Coronavirus hitting home for Heat’s Goran Dragic, brother Zoran, as well as ex-Heat players overseas

Tribune Content Agency

MIAMI — It was the day before the NBA would shut down and Goran Dragic was in a hopeful mood when asked about coronavirus and his native country.

“So far it has not been as big an issue in Slovenia,” he said. “There have only been a couple of cases.”

The following night, Dragic would walk off the court at AmericanAirlines Arena possibly for the last time this season, possibly for the last time as a member of the Miami Heat, with the NBA uncertain about resumption and Dragic scheduled to become a free agent on July 1.

Now Slovenia’s pro league has been shut down for the season, the league where Dragic got his professional start in 2003, with his homeland closing its border to non-residents amid a spike of positive COVID-19 tests. According to the New York Times. Slovenia, which borders Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia, as of Friday had reported 632 confirmed cases, with nine deaths.

For Dragic, the concern extends to his brother Zoran, the former Heat guard who plays for Kirolbet Baskonia in Spain, another league on indefinite hiatus.

According to a Friday report by TV Slovenia, Zoran Dragic is one of 41 people quarantined in Slovenia after returning on a special Thursday overnight flight from Spain.

The silence in NBA arenas, in fact, is one that has echoed across the globe, with Japan and Russia just announcing the cancellation of the remainder of their seasons, following the sudden cancellations of numerous other international circuits.

The initial hope had been for the resumption of play in Japan, where former Heat big men Dexter Pittman and Josh Harrellson had been playing. But amid concerns of players with fevers, there was an abrupt about-face.

Then the hope turned to China, arguably the world’s highest level of competition outside of the NBA. The initial plan there had been a resumption of team activities as early as next Thursday.

It was a door re-opening for former Heat players such as Jarnell Stokes, Amar’e Stoudemire and Justin Hamilton, as well as former Heat camp prospects Ian Clark and James Nunnally.

With play in China having been suspended in early January, it was thought that the China Basketball Association, in a country at the epicenter of the outbreak, could serve as a blueprint — three months off and then resumption.

Those plans now have been put on hold, with China closing its borders to outsiders, further complicating a potential restart of play there.

For the NBA, a three-month break would mean a mid-June return, which had been the initial estimation for a resumption of play without fans. The China example would seem to cast doubt on such timing, although, unlike with China’s league, the NBA’s international players have remained in the United States and Canada.

The shutdown of most international leagues, and the possible closure of all major overseas leagues, could also directly impact the NBA. By league rule, those who have not played in the NBA beyond March 1 are eligible to be signed to NBA playoff rosters. That could open the door for a return by former University of Miami guard Shane Larkin, a star in Turkey who had been outspoken about the Turkish League’s continuation until its recent shutdown.


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