NBA Rumor: Bubble Next Season?

59 rumors in this storyline

Damian Lillard not in favor of going back to another bubble

How do you reflect on your time in the NBA bubble last season, and should the league go back? Damian Lillard: I enjoyed the bubble for what it was. The NBA put us in a safe environment that allowed us to compete for a championship, and do what we love to do. That came at the expense of our family and being away from home. Right now, I think I would say no to going back to the bubble. What we need to do is challenge each team and each organization to be more disciplined, and the players to be more disciplined, and understand that if one person decides to step outside the protocol and what they’re asking, how it can impact and affect other players, and not just those players, but their families and whoever they take it home to.

More Rumors in this Storyline

Damian Lillard: So, that’s what the challenge is, and just let them know, we need to create a bubble within our team, within our organization. The people in our facility and a bubble in our household, that way we’re protecting each other to the best of our abilities. But I wouldn’t say go back to a bubble because there’s so much more season to be played, people have families, and at least we’re forming a bubble in our homes, in our own beds and get to do it that way.

Malone’s Nuggets were inside the bubble until the Western Conference finals were over. He argued publicly for coaches to be able to welcome families — a luxury the players enjoyed far, far earlier than coaches. There is no bubble now because the isolation was too much for everybody involved. League officials resist even the idea of a shutdown or pause right now. They want to plow ahead and get this season over, so the next one (with fans allowed in) can start on time. But to hear Malone warm to the idea of a bubble is an indicator of just how difficult it is navigating a season outside of one in this pandemic.

Roberts is entering her final season as Executive Director of the Players’ Association, and the owners and players still have numerous unresolved issues relating to next season — where games will be played, whether fans will be allowed inside, when the season will start and how the money will be divided. All of these remain open issues. “Even the assumptions that we can collectively agree on are controversial, such as what local markets will allow us to do. And I haven’t even mentioned the virus yet,” Roberts said. “Europe is in trouble, and we seem to be following in Europe’s footsteps. How we can start, and when we can start? And if we start, what does it look like? Are we back in a bubble? Are we now? Is it bubble-like? What about travel? How many games? These are probably the most difficult questions that the game has faced, particularly because there are so many variables that we can’t control,” Roberts said.

A proposal for a 72-game season starting before Christmas has been presented to the union, but it is still being studied. Marc Stein of the New York Times reported that there could be a 50-game season if it begins in January. Naturally, the progression of the coronavirus pandemic will impact everything. “There’s some elements of what the league is proposing that in our view are not controversial, perhaps. Some things needed to have been verified, and some things are going to be hard,” Roberts admitted.

The NBA leaves the bubble behind, the experience a major success. The league has finished its season, helping satisfy its obligations to television partners. It has finished its season, crowning a champion without losing a single game to a COVID-19 outbreak. And it’s provided players the opportunity to try to better the world by speaking out about injustice. So if the pandemic continues to cause problems, if safety cannot be guaranteed anywhere else, the league could end up back here sometime in the future, right? “No way,” one NBA veteran said.

Silver has said multiple times, including as recently as during the Finals, that the league wants to have a full 82-game season with fans in arenas. It might not be at full capacity in many places and it’s possible it won’t be in all 28 NBA cities at the start. Arena-based revenue makes up 40% of the league’s income. Every game most teams play without it, even with local and national television revenue, could be a money-loser. Some contingency plans have been discussed — such as reforming a bubble or multiple bubbles, sources said — but that is not the first option at the moment.

No bubble next season?

Arena-based revenue makes up 40% of the league’s income. Every game most teams play without it, even with local and national television revenue, could be a money-loser. Some contingency plans have been discussed — such as reforming a bubble or multiple bubbles, sources said — but that is not the first option at the moment. The league is not currently planning to wait for a COVID-19 vaccine. To instead assure fan safety, there are hopes rapid testing will have enough reliability and availability — while being cost effective. Several NBA owners as well as the league itself have made investments in companies developing these types of tests.

It’s a shared sentiment among players here in the bubble — that the experience was too difficult, too disruptive and too isolating to replicate. “It’s probably been the most challenging thing I’ve ever done as far as a professional, as far as committing to something and actually making it through,” Lakers star LeBron James said before the NBA Finals. “But I knew when I was coming what we were coming here for. I would be lying if I sat up here and knew that everything inside the bubble, the toll that it would take on your mind and your body and everything else, because it’s been extremely tough.”

