Celtics

NBA Notebook: How will Celtics function without Jayson Tatum, NBA should expand rosters amid COVID issues

(Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

During the first three seasons of his NBA career, Jayson Tatum has missed a total of nine games. Nearly half of those nights off came when the Celtics elected to rest him in meaningless regular-season finales. Tatum has been one of the most durable players, and now All-Stars, in the league the past few years, one of his most underrated attributes since being drafted No. 3 overall in 2017.

The Celtics will be without him for at least five games and potentially up to seven contests over the next two weeks as he completes a 10-to-14 day quarantine per NBA health and safety protocols after testing positive for COVID-19 late Friday night. According to league sources, the Celtics took multiple COVID-19 tests on game day in the wake of Robert Williams' positive test on Thursday and Tatum’s second result of the day came back positive after Friday’s win over the Wizards. The team immediately placed the starter into quarantine and began close contract tracing, which has led to Semi Ojeleye, Jaylen Brown and Javonte Green also being listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Heat due to health and safety protocols.

The same contact tracing protocol sidelined most of the Celtics' frontcourt after Tristan Thompson and Grant Williams were deemed to be close contacts of Robert Williams shortly before he tested positive for COVID-19 last week. The earliest any of those three players will be able to return is Friday’s game against the Magic at the Garden.

In a best-case scenario, the Celtics will have 11 players available (including two-way players) for the next three games including Boston’s bigs. However, the potential for a skeleton crew roster is also very much in play for the next three games. If Green, Ojeleye and Brown are deemed close contacts and are asked to quarantine for seven days. In that scenario, the Celtics will be down to just eight players, the lowest possible number of players the NBA requires to be available without considering postponement.

The Sixers had to play a game with that number on Saturday afternoon against the Nuggets, losing 115-103 at home while playing just seven players with the majority of their team in quarantine or out due to injury. An eighth player (Mike Scott) was in uniform but still battling an injury so the team elected just to sit him rather than risking further injury in a game that some argued shouldn’t have been played in the first place after many Sixers were deemed close contacts of Seth Curry after he tested positive.

"I don't think we should [play], but it's not for me to express that," Doc Rivers said before the game after the NBA avoided postponing the Sixers game. "I do worry about our player's health on the floor."

The Sixers ended up playing three rookies over 40 minutes, electing to sit stars like Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons with minor injuries rather than forcing them to play huge minutes in what was had to be considered a losing battle against the Nuggets with half of the team’s roster unavailable. This is a predicament the Celtics could very well be facing over the next three games until the team’s bigs clear quarantine protocol on Friday.

Currently, the NBA has capped roster with 15 players and two two-way players but with several teams already facing extremely shorthanded situations just three weeks into the season due to injuries and COVID-19 protocols, a strong case can be made for temporary roster expansion to 18-20 or an emergency player pool if the league remains intent on playing through the nationwide COVID-19 spike.

"I trust the league and I trust the doctors as far as healthwise," Rivers said Saturday when asked about league safety with