The G League declared Thursday, after 12 weeks of silence, it would not complete its season because of COVID-19.
The Mad Ants have already begun planning for next season – in Fort Wayne – though it's unknown when that would tip off.
“While canceling the remainder of our season weighs heavily on us, we recognize that it is the most appropriate action to take for our league,” G League president Shareef Abdur-Rahim said. “I extend my sincere gratitude to NBA G League players and coaches for giving their all to their teams and fans this season. And to our fans, I thank you and look forward to resuming play for the 2020-21 season.”
The Mad Ants, who had seven regular-season games left, were among the last teams to play. They defeated the Grand Rapids Drive 111-103 in Michigan on March 11.
The Mad Ants (21-22) were on a three-game winning streak that put them one game back of the Eastern Conference's sixth and final playoff spot. They were trying to become the first G League team to start as poorly as 0-6 and qualify for the postseason.
“I really felt like the team was playing really well down the stretch,” Mad Ants president Tim Bawmann said Thursday night. “As coach (Steve) Gansey has said, they were starting to jell and put a nice little win streak together to put ourselves back into playoff contention. So I'm disappointed, certainly for the fans, that we didn't get a chance to finish it out and see how good this team could really have been.”
Since March, most G League players had dispersed to their hometowns, though those on NBA contracts have recently been working out with their parent teams.
Naz Mitrou-Long and Brian Bowen II, who were splitting time between the Mad Ants and the Pacers on two-way contracts, could be available for the NBA's 22-team restart. Alize Johnson, Goga Bitadze, Edmond Sumner and JaKarr Sampson, who had also appeared in Fort Wayne games, should see their seasons continue, too.
The NBA's plan to play July 31, quarantined in Orlando, Florida, was approved Thursday by its Board of Governors. The NBA is targeting Dec. 1 for the beginning of the 2020-21 season. Typically, G League play begins about two weeks after the NBA starts up, but no declaration has been made if that will remain the case.
The G League suspended play early March 12, hours after the NBA had done the same. By comparison, the Komets' hockey season was suspended March 12 and canceled March 14, giving more expedient closure to fans of Memorial Coliseum's other pro sports tenant. The Komets' league, the ECHL, is hoping to begin next season on time – Oct. 16 at Indianapolis – but that date probably won't be realized unless social-distancing restrictions are eased.
The Mad Ants' lease with the Coliseum expires this summer, but Bawmann said talks of a renewal have begun. Negotiations could be complex, depending on health restrictions.
“We anticipate that we'll renew our lease with them here, once we can get the details all worked out,” Bawmann said.
Various minor leagues are gripping with the realities that some teams may not survive the year's lost revenue, but Bawmann believes the Mad Ants are positioned to be OK.
“I spent most of my career in minor-league baseball, and I really am fearful for a lot of my friends that are in that industry. They're in a really tough row to hoe,” he said. “Thankfully, we're owned by the (Herb) Simon family and they've been incredibly generous to all of us employees. We've already started to plan for next season. We've got some budget scenarios in place and how we're going to do this, so yeah we are blessed to work for an amazing family.”
The Mad Ants began this season somewhat disappointed with their front-loaded schedule, since they usually draw better closer to the playoffs, but it ultimately may have helped them amid COVID-19 since they lost only two home games. (The postseason would have had a single-elimination tournament with a best-of-3 final, so the odds were against Fort Wayne having playoff games at the Coliseum.)
“In hindsight, I'm glad we had all those games early on because there really are some teams that have lost as many as seven (home) games. So, only having two games left, if there's any shining moment, that would be one,” said Bawmann, adding the lost home games would have been sellouts.
The Mad Ants' average announced attendance was 2,416, including a game in Las Vegas at the Winter Showcase. The Mad Ants ranked 10th among the G League's 28 teams in average attendance, just below the league average of 2,245.
The Mad Ants are communicating with season-ticket holders about their options, Bawmann said, and any outstanding single-game tickets can be refunded through TicketMaster.
Walt Lemon Jr. led the Mad Ants with an average of 20.3 points, 6.8 assists and 4.4 rebounds in 39 games. Johnson, who played in 19 Fort Wayne games, averaged 20.1 points and 12.8 rebounds.
Fort Wayne native D.J. McCall was a rookie on the team.