadelphia and the playoffs will begin on Aug. 17.
"The world will be watching," President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard said Tuesday in a 40-minute Zoom conference with media members. "We're probably going to have some of the highest TV ratings we've ever had. I can feel in the air there's a pent-up demand for our sport, and sports in general.
"You go from apprehension on one end of the pendulum to excitement at the other end," Pritchard added. "(We're) getting excited to go play basketball and we look at this as a unique experience. I'm hopeful this is the only one we ever have to do."
When play was halted, the Pacers had won eight of their previous 11 games to improve their record to 39-26, tied with the 76ers for fifth place in the Eastern Conference. They are within two games of Miami in fourth place, but the issue of homecourt advantage is negated by the fact all games will be played in Orlando.
PHOTO GALLERY: Pacers Prepare for Orlando with Individual Workouts »
Although it's an unprecedented circumstance that will demand out-of-the-box thinking and on-the-fly adjustments, Pritchard is confident his players will adapt and regain their competitive spirit.
"I really believe guys are going to ramp up, the juices are going to get flowing and they're going to want to go play with the best players in the world," Pritchard said. "We want to go compete. I want us to play hard, play smart and play together.
"We get in good shape and do those three things, no matter what we'll be proud of this team."
Pritchard's optimism is buoyed by what he’s seen from the voluntary individual workouts the past couple of weeks. The facility has been available from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., with only two players at a time permitted in the building. The participants have followed a three-step process that includes on-court workouts, conditioning and physical therapy in timed increments.
"I've been impressed with our conditioning," he said. "I think (coach Nate McMillan) can move over from conditioning into strategy pretty quick.
"It's become very comfortable, where players know as soon as they're done with one spot they're getting to the next spot," Pritchard said. "It becomes very efficient. Nate has even brought it up that maybe we take some of this protocol and implement it for next year."
Malcolm Brogdon, the only Pacers player who has tested positive for the virus, has been working out at home during a quarantine period by running, lifting weights and practicing yoga.
"We saw him here one day and he looked amazing," Pritchard said. "This is a little setback in his conditioning, but I think he's done a great job in his house doing everything he can."
Victor Oladipo had played 13 games after recovering from the torn quad tendon he suffered the previous season when play was stopped. He had just played his best game against the Celtics on March 10, finishing with 27 points, seven rebounds, and four assists. He has used the layoff to further rehabilitate his injury and step up his conditioning.
"I don't think I've seen him in better shape than I've seen him in a long time," Pritchard said. "I think he's taking the time to staircase up physically and mentally. I've been really impressed by what I've seen out of him. He's in great shape.
"We've spent a lot of time coming up with a plan that allows him to play and hopefully be ready to play as much as he possibly can. But we're going to call audibles. We're very excited about where he's at at this time."
Other highlights of Pritchard's call with media members:
• Members of the traveling parties for each team will be tested twice per day in Orlando and the league has established strict guidelines to assure the safest possible environment. Pritchard said one booklet on hotel protocols consists of 122 pages.
"My comfort's gone way up and my anxiety's gone way down," he said. "I really believe (the hotels) could be the safest place in the world. It's impressive what they've put together."
• The league also is attempting to make the quarantine experience as comfortable as possible. Movies and other programming will be available via Firesticks, as well as unique content from Disney. Golf, boating, and fishing also will be options during free time and food can be ordered from a participating group of 10-20 restaurants.
"They're trying to make it a great experience for everybody," Pritchard said.
• Pritchard plans to take all 17 of the players who were with the team before the lockdown, although he's leaving that open to change. That group includes Brian Bowen II and Naz Mitrou-Long. who are on two-way contracts.
"I've talked to a lot of our players and to (coach Nate McMillan)," Pritchard said.
"Having all 17 players may be the most important thing, only because it gives them a chance to spend time together and create some bonds that could trickle over into next year. And we're looking at programming things we can do together to stimulate that."
• Pritchard noted that with players from 22 teams gathered in Orlando they will have an unprecedented platform from which to speak on their concerns about social injustice.
Brogdon, who participated in a march in Atlanta, has prepared a detailed document with an action plan that was passed along to Pacers president Herb Simon and the NBA headquarters.
"I'm almost certain that a lot, or maybe all of it, they're looking to implement it," Pritchard said. "It was impressive as far as taking all this energy and enthusiasm and saying, 'OK, let's put that into real action.'
The Pacers also have formed a committee to find ways to take local action, such as supporting more black-owned businesses.
"We have expectations for that committee," Pritchard said. "We're going to change things. I'm so grateful that these young players are making a difference. I don't think this is going away."
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