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Are plans for a play-in tournament just to get Zion Williamson in the bubble?

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The cleanest, most straightforward, fewest extra people in the “bubble” way for the NBA to return to play is to invite the 16 teams already in the playoffs — eight from each conference — and skip right to the postseason.

However, there is a lot of momentum around the league for a play-in tournament with 20 teams (or more). Specifically, one that brings in the four teams in the West clumped three-and-a-half to four games behind Memphis for the last playoff spot (Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento, and San Antonio).

Why those teams? Because they had a real chance to catch the Grizzlies if play had not stopped?

Or, is it because the league wants Zion Williamson — its bright young star who spiked ratings and interest when he returned from injury mid-season — in the bubble? On ESPN’s Hoop Collective podcast, Brian Windhorst said some other teams seem to think the play-in plan is all about Williamson.

“Let me just say how do you get to 20 [teams in the bubble] though? Because if you just go by the straight records, because to me, this is what I’ve already heard, alright. I’ve already heard people in this league say this is an elaborate game to get Zion Williamson into this bubble…

“I’m not saying the NBA is going this route, I’m just saying I’ve already heard this scenario that no matter what happens, the cutoff line will be the Pelicans. They’ll be in.”

Windhorst is very well connected and I don’t know who his sources were for this, but if you’re with the Wizards or Hornets (or maybe even Bulls and Knicks), you would push for the nine and 10 seed in each conference to be in the bubble, not the next four best records (which are all in the West).

The NBA is a star-based league, of course getting its hottest new property into more televised games is a discussion taking place. You’d be naive to think otherwise. Whether Zion and the Pelicans end up in Orlando ultimately is another question.

All the lobbying and leaking of restart plans to the media — and even the pronouncements of Damian Lillard saying he will play if there’s no shot at the postseason — are spin. This is teams lobbying for what is best for them and their chances. Elite teams like the Lakers and Bucks want no part of a soccer-style group stage that is more likely to produce upsets, they want something more traditional. The Bucks are no fans of 1-16 seedings because then they would have to go through both the Clippers and Lakers to win it all (while the Lakers should love that plan, it sets up perfectly for LeBron James and company). Teams back different play-in plans that better lineup for them. It’s all politicking.

This Friday, in a conference call with owners, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is going to lay out a series of return-to-play options. A week or two after that, the owners will get on a conference call again and vote. Until then, everyone is going to lobby for their own self-interest.

That restart likely has teams reporting to Orlando for training camps in mid-July with games starting in late July or early August. How long the season runs depends on the format chosen. Next season almost certainly will start around Christmas (or maybe a week or two earlier, at most).

Bucks GM not worried about other players recruiting Giannis Antetokounmpo inside bubble

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Already reports are leaking out of the NBA restart bubble of players from different teams mingling, talking, hanging out together some. There will inevitably be some tampering (which goes on between players whether they are in the quarantine bubble or not).

All eyes are on Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is eligible for a supermax extension this summer, one the Bucks are going to offer him the minute they can (how much that is worth will depend on where the salary cap lands). Most people around the league expect he signs the deal, but if not rumors will fly. In the bubble, some players may try to plant the “come play with us” seed in his head.

Buck GM Jon Horst said he can’t worry about that. Via Eric Woodyard of ESPN:

“Zero [worries]. We can only control what we can control. If it’s considered tampering or recruiting or whatever it is, in our league people talk, people are connected, people have relationships,” said Bucks GM Jon Horst. “At the end of the day, I have full confidence in my personal relationship, our league’s relationship, our coach’s relationship, his teammate’s relationship with Giannis in what we’re doing and what we’re about.

“I think that separated us and we’re going to continue to be above that and not worry about that. We can only worry about what we can control, to be the best that we can, to have the best organization of support and success as possible, and that’s really where our energy and our focus is. Also, just as a funny kind of side note, I think that technically violates the social distancing rules and I think everyone is getting tracked for that, so I think we’ll be OK that way as well.”

I’m not sure how much players are sticking to the social distancing rules — they don’t have to wear the proximity alarms that team staff, media, and others do — but it doesn’t matter.

What happens in the playoffs could impact Antetokounmpo’s decision, but in the end he is expected to stay with the Bucks — they can offer the most money, they are a contending team, and Milwaukee is the only home he has known in the United States. It’s where his family is, where his child lives. That said, Antetokounmpo has played this close to the vest, not talking about his intentions.

That said, he knows what he wants. Nobody is going to say anything in the bubble to sway Antetokounmpo’s mind.

Bradley Beal, Mason Plumlee part of Alex Rodriguez’s bid to buy Mets

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Bradley Beal, a St. Louis native who is a die-hard Cardinals fan, may have to switch allegiance to the Mets.

