• Reuters, AFP-Jiji

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There will be no international games on the NBA schedule next season but there is hope teams will be back playing in near full arenas in 2021-22 as the United States gains control of the COVID-19 pandemic, said commissioner Adam Silver on Saturday at his pre-All Star Game media conference.

With last year’s season held in a quarantine bubble in Orlando and the current campaign being played in mostly empty arenas, Silver said the resumption of international games will be on hold until at least the 2022-23 season.

“First of all, no plans yet to travel for next season,” said Silver, talking ahead of Sunday’s All-Star Game in Atlanta. “In all likelihood, we won’t travel internationally until the following season.

“But the plan remains to try to resume our season as close to so-called normal as possible next year.

“Frankly, I’m fairly optimistic at this point that we will be able to start on time, and that we have roughly half of our teams having fans in their arenas right now.

“If vaccines continue on the pace they are, and they continue to be as effective as they have been against the virus and its variants, we’re hopeful that we’ll have relatively full arenas next season as well.”

The season is set to end in mid-July, allowing players who want to participate in the Olympics to go to Tokyo.

Silver also noted that a July finish will give players a chance to recover as the league looks to get back on a regular cycle.

Although there are currently no plans to return to a quarantine bubble for the NBA playoffs, Silver said he could not rule out the possibility.

“I don’t rule anything out just because one thing we’ve all come to understand over the last year is that the virus is firmly in charge,” said Silver, adding that the league will not require players to be vaccinated against COVID-19. “We need to adjust to circumstances as they present themselves.

“I’d say maybe for the first time in the past year I’m fairly optimistic right now that as we see fans returning to our arenas.

“By the time we reach the playoffs in mid-May, things will even be considerably better than they are now.”

Asked about players’ vaccinations, the commissioner said he believed it was a “personal decision” whether to be vaccinated “that players need to make just like everyone in our communities needs to make.”

He said the league and players association were working together to provide players with information on vaccines “and also encouraging them to seek out information on their own” from personal physicians or other advisers.

Silver emphasized that the financial hit of the pandemic had been and continues to be “significant” and was being shouldered by both owners and players.

“Last season and this season has required a significant investment on the part of the team owners,” Silver said. “They accept that. Players will end up taking a reduction in salary this season because they are partners with the league and teams on revenue.

“League executives, team executives have all taken haircuts on their salary,” he said.

“But I think when we all step back, we all feel very fortunate to be working under these circumstances and my sense is the players feel the same way.”

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