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A Football Fan’s Guide to the Return of Basketball

The Basics of Bubble Basketball

The NBA is BACK, baby. The words we’ve all been waiting for. There won’t be fans to play for nor stadiums to play in, and it’ll be taking arguably the strangest form we’ve seen to date, but nevertheless, basketball is back. 

On Friday, the NBA and NBPA officially agreed on the terms of resuming the league amidst the coronavirus pandemic, confirming their intentions to put to the test what is essentially a bubble around the league on Disney’s Orlando campus. This is the most unique conclusion to a season ever. Only 22 teams will be reporting (13 from the West and 9 from the East), the playoffs could have play-in tourneys(!), and all of the league’s most influential figures will be living together in Disney World of all places. Somebody needs to make this a reality show. As teams start to get back into the swing of things, here’s everything you need to know, starting with the basics:

Teams

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In an effort to limit the amount of people present in the bubble, the NBA has elected to only include the top 22 teams. These teams were determined with competitiveness in mind. The returning teams are the top 8 in each conference currently in playoff positioning, as well as any team 6 games or less behind the eighth seeded team of their conference. That means the following teams will be in Orlando:

From the Eastern Conference:

  • Milwaukee Bucks
  • Toronto Raptors
  • Boston Celtics
  • Miami Heat
  • Indiana Pacers
  • Philadelphia 76ers
  • Brooklyn Nets
  • Orlando Magic
  • Washington Wizards

From the Western Conference:

  • Los Angeles Lakers
  • LA Clippers
  • Denver Nuggets
  • Utah Jazz
  • Oklahoma City Thunder
  • Houston Rockets
  • Dallas Mavericks
  • Memphis Grizzlies
  • Portland Trail Blazers
  • New Orleans Pelicans
  • Sacramento Kings
  • San Antonio Spurs
  • Phoenix Suns

Over the next few weeks, I will be posting more detailed overviews of the remaining teams. For those unfamiliar with the league or simply out of touch since the season’s abrupt stop, these overviews will cover what you missed since March, key players, expectations, and more.

Games and Dates

According to YahooSports, the tentative schedule for the NBA’s return is as follows:

  • June 21: All players report to home market
  • June 22: “Transaction window” opens when teams can fill out roster
  • June 30: Training camps begin
  • July 1: Official rosters submitted
  • July 7-9: Teams travel to Orlando
  • July 30-Aug. 14: The “seeding games” begin, eight games per team
  • Aug. 15-16: Play-in tournaments (if needed, maximum two games back-to-back)
  • Aug. 17: Playoffs begin
  • Aug. 31-Sept. 13: Second round of playoffs
  • Sept. 15-28: Conference Finals
  • Sept. 30: NBA Finals begin
  • Oct. 13: Game 7 (if necessary)

As the calendar suggests, the NBA is scheduled to resume official play on July 30 with “seeding games.” These will be played rather rapidly, as the August 14 end date infers. Teams will likely be playing every other day in order to fit eight games into sixteen days, which could be a lot coming off a four and a half month break. There are also rumors that these games will be played all day long, so as soon as basketball is back, expect it to be back in excess. For teams more comfortably in their playoff position, expect these games to act similar to preseason games. While they certainly matter more, top tier teams are much less likely to rise or fall too far in the standings. As for the other teams, these games will be crucial to maintaining or getting within reach of a postseason seed, so expect them to get competitive.

One of the most unique additions to this season is the play-in tournament. To give teams currently out of the playoffs a greater chance at making it in (due to the shortened season), if the ninth seeded team is four games or fewer behind the eighth seeded team, they will enter a play-in tournament. This will be a best-of-two series in which the ninth seed must win both games back-to-back to overtake the eighth seed. If they do not, or if there are no teams within four games of the eighth seed, the eighth seeded team will secure their spot in the postseason. 

Is this only being included to ensure the Pelicans have the best chance possible to make the playoffs? Likely. Do I care? Not at all. A Lakers/Pelicans, LeBron/Zion first round matchup would be epic, and a fantastic way to gain hype for the playoffs.

As for the rest of the postseason, this will continue as it has in the past, concluding with NBA finals in October. If the winner is someone really unexpected, there’ll likely be some controversy questioning whether or not the Larry O’Brien was truly earned. If not, anticipate this Finals to hold the same gravity as previous ones. 

