The Santa Cruz Warriors will get the opportunity to play some basketball this year.
The NBA’s development league announced the 2020-21 season will start as soon as February. But they’ll be doing so nearly 3,000 miles away from the Santa Cruz team’s normal home of the Kaiser Permanente Arena.
The league issued a press release on Jan. 7 stating that 18 teams, including Santa Cruz, the NBA G League affiliate of the Golden State Warriors, will ball out beginning February at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Florida.
Santa Cruz Warriors President Chris Murphy says no one thought they would be in this position today. But he believes if this is the safest way for them to play and keep everybody as safe and healthy as possible, then it’s the right decision.
“Given the alternatives, this is a great one,” he said. “We get to continue to play, develop and get better and hopefully win a championship.”
Among the 18 participating teams will be the newly added Walnut Creek development team Ignite, a roster of elite NBA Draft-eligible players. Former NBA player and coach Brian Shaw will lead the team as head coach. They’re eligible to advance to the playoffs due to this year’s unique circumstances, according to the league.
Come postseason, the top eight teams will advance to a single-elimination playoff tournament.
“We worked closely with our teams, the Basketball Players Union, and public health experts to develop a structure that allows our teams to gather at a single site and safely play,” NBA G League President Shareef Abdur-Rahim said in a statement. “We are thrilled to get back to basketball and to fulfill our mission as a critical resource for the NBA in developing players, coaches, referees, athletic trainers and front-office staff.”
NBA teams without their own NBA G League affiliate participating in Orlando will be able to assign roster players and transfer two-way players using the league’s flexible assignment and two-way rules.
The NBA successfully restarted its 2019-20 regular season at the same venue last summer, ending in a championship victory for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Murphy mentioned that everyone knew that a “bubble,” as it’s been commonly known, was a possibility for a while, and General Manager Ryan Atkinson has been in communication with both the coaches and players.
“Everybody is prepared and ready to go and everybody is ready to get back on the court,” he said.
Murphy doesn’t anticipate traveling to Orlando and will instead watch from the office or at home. To focus on the health and safety side, the league has limited the total travel party and size of the number of people allowed at the site.
He says that it’s in the best interest of the team if an athletic trainer or a strength and conditioning coach goes instead of himself.
Living quarters on the NBA G League’s campus at Walt Disney World Resort will be set up for players, coaches, team and league staff. According to the league, they will be following health and safety protocols “which are based on the core principles of social distancing, mask wearing, hand hygiene and Covid-19 testing.”
Murphy says Santa Cruz is well known for having one of the best fanbases and loudest atmospheres in the G League, making it somewhat bittersweet news for the home team. But it just wasn’t possible to host games with live-crowds at the Kaiser Permanente Arena given the state of the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting health orders aimed to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has been surging across California.
“No matter what player you are, you’ve heard about our fans, you’ve heard about our building,” he said. “You want to play in front of a crazy crowd that we get to have here in our community who supports them so much.”
Murphy couldn’t discuss any roster moves, but Santa Cruz did announce on Jan. 9 that NBA veteran Jeremy Lin will join the team through the new exception rule. The new rule for the 2020-21 season allows teams to designate one NBA Veteran Selection to join a team’s 10-man roster.
Lin, 32, began his NBA career with the Golden State Warriors after going unselected in the 2010 NBA Draft. The Harvard alum owns career averages of 11.6 points, 4.2 assists, 2.8 rebounds and 25.5 minutes in 480 career games over nine NBA seasons with the Warriors, New York Knicks, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers, Charlotte Hornets, Brooklyn Nets, Atlanta Hawks and Toronto Raptors.
The Palo Alto native spent the 2019-20 season with the Beijing Ducks of the Chinese Basketball Association, averaging 22.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.6 assists in 43 games. In 2019, Lin became the first Asian American to win an NBA Championship, doing so as a member of the Raptors.
Recently former members of the Santa Cruz Warriors organization have achieved high-profile successes. Kendrick Nunn and Chris Boucher began their careers in Santa Cruz. Both players are enjoying some recent success with the Miami Heat and the Raptors, respectively.
Juan Toscano-Anderson and Damion Lee, who are currently on the Golden State roster, have also had stints playing in Santa Cruz.
Additionally, Nate Bjorkgren, who served as Santa Cruz’s head coach 2012-2013, recently took the helm for the Indiana Pacers, who are off to a 6-3 start.
Murphy says it’s always a gratifying experience to watch players come in and be one step away from moving up to the next level. But he believes the front office, the fans and even the community also contribute to a player’s success.
“These guys that have come through Santa Cruz and use Santa Cruz to vault their career to the next level, it’s really exciting,” Murphy said. “To see them have that type of success that they have had at the NBA level, it’s really rewarding.