The NBA continues to monitor what is happening in other major sports leagues to determine how to proceed forward with next season, and plans are subject to change on a daily or even hourly basis depending upon developments around the country as the pandemic continues. One positive test among the two remaining teams could alter the schedule for the NBA Finals, and everyone representing the NBA in the bubble is tested on a regular basis. The irregular and voluntary aspects of worker testing had not been previously disclosed. “We always have to recognize that something could happen. I don’t anticipate it and everything has worked well, but it’s just how vigilant everybody has to continue being on this campus,” Silver said.

It may not be 19,000 people in the building, we’ll see, but with appropriate protocols in terms of social distancing and with advanced testing, the NBA should be able to resume play in front of fans. There’s still some time to figure that all out, and the specifics may depend on the region too. “Many of these decisions we also have to deal with state by state, and in some cases city by city, restrictions on how many people can gather, as well,” Silver said. “Again, I’m hopeful that based on what we’re learning, based on protocols, based on testing, we will be able to have games with fans next season prior to full distribution of a vaccine.”

No bubble next season?

While Silver said the league is considering beginning next season in some sort of bubble set up, the goal is for games to be played in home arenas with fans. And their attendance wouldn’t depend on a readily available COVID vaccine. “My sense is that with rapid testing, if you — it may not be that we’ll have 19,000 people in the building, we’ll see, but that with appropriate protocols in terms of distancing and with advanced testing, that you will be able to bring fans back into arenas,” he said.

“I think to identify quickly a player who is positive, sort of we’re seeing that in the NFL right now, watching closely what’s happening with that protocol, can they play through it, how will that work, will there be additional spread once they’ve identified a player that has it? So those are all the things we’re looking at. And as you know, in terms of Michele and the players as our partners — because by definition everything that we’re doing exists outside the current collective bargaining agreement — we need to negotiate everything. When training camp starts, when we start, how we’re going to continue operating potentially under reduced BRI (basketball related income), frankly. So those discussions are ongoing.

“My sense is even though we’ve been at it with them for quite some time, given where we are, Game 1 of the Finals, and that roughly two weeks from now we’ll be done, I don’t think those conversations are going to happen in sort of as an intense a fashion as they ultimately will need to probably until we’re finished down here. But I think we all understand the essential parameters. And in some of those conversations that I mentioned earlier that I’m also having with individual players, I think everybody understands just like in the country, there’s public health considerations, the economy is a public health issue, as well, working and trying to strike that right balance. So in this case, part of my job is to study what’s happening in other industries, what other leagues are doing, including international soccer leagues. So all of that’s on the table right now.”

NBA likely to push back start of 2020-21 season

Silver, speaking ahead of the NBA draft lottery, said the top goal for the league is playing games back in teams’ respective home markets. Doing that by Dec. 1, however, just may not be possible. “Our No. 1 goal is to get fans back in our arenas,” Silver said on ESPN. “My sense is in working with the Players’ Association, if we could push back even a little longer and increase the likelihood of having fans in arenas, that’s what we would do.”

Four bubbles next season?

Meanwhile, there is talk of as many as four bubbles next season, according to sources. Given the league’s current success housing 22 teams at the Wide World of Sports Complex, a return to Disney is a given, as is using Las Vegas, the runner-up to Orlando this year. There just isn’t another city that far west (any city in California, right now, is a non-starter, given the explosion of COVID cases there) with the hotel space and big-event experience of Vegas. One source says New York and the Dallas-Fort Worth area are two other potential bubble cities; New York not only has what would be an otherwise empty Madison Square Garden in Manhattan and Barclays Center in Brooklyn as venues, but also Basketball City, the longtime midtown Manhattan venue by the Hudson with numerous courts available, for potential practices.

Yet, if most or all of next season indeed winds up being played in another bubble, missing 41 home dates will cause every team significant financial pain. But given the current patchwork of remedies nationwide as states take different positions on how best to combat the coronavirus, the chance that enough cities will be confident enough to re-open for the kind of high-volume, close-proximity crowds at NBA games is minute. “I’m not so sure there’s going to be one answer for everywhere,” another team executive said. …”I’ve got to think that there’s a whole lot of things that have got to be open and running before they’re going to be worried about professional sports. …We’ve got to figure out how to get people into schools. We’ve got to figure out how to get people back to work and into offices. We’re nowhere near on those kinds of things, much less getting people back into sporting events.”