Location

All games are set to be hosted at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, where the teams will also be housed. The way this is all set up is a lot like a summer camp. Though, instead of card games and s’mores, this summer camp offers some activities maybe a little more extravagant, such as daily movie screenings, DJ sets, video games, ping pong, billiards, lawn games, and golf among the options available to players. They will also be permitted to attend each others’ games. This comes in addition to access to an exclusive lounge, countless pools, barbers, manicurists, pedicurists, and a 24-hour VIP concierge. Some other potential entertainment options that have been proposed include outdoor concerts, live comedy, and access to Disney parks and attractions. Each team will also have an individual “Disney culinary team” assisting with their diets. So no, they won’t exactly be slumming it.

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The games themselves will be restricted from the general public, obviously. Though, within the bubble, the NBA is attempting to create a more fan-friendly environment for spectators at home. This would include updated camera angles with personalized alternative screens, increased audio of coaches and players, and virtual halftime concerts and performances. 

As for housing, teams will be split into three separate resorts, according to theScore. The bottom tier (The Wizards, Suns, Spurs, Pelicans, Kings, and Trail Blazers) will reside in Disney’s Yacht Club Resort, located in the Epcot Resort Area, on the south side of campus just above ESPN’s complex. The middle tier (The Magic, Grizzlies, Nets, Mavericks, Pacers, Rockets, 76ers, and Thunder) will be staying in Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, located in the Magic Kingdom Resort Area, on the northernmost point of Disney World. Lastly, the top tier (The Heat, Jazz, Nuggets, Celtics, Clippers, Raptors, Lakers, and Bucks) are set to live in the Gran Destino Tower of Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort in Disney’s Animal Kingdom Resort Area. This is located in the southwest of Disney’s campus, not too far from the Yacht Club and ESPN complex. 

While each of these resorts represent the pinnacle of Disney’s housing facilities in their respective resort areas, and the players will undoubtedly be pampered to no end at each, it’s funny to see the social hierarchy the division of teams has created. The Yacht Club is not as nice as the other two. The Grand Floridian is Disney’s flagship hotel and the Gran Destino Tower is one of Disney’s newest projects, built last year, and it will likely serve as the base for most of the NBA activities. It will be interesting to see if anything arises from the differences in living situations.

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Other Things to Know

Tentative Dates Key to Next Season (via YahooSports):

  • Aug. 25: NBA Draft lottery
  • Oct. 15: NBA Draft
  • Oct. 18: Free agency begins
  • Nov. 10: Training camp beings for 2020-21 season
  • Dec. 1: Opening night

The only big question mark here is on opening night. At this point, it’s difficult to tell if it will be then or Christmas day or anywhere in between. It’s also likely that next season is compressed to allow the players to participate in the summer Olympics. Expect more on this to come.

Testing and Potential Stoppage: 

As of right now, the plan is to test players daily. A positive test will lead to that player being quarantined while their teammates are monitored. One positive test shouldn’t restrict games from continuing, but multiple positive tests for players on one team remains unknown. The line hasn’t been officially drawn yet. We only know that Adam Silver indicated that if there is “significant spread” in the bubble, playing may be halted.

On Friday, the league announced that 16 of the 302 players tested positive for COVID. While this may seem unsettling, don’t expect this to impact the return at all. For players infected, there is still time to recover and quarantine before the teams report to Orlando, and while cases may be rising again in Florida, the bubble should be significantly safer than everywhere outside it. Ultimately, Silver contends that “no options are risk free right now… Yet we can’t sit on the sidelines indefinitely, and we must adapt.”

Salaries:

Via Kurt Badenhausen with Forbes, “The league started withholding 25% of player paychecks on May 15 to account for the agreed-upon ratio of salaries to basketball-related income, with BRI expected to be off by more than $1 billion because of reduced arena revenue. Owners had held 10% of player salaries, or roughly $380 million, in an escrow account since the start of the season—as they do every year—to account for potential shortfalls in BRI. Holding an additional 88 regular season games in Orlando will allow teams to retain the vast majority of the revenue from their respective local TV deals, as well as the national deals with ESPN and TNT.

The NBA’s final accounting will not be completed for months, but players are expected to eventually forgo anywhere from 15% to 20% of their gross salaries if the league can complete the 2020 playoffs.”

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