More than two months have passed since the NBA was shut down because of COVID-19, and no one really knows when it will restart. But there remains optimism around the league that some part of this season can be salvaged in a centralized location this summer.
Here are 11 thoughts about what that might look like, along with some suggestions:
▪ Las Vegas and Disney World seem like the two most likely locations for a “bubble” setting. Commissioner Adam Silver has hinted that multiple locations are a possibility, so perhaps if all 30 teams are involved, the Western Conference would infiltrate Vegas while the Eastern Conference takes over Disney.
But if the league has to pick one, Disney is the choice. The MGM in Las Vegas reportedly has offered to essentially shut down an entire block for the NBA. But one block of the Vegas strip doesn’t really compare with the massive, enclosed campus that Disney World in Orlando, Fla., can offer.
If either location is otherwise open to the public, it could cloud matters, but Disney’s sprawling property would have plenty of room to cordon off a suitable area.
▪ But this undertaking should not involve all 30 teams. That would require players from teams with no playoff hopes to return to their cities, take part in a multi-week training camp, then fly to a quarantined location to play a few mostly meaningless regular-season games, all while tiptoeing around coronavirus worries. It would be ridiculous.
Also, it would almost double the number of NBA personnel involved in the operation. There would be more people to monitor, more people to test, more risk. Let the 14 non-playoff teams stay with their families and start preparing for next season.
▪ Let’s not forget that the players essentially would be jumping into action after a four-month hiatus during which many could do very little resembling typical training regimens. There will be injuries, and hopefully they won’t be serious. But if a star player for a non-playoff team suffers one that forces him to miss a good part of next season, there will be substantial blowback.
▪ It’s understandable that the NBA would not want to throw its players directly into the playoffs. But there’s an easy fix: Just have the playoff teams play a few exhibition games against each other.
▪ Some have suggested a kind of play-in tournament for the final playoff spots. That also could be known as the get-Zion-Williamson-into-the-postseason initiative.
But in the West, the seventh-place Mavericks are 40-27 and the ninth-place Trail Blazers are 29-37. Portland did nothing to deserve such an opportunity, and neither did the Pelicans (28-36) and Kings (28-36), who are in a virtual tie with Portland. Also, potentially bumping Mavs star Luka Doncic out of the postseason would not be good for business, either.
In the East, the picture is even more grisly. The ninth-place Wizards (24-40) and 10th-place Hornets (23-42) shouldn’t be anywhere near the postseason.
▪ One other benefit of freezing the standings and slicing the field to 16 teams: It would allow the NBA to hold the draft lottery during this quiet period in which fans are sports-starved. The league could turn the lottery into a two-night made-for-TV event. On the first night, unveil picks 4-14, and then build some suspense and announce the top three a night later.
▪ It sounds as though the NBA will look to minimize teams’ traveling parties. There could be tough decisions about leaving some staff members at home. But the games can go on just fine with two or three coaches per team instead of nine.
As for the media, it seems most likely that a bubble scenario would leave us out, too, perhaps leading to postgame Zoom interviews. It wouldn’t be ideal, but nothing about these times is ideal.
▪ Silver has said he does not envision a bubble setting that completely isolates players from their families. The cutoff could be complicated, however. If some players can bring their wives and children into an enclosed environment, younger single players will want some support systems, too.
Maybe everyone will be allotted a small number of quarantine “guests.”
It’s unclear how testing would factor into this, but there obviously would need to be more of it. The nation is not yet to a point where there is massive testing available for the general public, and that remains the biggest hurdle in all of this for the NBA.
▪ If it is deemed safe and there is ample testing, these friends and family members should be allowed to attend the games. It’d be sort of cool to hear players’ parents screaming for them as if it were a small-town high school game.
A bubble setting also would include food service and hotel workers. It might not be feasible, but it would be nice to get these quarantined workers into some games — at a safe distance, of course. They’d be under strict quarantine guidelines anyway.
▪ The NBA should embrace the uniqueness of the situation and look for creative ways to make the game experience more interactive for television viewers.
Take some chances. Put a camera in the huddle and run it live. OK, maybe an opposing coach will hear what’s being said and use it in the future. So what? It’s a basketball game.
▪ During play, fans probably will be able to hear more than they ever could before. ESPN has shown an uncensored version of its hit Michael Jordan documentary, “The Last Dance,” on its flagship network while simultaneously airing the bleeped-out version on ESPN2. Maybe do the same for the NBA playoffs.