Ever since the NBA created the two-way contract three years ago, life for players on such deals often revolved around shuttling back and forth between the G League and NBA and watching the calendar — they could stay with the big league club for up to 45 days, per league rules.
That dynamic is one of the many NBA customs that could be upended when 22 teams reconvene next month on the Disney World campus near Orlando, Fla., in an attempt to finish a season unlike any other.
The league and the players’ union are still negotiating numerous details as part of a return-to-play plan, with little finalized. Teams are expecting, however, that they will be allowed to bring as many as 17 players to Orlando, two more than the usual roster limit, and that two-way players would be eligible to play in the postseason for the first time, according to three people not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
The additional players are viewed as a way for teams to absorb potential losses should players get hurt, sick or decide not to take part in the NBA’s quarantined bubble because of concerns related to COVID-19.
For two-way players, such new rules would temporarily alter NBA life as they knew it. No need to hop onto an early morning commercial flight to join an NBA team for that night’s game; the farthest they’d travel would be between the team hotel and the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex on the Disney property.
And that 45-day limit? Two-way players on championship contenders could end up spending twice that long sequestered with their teams.
Luguentz Dort, a two-way player who has become a starter for Oklahoma City, could suddenly become a factor in the playoffs for a Thunder team that is sits fifth in the Western Conference standings.
The impact two-way players could have on championship contenders such as the Lakers and Clippers is less obvious. Rotations typically shrink, not expand, during the playoffs as coaches lean on fewer, trusted options.
But the unique circumstances of the NBA’s “bubble” restart and potential for roster attrition because of the virus could lead to unusual outcomes that force more roster flexibility. Teams will play a handful of exhibitions in late July and eight seeding games before the 16-team playoffs begin in mid-August. The NBA Finals are planned to last into October.
Lakers rookie Devontae Cacok, a 6-foot-8 forward, has played in six games this season for the Western Conference-leading Lakers and second-year 6-10 forward Kostas Antetokounmpo, the younger brother of reigning league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo of Milwaukee, has appeared in three games.
For the Clippers, any contributions from Johnathan Motley, a 6-8 center, and guard Amir Coffey could be moot should their roster look like the one that was healthy, deep and consistent in early March, before the season was paused because of the novel coronavirus.
Motley is in his third NBA season and had appeared in 13 games for the Clippers. He would likely be at least the fourth option at center, behind Ivica Zubac, Montrezl Harrell and Joakim Noah.
Coffey appeared in 13 games with the Clippers during his rookie season out of Minnesota but showed why his pathway to playing time is perhaps clearer during a season-high 24 minutes against Cleveland on Feb. 9. Coach Doc Rivers used the 6-8, 205-pound wing to add length to their perimeter defense while adding a slasher offensively and called the effort “phenomenal” after the victory.
Coffey played no more than 13 minutes the rest of the season as the roster grew healthier, but was inserted for short bursts to utilize his long-armed defense and play-making in transition.
“Hopefully that’s something he’ll be able to do for us in games to come,” Clippers guard Lou Williams said after the rout of the Cavaliers, and perhaps it could still be the case, at Disney World.