More than 80 players have signed 10-day contracts with N.B.A. teams this season as the coronavirus, especially the Omicron variant, has depleted rosters across the U.S. pro basketball league. A recent decision to shorten required isolation time for some infected players could help teams get their usual stars back sooner.
The league and players’ union have agreed to grant hardship exceptions to allow teams to temporarily sign players to fill in, even if they wouldn’t otherwise have the roster or salary cap space. Until at least Jan. 19, teams can sign players to 10-day contracts to replace anyone who tests positive for the coronavirus as soon as they need them. The league is also requiring its 30 teams to sign replacement players if they have more than one player out with a coronavirus infection.
With dozens of players testing positive every week, these reinforcements help the N.B.A. avoid postponing more games — it has already done so nine times — when teams don’t have enough healthy players.
For some basketball pros, that has meant getting a call they’ve been waiting for their whole lives, an opportunity to be seen or a second chance they never saw coming.
“It’s every hooper’s dream,” said 26-year-old Zylan Cheatham. “It’s what you work for, especially competing in the G League for multiple years,” he added, referring to the N.B.A.’s minor league.
The players signing 10-day contracts this month have included younger players like Cheatham, who is just a few years out of college; older players who have spent years in the G League hoping for a chance; and N.B.A. veterans who had been out of the league and hoping for a comeback — players like Lance Stephenson, Isaiah Thomas and the 40-year-old Joe Johnson.
This time around, Johnson’s teenage son gets to be part of the fun.
“He asked me about a month ago, ‘Dad, when you was playing, what was I doing?’” Johnson told reporters. “I said, ‘You was in the back playing in the playroom.’”