NBA's Latest Bubble Idea More About Saving Careers Than Dollars

Eric Pincus@@EricPincusLA Lakers Lead WriterJuly 3, 2020

Trae Young celebrates a bucket at the NBA's annual Summer League in Las Vegas in 2018. The NBA's secondary bubble idea hopes to provide a Summer League-type experience for young players on rebuilding teams.
Trae Young celebrates a bucket at the NBA's annual Summer League in Las Vegas in 2018. The NBA's secondary bubble idea hopes to provide a Summer League-type experience for young players on rebuilding teams.Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

Is another NBA bubble a good idea?

Despite 25 players testing positive for COVID-19, the NBA is moving forward with its plan to restart the season in Orlando, Florida, on July 30. And now, the league may actually expand its return to include all 30 teams, with a secondary site in the works.

Per Jackie MacMullan of ESPN: "The NBA is in deep discussions on a second 'bubble' in Chicago for the eight teams that were not invited to play in Florida. ... Play would be similar to a summer league format, with the specific parameters still being discussed. ... The second bubble will be created at a substantial cost that will be split among the 30 teams."

It's too early to say for certain, as Orlando isn't even off the ground yet. The Clippers, meanwhile, shut down their practice facility Thursday when one of their traveling party gearing up for the trip to Florida was diagnosed with the virus.

People in and around the NBA have questioned the league's motivation for returning to Orlando during a pandemic, with one Western Conference executive recently noting, "It's about money, clearly."

Of course, a new bubble in Chicago could help the Hawks, Hornets, Bulls, Cavaliers, Pistons, Warriors, Timberwolves and Knicks get closer to fulfilling their regional television contracts. The report details a plan that involves "approximately two weeks of practice and then four games for each team."

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Per Brian Windhorst of ESPN, "Operating the three-month completion of the NBA season at the Walt Disney World Resort will cost the NBA more than $150 million."

That includes eight games apiece for 22 teams, plus playoffs. The limited schedule proposed for Chicago would cost a fraction of that. And the primary motivation would be the basketball itself—specifically the need for young players to get as much time on the court as possible to further their development.

"We can't let these guys sit around from March 11 to December without something," Pistons coach Dwane Casey told ESPN. "It's going to hurt their careers. It's too long of a layoff."

That's why the NBA has leagues in summer (the Utah and Sacramento leagues would have started by now under normal circumstances). If the Las Vegas Summer League turns a profit, that's a bonus. The bigger goal is to get prospects in front of coaches for a few weeks and on the court against similar competition.

So Steph Curry won't play in Chicago—at least he shouldn't.

Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

Instead, the likes of Eric Paschall, Jordan Poole, Damion Lee and the rest of the young Warriors can get back to work, even if it's just for a few games. Sitting out for more than nine months, assuming the 2020-21 season starts around Christmas, would be a blow.

For the 22 teams getting ready for Orlando, they have the chance to win an NBA title. Even falling short of the ultimate goal, the playoff chase itself could provide invaluable experience for rookies Zion Williamson and Ja Morant, among many others.

Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks are trying to break through together. LeBron James will attempt to further his legacy. There are countless storylines.

The NBA will salvage about half of the regular-season games lost and all of the playoffs. That's a boon financially and more than enough to absorb the additional $150 million in costs.

If there's a distinction to be made between basketball reasons and economic ones in Orlando, there isn't one in Chicago. It's about the game.

The same concerns persist for both scenarios: Would the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association put players in harm's way to protect what could be over $1 billion in revenue?

Current events may foster cynicism, but the bubble may prove to be one of the safest places in the country. It could also be a disaster—the range is that extreme. However, a Chicago bubble would have the benefit of learning from Orlando.

More importantly, the league needs to adapt to the world as it is. A vaccine may not be available by December, and the 2020-21 season may begin without fans in attendance and could end up in yet another bubble.

Chicago could be another test run for the NBA's new reality.

Meanwhile, the league already opened a transaction window (June 23-30) to all 30 teams. Some inactive teams took advantage, with the Pistons signing Justin Patton and the Knicks claiming two players off waivers (Theo Pinson and Jared Harper).

Just as the 22 playoff teams can add substitute players in July for those opting out of the Orlando bubble (including Avery Bradley, Davis Bertans, Trevor Ariza, etc.), the league should allow for the same in Chicago.

That would enable franchises such as the Warriors, Cavaliers and Pistons to bring in additional prospects in place of the veteran stars who should otherwise be enjoying their time off (Curry, Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, etc.).

Perhaps a round-robin tournament in Chicago, seeded by standings, to set up an NIT-like champion is an option. The betting line would come out strong on Trae Young as mini-MVP.

Those who aren't comfortable would be able to opt out without punishment (and unlike Orlando, where players will be docked a portion of their salaries for sitting out voluntarily, Chicago should be completely optional).

Fans are starved for basketball, and most players are eager to get back on the court. The NBA needs to get back on the court...safely.

If it can in Orlando, it should in Chicago as well.

          

Email Eric Pincus at eric.pincus@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter, @EricPincus.

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