If NBA returns in fanless bubble, will there be regular-season games? A play-in tournament?

NBA playoffs
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Right now, only one thing about a possible NBA return is certain: There will be no NBA games in arenas full of fans anytime soon. Certainly not as part of salvaging this season.

Whether the NBA returns at all remains unclear, with Adam Silver saying data will drive the decision.

If it does return, if the NBA crowns a champion this season, it will be inside a “bubble” — a facility without fans, likely near or attached to a hotel, where extensive testing can screen who gets inside the bubble, keeping human contact down and the coronavirus out. That potential location looking more and more likely is Orlando (over Las Vegas). The advantage of Orlando and the Walt Disney World property is it is all private land, which makes security and keeping people in (or out) of the bubble easier.

If the bubble proves feasible, it leads to the next hard question:

What does the rest of the NBA season even look like?

Here are the three potential paths.

Play all or some of the remaining regular season, followed by a condensed playoffs

This would be the league’s ideal scenario. It would give regional sports networks the chance to make some money back on lost games (even though there would be conflicts because 22 of them have contracts with MLB teams). It would give players and teams to get back into game shape, start to get their teamwork back to midseason form, and improve the level of play in the postseason.

It’s also the most unlikely to happen, for a couple of reasons. The first is the calendar: even with the league willing to go past Labor Day and into September with playoffs and Finals games, start working the calendar backward (including at least 25 days of training camp) and it becomes very difficult to fit in regular season and postseason games.

Second, the larger the NBA makes the bubble, the harder it is to secure and maintain (and there are already challenges with the availability of testing, keeping hotel staff healthy and tested, meals, and more). Bring in those 14 teams not making the postseason and it’s 210 extra players, plus coaches, trainers, equipment managers, video guys, and on down the line. It’s a lot. And for the teams well out of the postseason, what exactly do they gain from this? Not gate receipts. Teams out of the postseason will prioritize health and next season. Would the Golden State Warriors play Stephen Curry in 5-10 games and risk injury when they have no shot at the playoffs?

Have seeds 7-10 have a play-in tournament followed by the playoffs

Adam Silver pitched this idea as part of his planned changes for the 75th NBA season, and fans and media appeared to like it. Teams and players, not so much. There was enough pushback that the idea was scrapped, along with the midseason tournament.

However, desperate times call for desperate measures. Let’s use the West as an example of how this would play out: The 7-seed Mavericks would play the 8-seed Grizzlies in one game, the winner is in; the 9-seed Trail Blazers and 10-seed Pelicans would play one game, loser goes home; then the loser of the 7/8 game would face the winner of the 9/10 game for the final playoff spot.

Here’s the problem: Of the eight teams in the tournament (four from each conference), two go home after just one game, two go home after two games. That’s four teams who brought their teams to Orlando, went through 25-days of training camp, all so they could play a game or two. Games that bring them no gate revenue. Again, this just makes the bubble bigger, and is the payoff worth it?

Call the regular season done and head straight to the playoffs

This is the most likely scenario. Is it fair to the Pelicans/Trail Blazers/Kings that had a chance to catch Memphis and earn a playoff spot if the season hadn’t been suspended? No. But Anthony Slater at The Athletic put it best:

The league can tell teams like the Kings and Pelicans: “Sorry. You might’ve slipped into the eighth spot. But you were very likely going to be eliminated quickly and those two high-dollar home playoff games you would’ve hosted? They’re already gone. There won’t be fans. None of you are near .500. It’s the middle of a pandemic. Now is not the time to worry about legacies of teams without winning records.”

There would need to be some exhibition games between teams before the playoffs started (East vs. West?) just for players to get some teamwork and timing back.

The first couple of rounds of the playoffs would need to be shrunk down to best-of-five series (there has been talk of a best-of-three, but that seems to short and random). The Finals, and likely conference finals, would be best-of-seven affairs, like usual.

Would we see the champion as legitimate? There will be an asterisk next to this season no matter what, but if the Bucks, Lakers, or Clippers go on to win the title, that will feel like an outcome we might have seen had there been no coronavirus. If the Oklahoma City Thunder or Miami Heat won the title, it would raise some eyebrows.

Let’s just hope we get to raise those eyebrows and ask questions because the games are being played.

Lakers question coming in August: Extend Anthony Davis, or wait?

2023 NBA Playoffs - Denver Nuggets v Los Angeles Lakers
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Anthony Davis had an incredible playoff run: 22.6 points and 14.1 rebounds a game while looking like the best defender in the league. It was a reminder of why he has a championship ring and what he is capable of when healthy.

