NBA Notebook: NBA’s restart plan has benefitted from this key element

(Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Victor Oladipo became the biggest name to elect to sit out the NBA restart this week for a reason other than a current injury. The two-time All-Star returned for the Pacers on January 29 this season after missing nearly a year with a torn quad tendon suffered during the 2018-19 season. He had played inconsistently in the two months since his return but did pour in a season-high 27 points against the Celtics in the last Pacers game before the hiatus (March 10).

However, it’s evident that Oladipo wisely kept a view of the big picture for himself in deciding to stay on the sidelines while still traveling to the Orlando bubble to work out with his teammates.

“I really want to play, and as a competitor and teammate this is tearing me apart,” Oladipo told Shams Charania this week. “I feel like I’m at a great place in my rehab and getting closer and closer to 100 percent. With all the variables, from how I have to build my 5-on-5 workload back up, to the increased risk of a soft tissue injury which could delay my rehab, and the unknown exact set up of the bubble I just can’t get my mind to being fully comfortable in playing.

“I have to be smart and this decision hasn’t been easy, but I truly believe continuing on the course I’m on and getting fully healthy for the 2020/21 season is the right decision for me.”

One of the biggest factors at play here for Oladipo is the Pacers' current standing in the East as a non-contender (tied for 5th in East) combined with his current contract. The 28-year-old is in the third year of a four-year, $84 million deal, setting himself up for a crucial contract year in 2020-21. The jam-packed calendar expected for next season in a December-July window will put extra onus on the bodies of players taking part in Orlando, especially with just a mini-offseason this fall.

From that standpoint, it’s easy to see why there was little upside for Oladipo to compete in a shortened ramp-up window that the Orlando bubble will provide. The Pacers don’t really present the possibility of contending at the moment, especially since they are also without starting shooting guard Jeremy Lamb (torn ACL) already. So even if Oladipo put together a strong campaign down south, it wouldn’t really mean much if he wasn’t able to stay healthy through all of next season heading into his own free agency. The odds of him doing that while playing close to 12 months straight of basketball probably aren’t great coming off a serious injury like a torn quad tendon.

Instead, Oladipo can continue his training with the team and strictly focus on maximizing his health and fitness for next season, leaving him in a far better position to cash in during the summer of 2021 as he eyes the first max deal of his career. Oladipo is also eligible for an extension this fall so it’s possible he will try to lock up a long-term deal with the Pacers to give himself some extra security before entering a contract year. That option is not available for him ahead of the Orlando restart, otherwise, that might have been an incentive the Pacers used to try to get him to play.

When looking at Oladipo’s situation, it’s evident that the NBA got very lucky here with how many stars around the league have long-term contractual security locked din already. Some of the best names that were expected to be on the market this summer (Kyle Lowry, Draymond Green) already agreed to contract extensions this summer. Other big names that could hit the market have the luxury of a hefty player option (Gordon Hayward, Anthony Davis, DeMar DeRozan) to protect them in case of a serious injury.

However, can you imagine if this was the 2018-19 season with the bubble setup? Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson, Khris Middleton, Kristaps Porzingis, Al Horford, Malcolm Brogdon and Tobias Harris all would have been heading into unrestricted free agency with the vast majority of those players on contenders. Almost half of the NBA would have been set to hit free agency as well. How many of those guys would have opted to sit out to ensure they had big paydays waiting rather than spend three months in an Orlando bubble with a heightened risk of injury and being forced away from family? Not all the big names on this list would have opted out but there would have been an understandable handful that declined to take part, which would have watered down the product and legitimacy of the 2020 NBA championship. Key role players waiting for their first big paydays (like Davis Bertans) would have sit as well.

Luckily for the league, outside of Oladipo, every big name who is healthy enough plans on taking part in the