The Wizards had planned to take extreme measures to safeguard their staffers and players amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, but Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) announced Wednesday that she extended the District’s stay-at-home order to June 8 because infections did not decline enough. With Washington still shut down, the Wizards’ intentions to reopen the practice facility have been shelved.
“We’re not in a position to put up a fuss, but we have to prepare that it will be open on the 15th,” Wizards General Manager Tommy Sheppard said shortly before he learned the order was extended. “But if [the stay-at-home order] is not [lifted], we’ll open when it is.”
By the end of the week, at least 10 of the 30 NBA teams are expected to have reopened their practice facilities as states continue to ease restrictions. The league has set certain mandates to ensure a safe environment: no more than four players are allowed on the court at a time, and scrimmages and group activities are prohibited. But facilities can only open in cities and states where places such as restaurants, bookstores and construction businesses have been allowed to resume limited operations.
With Bowser’s announcement, the District probably will be one of the last jurisdictions in the United States to reopen. And because the Wizards are among the Washington businesses deemed nonessential, they must keep their doors closed.
“The Washington Wizards are currently taking all necessary precautions to allow players to participate in individual voluntary workouts at the MedStar Wizards Performance Center, including following guidance from local DC health officials,” the Wizards said in a statement. “When permitted to begin, we will ensure that all rules and restrictions set forth by the NBA are strictly followed."
On Wednesday morning, Sheppard had six one-hour Zoom calls scheduled with draft prospects. Besides preparing for the draft, which is still scheduled for June 25 but may be postponed, Sheppard and other team executives have been making arrangements for when they are allowed to reopen their facility.
“We’re prepared for all the NBA guidelines to open up our practice facility as other places have,” Sheppard said. “What we’re trying to do is ensure that everybody’s safety is utmost, so limiting exposure to everybody is critical. We’re following the NBA’s directive 100 percent.”
Whenever the Wizards can open, Sheppard said four assistant coaches will be on hand for each group of four players that is allowed in. No more than 10 people will be inside the facility at a time. Eight to 10 Wizards players remain in the area, and the team will not push the remaining players to return — “there’s zero pressure,” Sheppard said. For those who do enter the doors, whenever that is possible, they will find a new normal.
“We’re going to take every precaution and every measure so our players, the moment they pull up, they see, ‘Hey, these guys are taking this serious,’" Sheppard said. "We’re cleaning the balls after every workout. We’re wiping the floor in between sessions. That’s how it has to be. How long in between those things? We don’t care. Whatever the league tells us to do, we’re going to do. We’re going to make every single effort to make sure this is how we proceed.”
The Wizards locked down their practice facility on the night the NBA shut down its season March 11, a move that came ahead of many other teams. The combination of the early closure and the extension of the District’s order could make the Wizards one of the teams with the longest layoff between workouts. The team, however, said it will abide by the District’s mandate because it encourages safety first.
“The Wizards and Monumental Sports & Entertainment are committed to maintaining the health and safety of our fans, employees and players," the team’s statement read. "We encourage everyone to stay home and be safe as we work together to stay connected and get through this difficult time.”
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