Coming off that, should the Lakers offer him a contract extension?

Davis is under contract for $40.6 million next season, with an early termination option (essentially a player option) for the 2024-25 season for $43.2 million. Come August, the Lakers can offer Davis an extension of up to three years, $167 million (approximately, it would depend on the official salary cap numbers).

Should the Lakers? ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported on Get Up that locking Davis up so he can’t test free agency in 2024 will be a priority and they will extend him. However, on Sedano and Kap on ESPNLA, ESPN’s Lakers beat writer Dave McMenamin was more cautious. (Hat tip Real GM.)

“Certainly, the Lakers’ thinking ever since they acquired Anthony Davis is that it’s an Anthony Davis, LeBron James combo deal. With LeBron James only under contract for sure for another year with a player option the following year., and with him openly contemplating retirement at this stage of his career… But you just don’t do it. You play out this year with him. You see where things stand with him and LeBron. Obviously, then you risk the second year he has left, he can opt-out and leave as a free agent…

“You hope Anthony Davis stays healthy and you get the best out of him next year. But I don’t think they’re going to be in a position to be interested in a long-term extension for him this summer.”

At its core, this comes down to LeBron James and his future. If he retires, leaves, or in whatever way is not on the Lakers after the summer of 2024, as great as Davis can be, he is not the No. 1 option the Lakers would want to rebuild around. At that point, the Lakers would want to move on, although trading Davis (or completing a sign-and-trade) would be the Lakers’ preferred option, bringing back pick and young players to help jumpstart whatever comes next.

If LeBron is still a Laker in 2024-25, the Lakers would want Davis on the roster.

It’s not an easy decision for the Lakers, but with an increasingly strict CBA looming, it’s understandable if the Lakers want to wait and see how this season plays out before committing to Davis.

James Harden reportedly “torn” over Philadelphia vs. Houston

2023 NBA Playoffs - Boston Celtics v Philadelphia 76ers
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Reports of James Harden strongly considering a Houston reunion have grown stronger throughout the season, with reporting on it here at NBC Sports and across the NBA media universe.

But would Harden really leave a contending team in Philadelphia to go to a rebuilding Houston team? He appears torn on his decision, Shams Charania of The Athletic said on The Ryen Russillo Podcast (hat tip Real GM).

“We’re less than a month out from free agency starting. I really think he’s torn with the prospect of staying in Philadelphia or moving on to Houston potentially and returning back to his home. That’s where his roots are and his family there of course. They’ve got upwards of $60 million [in cap space]. They can make even more money available. Close to $70 million in cap space. They’re going to have a ton of money and I think this is a team in Houston where I do believe they are going to be aggressive in the marketplace…

“My sense right now is this is someone that is torn. I think whichever way it goes, it’s going to be relatively close. That’s why as we get closer to July 1, June 30th, those conversations that he’s going to have, as he becomes a free agent, with Nick Nurse [the new 76ers coach] and with Daryl Morey, what their vision is for him, what their vision is for that team, what that offer ultimately is going to be versus comparing it to whatever Houston comes with on June 30th or July 1, those are all very important factors. This is a guy that you would assume would sit down with both teams. Philadelphia is going to have a window earlier, potentially going in and scheduling meetings. This is a situation now where we’re going to see which way it lands.”

Both league sources NBC Sports has spoken with and other media members traveling with the NBA Finals — Harden has been a topic of conversation over meals — think Houston is the frontrunner. There is almost an expectation in league circles that Harden will be a Rocket next season, though nobody feels anything is decided.

Is that the right move for the Rockets? They have an interesting young core with whoever they draft at No.4 plus Jalen Green, Alperen Şengün, Kevin Porter Jr., Jabari Smith Jr., Tari Eason and others, but it’s not got a group ready to win a lot of games on the NBA level yet. The Rockets have been through three years of a rebuild and the reports are ownership wants to start seeing wins and a playoffs trip. Harden gets them closer to that now, but at what cost to building a long-term winner and culture?

The ball is in Harden’s court. The only real questions are, has he decided, and how much would the Rockets offer? (The max is four years, $201 million, but do they want to pay him $50 million a season for four years with where his skills are currently and are trending?)

Miami thrives in adversity. How will Denver respond to adversity in Game 3?


MIAMI —We know how the Miami Heat handle adversity. Their ability to deal with it is why we’re still watching them play.

