The Whiteboard: Which NBA and WNBA players are opting out?

Natasha Cloud (Photo by Michael A. McCoy/Getty Images)
Natasha Cloud (Photo by Michael A. McCoy/Getty Images) /

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Both the NBA and WNBA have announced plans to begin playing soon — resuming the 2019-20 season for the NBA and conducting a shortened 22-game 2020 season for the WNBA. Both plans involve sequestering players and staff at a single location (Walt Disney World for the NBA, IMG Academy for the WNBA) but there are still plenty of questions about health and safety risks as well as how putting the focus back on basketball could pull it away from the ongoing protests for racial justice.

As the NBA and WNBA inch toward a return to play, which players are deciding it’s not right for them?

In the NBA, both Trevor Ariza and Davis Bertans announced on Monday that they were forgoing their salaries for the rest of the season and won’t be joining their teams in Orlando. Neither decision should be particularly surprising. The Trail Blazers and Wizards are both longshots to even make the playoffs which means all Ariza and Bertans would be guaranteed is eight meaningless regular-season games in a high-risk environment.

Ariza’s contract is only partially guaranteed for next season and considering the sticker price — just over $12 million — it wouldn’t be a shock for the Blazers to cut him loose and make him a free agent. However, Ariza had the added incentive to stay home of an ongoing custody battle for his 12-year-old son and a one-month visitation window that overlapped with the season restart. Bertans is coming off a career-year and (unless you think Anthony Davis is really leaving the Lakers) probably the best free agent on the market this offseason. There’s nothing he could really do in Orlando that would increase his bargaining power for that next deal and an injury could be a big deal.

In the WNBA, Jonquel Jones, Natasha Cloud, Renee Montgomery and LaToya Sanders have all announced they’ll be sitting out the upcoming season. In terms of their place in the league, these decisions are a lot more significant than Ariza or Bertans. Jones, who mentioned health concerns in her announcement, is an MVP-caliber player and the anchor for the Connecticut Sun, last year’s runner-up. The Washington Mystics, who won the title last year, are losing both Sanders and Cloud — a key bench player and their starting point guard. The Atlanta Dream are trying to bounce back from a down season and Montgomery is a part of their veteran foundation, having started every game over the past two years.

Both Montgomery and Cloud specifically mentioned continuing the fight for social justice as enormous factors in their decisions.

“There’s a lot of factors that led to this decision,” Cloud said on Instagram. “But the biggest being that I am more than an athlete. I have a responsibility to myself, to my community, and to my future children to fight for something that is much bigger than myself and the game of basketball. I will instead, continue the fight on the front lines for social reform, because until black lives matter, all lives can’t matter.”

Cloud has been front and center at several recent protests and rallies and also penned a powerful piece for The Player’s Tribune about the fight for racial justice.

The WNBA was proactive about addressing activism and social justice in their plan for their 2020 season, putting provisions in place for the league to use its own platform and for players to use their individual ones while they were sequestered in Florida. Two well-known players deciding that their impacts would be more meaningful off the court and without basketball interfering at all could be a sign that more similar decisions are coming.

The deadline for NBA players to notify their teams if they are not planning on playing in Orlando is Wednesday. The WNBA’s is Thursday, so any additional decisions can be expected this week.

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