Phoenix Suns star point guard Chris Paul has been ruled out for Sunday’s Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals against the LA Clippers, the team announced on Saturday.
Paul was placed into the league’s health and safety protocols on Wednesday and his return to play remains indefinite.
“I can’t because of the climate that we live in, things change from day to day,” Suns coach Monty Williams said Saturday of Paul’s timetable. “I’ve tried to take things one day at a time … but for me based on the information and based on the history of this particular protocol, everything is day to day. And so that’s how I have to approach it. I wish I could tell you a time so you guys wouldn’t have to ask me all the time, but at this point I can’t. It’s pretty much day to day.”
It has not been announced if Paul is in the protocols due to contact tracing or if he tested positive for COVID-19, though in the league’s recent update of player testing since June 9, one out of 164 players returned a positive test.
“Anyone who has returned a confirmed positive test, or has been identified as having been in close contact to an infected person, is isolated or quarantined until they are cleared under the rules established by the NBA and the Players Association in accordance with CDC guidance,” according to the league’s news release.
In March, the NBA relaxed some of the protocols that were put into place in the fall, doing so in response to players and coaches choosing to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
The league also cautioned at that time that “if an individual has symptoms consistent with COVID-19, the previous protocols apply,” which would mean that anyone with those symptoms “may be subject to quarantine” regardless of their vaccination status.
ESPN’s Matt Barnes, appearing on The Jump, said Paul told him Wednesday that he has been vaccinated, which could reduce the length of his absence.
Paul can return to play by either returning at least two negative PCR tests at least 24 hours apart. Another path to returning is time-based, with a player needing to go at least 10 days since the date of their first positive test or the onset of any symptoms, if they had any; go at least 24 hours since their fever went away without using any medication; and have any other symptoms improved.
Clippers star Kawhi Leonard was also ruled out of Game 1 as he continues to deal with a knee injury.
“Control what we can control,” guard Devin Booker said. “Obviously Chris is in the health and safety protocols and we don’t know the timetable on that, so we just go with what we hear day to day. It’s next man up.”
The expectation is backup point guard Cameron Payne will start in place of Paul, though that has not been made official. Payne was steady in his backup role for the Suns this season, averaging 8.4 points and 3.6 assists in 60 games. During the regular season, Payne played 47 minutes with the other four regular Suns starters, with the lineup producing a plus-9.2 net rating.
“He’s not scared of the moment,” Booker said of Payne. “Usually somebody is put in that situation, you come in a little hesitant, but that’s not how he plays at all.
“I know he’s ready for anything and he’s carried himself with that type of confidence and he’s put the work in to back it up. So we’ll see how that goes,” Booker said.
Booker said Paul has been in constant contact with everyone on the team, but declined to say what the conversations have been about. Williams said he’s talked with Paul consistently as well, even watching Game 6 between the Jazz and Clippers together virtually.
“I check on him to just talk to him as a friend, person, relational. And then we talk about strategy, we talk about the game. Last night we were watching the game together and talking at the same time about what we saw.”
Game 1 of the Western Conference finals is Sunday in Phoenix. Game 2 is Tuesday, June 22, which would be six days since it was announced Paul entered protocols.