The league continues to get high marks for making the environment for everyone safe. But there aren’t enough amenities to counter the strain the extended stays away from home are putting on families and personal relationships, several people said. And that kind of emotional state isn’t optimal – especially as teams, referees and league personnel remain in such proximity to one another, sharing common areas – just as the most emotional time of the year is about to begin.

Not bad, it turns out. “In some ways I didn’t think it would be as forgiving as it has been,” Roberts told SI in an extended interview. There were the expected complaints. Players didn’t enjoy the 48-hour hard quarantine they received upon arrival. “I think had it been longer than that,” Roberts said, “then it may have been more problematic.” Those buzzing Roberts tell her how much they miss friends, family. “The good news is that’s pretty much 99% of what I hear in terms of complaints,” Roberts said. “And at the end of the day, the guys have said, ‘I got to go to work. I’m at work, I’m doing my job.’”

Michele Roberts: Can't rule out NBA bubble in 2021

No fans, no home-court advantage, but safety was the main priority when deciding to resume the 2019-20 season that had been on hold since March 11. The NBA has achieved that so far, but would the league be willing to start next season in a bubble environment? “I don’t think you can discount nor will I say we have discounted the possibility of continuing this protocol for the next season,” National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts in an Friday interview with SiriusXM NBA Radio.

Suns general manager James Jones told The Arizona Republic he “trust(s) the judgement and decision of the NBA/NBPA’s leadership” when asked about the possibility of playing next season in a bubble. “They’ve done such a good job with giving us protocols and ways to stay safe,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “Nobody’s gotten the virus. So it’s one that I think every sport can duplicate. As it relates to doing it again, I’d be all for it, but I think we got to figure out a way to involve our families.”

Is the Orlando bubble a possible destination for the eight teams left out of the restart to run offseason training camps once the first batch of 22 teams are eliminated? The NBPA has no interest in that idea, sources said. It’s a non-starter. The inevitable solution for the eight teams left out of Orlando: The NBA and NBPA agreeing upon voluntary workouts in the team facilities, sources said. The NBPA won’t agree to mandatory reporting for players on the eight teams outside of the restart but will eventually allow it on a voluntary level, sources said. Several of the teams are frustrated and angry over how far they feel they’re falling behind the teams in the bubble, and are aggressively voicing that to the league office.

Regional bubbles next season?

We’re a ways off from next season, but league sources have told me that the NBA is looking at options that include creating regional bubbles, should the COVID-19 pandemic still prevent normal business in the fall. Teams would report to a bubble for short stints—around a month—which would be followed by 1-2 weeks off. Ideally, the NBA would like to play an 82-game schedule that starts in December. A December start would allow the league to end the season in late June, putting the NBA back on a normal schedule and, importantly, not compete with the Olympics next summer. The players union is expected to take issue with that, preferring teams, particularly those making deep playoff runs, have more time off.

Adrian Wojnarowski: NBA’s priority remains to get fans into arenas next season. Regional pods for extended periods are among brainstorms, but preference would be that those are finite in length, sources said. For example: A month or two inside, a month out. Early in planning; everything’s on table.

Ingles believes the main challenge of extending the bubble for a full season, which would be a minimum of six months, would be including loved ones. “Guys aren’t going without their families,” he said. “We were talking about this the other night my significant others would be my family. But for one of my teammates it might be his brother or his mum, so finding the balance of how many people and where you do that to have enough accommodation for 30 teams, including 40 staff and players in our group and that was a really small number that the NBA were trying to keep tight so we weren’t having too many people. If you are there all year you have to bring extra people.”

In a call with the players back in May, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said money generated from live game attendance could account for up to 40 percent of the league’s annual revenue. Roberts said the two sides are “beginning some very high-level discussions with respect to what the potential issues are,” and said the laborious process that was necessary for the NBA and the union to hash out how to put the bubble together, and then actually go through the process of doing so, “took just about all of the oxygen out of the room.”
More HoopsHype Rumors
January 20, 2021 | 9:33 pm EST Update