How will NBA coaches handle season restart with no fans and practice limitations?

During pressure-packed games, NBA coaches often wrestle with how to ensure their ear drums do not burst from all the noise. When the league resumes its season behind closed doors at a quarantine site in Orlando, however, coaches will now wonder how they deal with the uncomfortable silence.

"It will be different with no fans and the fact that you can hear everything," Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. "I don't think we need scouts right now because every time a coach makes a call, we're going to hear it."

And since everyone will hear what the coaches have to say, some wonder if they need to change how they act on the sideline.

"If there’s ways to hide play-calls or whatnot, we will be cognizant of that," Los Angeles Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. "If we have to whisper certain things, we’ll whisper certain things."

Can NBA coaches whisper to the referees, though?

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Rarely do coaches bite their tongues when they become upset with a missed call or a loose whistle against their team. Without fans, however, it will become more likely the live television feed will pick up those exchanges with the men in stripes. They are not always suitable for family viewing.

"I’m going to be very nice to the officials," New Orleans Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry contended before laughing. "Obviously, we’re in a situation where pretty much everything is going to be heard."

Not everything will be heard, though.

A coach's job description often points to the work behind closed doors, including finalizing scouting reports, overseeing practice and handling personalities. As the NBA enters its resumed season at ESPN’s World Wide World of Sports Complex beginning July 30, coaches will have other unique responsibilities.

"The toughest part is there is no playbook," Denver Nuggets coach Mike Malone said. "There is no one I can call up that has gone through what we’re about to go through. We are going to learn as we go."

Likely fewer assistants

Coaches already learned one significant lesson even before teams depart for Orlando. Teams have to narrow their traveling parties to 34 people.

"Everybody is struggling with it because we know how hard it is and how much of a commitment everyone makes to work in this league," Sacramento Kings coach Luke Walton said. "Now this is a chance to be part of the playoffs. And you’re having to tell people you can’t go?"

That is what the NBA has told them. According to the league’s 113-page health and safety protocols, those 34 people have to include 13-17 players, one athletic trainer, one strength and conditioning coach, one equipment manager, one team security staff member and one senior executive from the team’s basketball operations department.

"That stinks because of the amount of work that they put in every single day," Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. "So we’ve tried to identity how to be the most efficient we can be with people that can be excellent remotely."

The NBA’s health and safety protocols also suggest "teams should consider including one or more individuals who can function across multiple roles." Teams have not shared those lists publicly, but Vogel outlined the expected trend that all 22 participating teams will likely follow.

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"We did load up on medical personnel just because of the history of players coming back after lockout-type situations and the high risk of injury," Vogel said. "With the COVID protocols and potentially having guys out, we did decide to bring 17 players so that we make sure that we have enough practice bodies. What most teams are going through, it leaves you a little bit short-handed on the coaching front."

Pelicans assistant Jeff Bzdelik has already opted out because of medical concerns. So did Lakers assistant Lionel Hollins for the same reason, which Vogel called "very disappointing" before adding "we support that fully." There will likely be other absences, too. Those that specialize in scouting and analytics are more likely to stay home since they can watch games from television as well as break down footage and analyze data on computers. Those in player development roles are more likely to work on site.

According to the NBA’s health and safety protocols, the league and the players union plan to discuss permitting each team to bring two additional staff members to Orlando after the first round of the playoffs and two more staff members after the conference semifinals. Teams will also be given the option to rotate some members of the team’s staff and replace them with other members. Because of that shuffling, every new arrival would have to spend at least seven days in quarantine.

No wonder Vogel called the process "fairly miserable with trying to place a value on everybody’s contributions." Vogel conceded the Lakers are motivated to advance in the playoffs both to win an NBA championship and add additional employees. By then, teams will still place a premium on medical help and available players. But more coaching can always maximize a team’s ability to make a pivotal adjustment during a playoff series.

"For us it’s not, 'Who is in the bubble? Who is out of the bubble?' It’s everybody working and contributing the way they always do," Vogel said. "Some are going to do it in person. Some are going to do it remotely. That’s just the nature of this setup. But yeah … we’re looking forward to be able to add staff when we’re able to."

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