The NBA playoffs start in less than a month, and the league is dealing with its worst referee shortage to date.
Ten NBA referees, including several veteran officials, are currently sidelined due to COVID-19 issues, according to ESPN’s Baxter Holmes. One of those officials is also out with an injury.
That marks the highest number of officials sidelined at any one time this season. Twenty-four different referees have missed at least one game already this season due to coronavirus protocols, too.
An NBA spokesperson told ESPN, however, expects that all 10 sidelined referees will be ready to go for the playoffs and that most of the absences are due to contact tracing rather than positive tests.
"We at the NBA have taken a very strong stance, especially with referees traveling commercial, that we want referees and the teams that they are serving to be safe," Monty McCutchen, the NBA's vice president of referee development and training, told ESPN. "And so with an abundance of caution, we pull people out on contact tracing, if there's even the smallest inkling [of an issue]."
‘It’s been bad all year’
With frequent absences all year, the NBA has pulled up six officials from the G League to work extra games — something that multiple general managers haven’t been happy about.
The NBA does have lower-level officials work a handful of games each season to gain experience. McCutchen estimated that the group has worked about 20-25 games this season, however, instead of the usual six to eight they would work in a normal season.
McCutchen also said that 20 of the 73 officials the league uses have fewer than five years of experience.
“All six did a remarkable job,” he said, via ESPN. “I’m very proud of their work.”
That view, though, isn’t shared by everyone.
One GM told ESPN anonymously that the replacement officials are “young and inexperienced,” while another said that “it’s been bad all year.”
McCutchen, however, insists that the six officials were more than ready for the step up.
"These were our top six G League officials who would have been getting some NBA games anyway this year,” he said, via ESPN. “They had to be pressed into some more service, but they are knocking on the door to being staff members.
"It's not like, 'Oh, let's just call any random G League [official] because they live in Portland and we'll pull them up that night.' They had already reached levels of excellence that meant they were ready for this."
More from Yahoo Sports: