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Expectant fathers Mike Conley, Joe Ingles made tough decision to join Utah Jazz in Orlando

Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley (10), right, laughs with Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles (2) during the Utah Jazz and Sacramento Kings NBA preseason basketball game at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Monday, Oct. 14, 2019.
Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley (10), right, laughs with Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles (2) during the Utah Jazz and Sacramento Kings NBA preseason basketball game at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Monday, Oct. 14, 2019.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — When the NBA shut down amid the coronavirus pandemic, and then as talks began regarding a possible restart to the season, the first thing that came to mind for both Mike Conley and Joe Ingles was the safety of their families.

Both Utah Jazz veterans are fathers to two young children with a third on the way. Ingles’ wife Renae is expecting the couple’s third child in November and Conley’s wife Mary is due Aug. 27.

Now that the NBA is moving forward with a restart, with games beginning July 30, the players’ concerns remain focused around their growing families, but have shifted in specificity.

Conley is facing the very real possibility of having to leave the Orlando bubble to be present for the birth of his child in late August, when the NBA playoffs are scheduled to be underway. In doing so, the Jazz guard would not only miss games in which he is traveling or with his family, but would be required to quarantine and undergo further coronavirus testing upon his return to Orlando.

In this situation, basketball is secondary for Conley, who said Wednesday that the concern for he and his wife was whether he’d be able to actually be there for her when their child is born.

“The understanding that I’d be able to see her and I’d be able to be back for the baby, as long as all that was answered and the T’s were crossed and the I’s were dotted on that situation, I was more and more comfortable knowing I’d be able to be back with them at some point,” he said.

For Ingles, the fears surrounding the coronavirus and the season restart are less to do with safety while in Orlando and more to do with what will happen when it all comes to an end and he’s set to return home to rejoin his family.

The Ingles’ 4-year-old son Jacob, who lives with autism and reduced immune system regulation, could be at higher risk for complications related to the coronavirus, which is the main reason for a lot of Ingles’ fears.

“One of the scariest parts is once this is all over going back to my family and not having symptoms or something like that and taking it back,” the Jazz forward said. “Going back will be something I’m really cautious with as well.”

In preparing for the players’ arrival in Orlando and their extended stay, the NBA has set up a lengthy list of safety guidelines and protocols as well as a rigorous COVID-19 testing schedule.

Both Ingles and Conley made note of the work the NBA has done to make the players feel safe and as comfortable as possible with the Orlando plan. Even so, Ingles importantly pointed out that being responsible and relying on oneself is a much easier task than trusting that everyone else is acting with the same amount of caution.

“It’s tough when you’re relying on obviously not just yourself to be smart about things, but you’re relying on so many other people,” he said.

Ingles said while he doesn’t feel completely comfortable with the restart plan — he doubts there’s any player that feels 100% comfortable — he’s more confident now than he was in March when so much about COVID-19 was still unknown.

Even with plans of action, increased knowledge and abundant caution, both Ingles and Conley could miss important moments being away from their families. There’s no guarantee that Conley will have enough notice to make it home in time for the birth of his child, and in late July, Ingles will not be home when his twins turn 5.

“There will be a few days in there that I’ll be very grumpy because it’s the kids’ birthday while we’re away and a couple other things that I’ll miss,” he said.

Despite all the concerns, the players are trying their best to prepare for a playoff run that they hope won’t be cut short.

Without forward Bojan Bogdanovic, who will miss the rest of the season following surgery on his wrist in May, both Ingles and Conley will likely see increased minutes and roles on the court and won’t have much time to work as a team before the games start.

“This is a new situation for us all,” Conley said. “Guys are going to have to do without having their normal routines like at home, and normal recovery systems, and schedules and regimens. It’s just going to be something that’s new that we’re all thrown into and whoever can adjust to the uncomfortable circumstances will do the best.”

The NBA is still only allowing players to take part in individual workouts, with group activities prohibited until the teams are in Orlando at Walt Disney World. The Jazz head to Florida on July 7, then after a two-day testing and quarantine period will likely be able to practice as a team and with regularity in preparation for the July 30 restart of the season.