“We faced a lot of adversity during the season,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after his team evened the NBA Finals at 1-1. “We handled it the right way where you are not making excuses about it, the injuries, the changes lineups. Because of all that adversity and the 57 close games that happened, due to a lot of that, it hardened us. It steeled us and we developed some grit, which is what we all want.”

The question heading into Sunday is how will the Nuggets handle adversity? Denver was the No. 1 seed for most of the season, has been up in every series 2-0 entering Game 3, and only lost three games in the West playoffs. While Denver has faced challenges during the season it had a very different path to this point than Miami.

“What I know about our group is for years now we’ve handled adversity very well,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “I have no doubt that tomorrow night will be a much more disciplined, urgent team for 48 minutes.”

“Discipline” was one of the buzzwords around the Nuggets on Tuesday, heading into Game 3. The Heat players sounded like themselves, focused but a little looser, a little more comfortable at home in a familiar environment.

“This is who we are,” Kevin Love said. “Obviously when it’s time to get down to business, our focus is all the way there during our prep, during our film session… But when we’re working we still like to have fun and keep it loose. It keeps us loose out there on the court starting the game and throughout 48 minutes. But it’s not without intention and the willingness to do whatever it takes.”

A change in tone was more evident among the Nuggets. To a man they talked about urgency, discipline and communication.

The Nuggets also had a straightforward, honest film session out of Game 2.

“I showed 17 clips this morning,” Malone said. “Every clip was a discipline clip, if you will, where our discipline, whether it was game plan, whether it was personnel, whether it was defending without fouling, whatever it may be, 17 clips added up to over 40 points in Game 2.

“That, to me, is staggering. What we can do better is just be a lot more disciplined in terms of the game plan, who I’m guarding. Most of that stems from communication.”

Actually, the Nuggets may need to watch their communication during the game.

“We probably could communicate a little bit better and also just be more aware of the actions they are running,” Michael Porter Jr. said. “But also they are playing off of our coverages, they are hearing what we are communicating to each other and they’re doing the opposite. If we say ‘switch,’ they are slipping out for open threes and if we don’t say ‘switch,’ they are actually going to set the screen.

“So they do a really good job of playing off of what our game plan is. So that’s what this film session was about this morning, fixing that. So hopefully they won’t get as many open shots.”

Malone called out his players after Game 2, although he was quick to say it was more them calling themselves out.

Denver has been challenged, by their coach and Miami. How will it respond to this adversity?

“Yeah, we’re probably going to see tomorrow, are we going to respond well or not,” Nikola Jokić said. “That’s the answer.”

Coach, front office updates from around NBA: Fizdale headed to Suns bench


Things continue to move and settle around the NBA as teams find coaches (well, except Toronto) and some front office personnel move around. Here is the latest around the league.

• Former Grizzlies and Knicks head coach David Fizdale, an associate general manager with the Jazz last season, is returning to the bench as an assistant on Frank Vogel’s staff in Phoenix, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Fizdale and Vogel are tight, remember Fizdale was in the bubble on Vogel’s staff when the Lakers won a ring. Give new owner Mat Ishbia credit for spending, he made Kevin Young the highest-paid assistant coach in the league to stay with the team and has now hired a former head coach to be a top assistant. That’s a lot of coaching firepower, now the Suns just need to fill out the roster with some firepower around Kevin Durant and Devin Booker.

• If you want to become a general manager in the NBA, the best way is to be an assistant GM for Sam Presti in Oklahoma City. Apparently. Presti has had five different assistant GMs under him and now all five have gone on to be general managers elsewhere.

The latest is Will Dawkins, who will be the GM and No. 2 in the power structure in Washington under new team president (and former Clippers GM) Michael Winger, reports Josh Robbins and David Aldridge of The Athletic.

Also in the front office in Washington is former Hawks GM Travis Schlenk. That’s a lot of brain power and good hires. The question remains how much freedom owner Ted Leonsis — a guy who demanded his team do whatever it took just to make the playoffs every year — will give Winger, Dawkins and company. The team has big decisions this summer with Kyle Kuzma as a free agent and Kristaps Porzingis expected to opt out.

• The Milwaukee Bucks finally made the hiring of Adrian Griffin as their head coach official.

“Adrian is a widely-respected coach and former player, who brings great leadership and experience to our team,” Bucks General Manager Jon Horst said in a statement. “His championship-level coaching pedigree, character, basketball acumen and ability to connect with and develop players make him the ideal choice to lead our team. He has earned this opportunity.”