Beal, the Wizards’ All-star, as well as Nuggets reserve big man Mason Plumlee, are part of a group of celebrity investors led by Alex Rodriguez and his wife working to purchase the New York Mets. From Vaughn McClure of ESPN:

Rodriguez, who last starred with the Yankees, and fiancée Lopez have put $300 million of their own money toward the bid. Other investors include future Hall of Fame offensive lineman Joe Thomas, who spent his entire career with the Cleveland Browns, two-time NBA All-Star Bradley Beal from the Washington Wizards, and Denver Nuggets center Mason Plumlee.

Beal’s group is competing against several other groups, with the first round of bids reportedly due Thursday. Josh Harris, owner of the Sixers, heads one group. Hedge fund billionaire Steve Cohen has made a top bid so far of $2 billion. Rodriguez’s group reportedly bid $1.7 million. The first-round of bids is non-binding, but it starts the negotiations.

While the NBA has rules against owner/players in its own league, Beal is free to invest in other leagues. Beal would not be alone, LeBron James owns a piece of Premier League champions Liverpool, while a number of European players own small basketball clubs back in their native country.

Beal is not with the Wizards in the Orlando restart bubble, he is recovering from a shoulder injury.

WNBA MVP Delle Donne says league denied her medical waiver

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NEW YORK (AP) — Elena Delle Donne’s request to be medically excused from the WNBA season was denied, according to the league’s reigning MVP.

The Washington Mystics star said in a statement Monday that the independent panel of doctors the league and union agreed upon to decide whether players should be medically excused deemed her not to be “high risk, and should be permitted to play in the bubble.”

Had Delle Donne been medically excused, she would have earned her entire salary for the season. Now, if she chooses not to play, the defending WNBA champion Mystics wouldn’t have to pay her.

Delle Donne has battled Lyme disease since 2008. The disease is not included on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s list of underlying conditions that could put someone at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

“I love my team, and we had an unbelievable season last year, and I want to play! But the question is whether or not the WNBA bubble is safe for me,” Delle Donne said in the statement. “My personal physician who has treated me for Lyme disease for years advised me that I’m at high risk for contracting and having complications from COVID-19.”

Delle Donne’s statement was first obtained by ESPN.

“I’m thinking things over, talking to my doctor and my wife, and look forward to sharing what I ultimately plan to do very soon,” the 30-year-old said. “My heart has gone out to everyone who has had to choose between their health and having an income, and of course to anyone who has lost their job, their home, and anyone they love in this pandemic.”

The league declined to comment, citing privacy concerns about player health matters.

Delle Donne’s new teammate Tina Charles also was waiting for a decision from the medical panel. If both players miss the season, the Mystics would be down to 10 players on the roster.

“As with all of our players, we have and will support Elena throughout this process. The health and well-being of our players is of the utmost importance,” Mystics coach and general manager Mike Thibault said.

Charles and Delle Donne did not travel with the team to Bradenton, Florida, last week. The WNBA is using IMG Academy as a single site for its season which will begin on July 25.

There are a handful of players who are waiting to have their cases heard by the three-person panel. Phoenix forward Jessica Breland, who missed a year while at North Carolina to be treated for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, was deemed high-risk and was medically excused, the Mercury said.

Philadelphia practices with Ben Simmons as power forward, Shake Milton at point guard

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It’s been rumored for a while, and now it seems to be happening.

Philadelphia has been practicing with Ben Simmons playing power forward, coach Brett Brown told the media on a conference call from Orlando Monday. Joel Embiid added that Shake Milton has been playing point guard, which would add shooting and make the Sixers starters a more dynamic and dangerous lineup. That also means Al Horford would be coming off the bench.

Embiid had nothing but praise for Milton, via Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadephia:

“He’s been amazing,” he said. “He’s been the starting point guard. I think he has a huge opportunity to help us accomplish what we believe we can. He’s been doing an amazing job, just running the team, and we’re going to need him to knock down shots, which he did before the league basically got shut down. He was on a roll. So we all need him to keep it going. But it’s been great.”

On paper, a lineup of Milton, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, Simmons, and Embiid should be a force — but it has played zero minutes together this season. A couple of weeks of practices and eight seeding games — ones treated more like an exhibition game than a regular-season game — may not be enough time to develop real chemistry.

Playing Simmons and Embiid as the frontline is the latest attempt to get their games to fit together. There remain doubters around the league the two can blend — unless Simmons can develop a reliable jump shot and three-point ball to space the floor — but the best chance may be to put three shooters around Simmons and Embiid. One of the three shooters needs to be a secondary shot creator. Maybe that can work, and for the rest of this season the Sixers can take notes on if this will work.

A healthy Philadelphia team — Simmons would have missed a lot of time heading into the playoffs with his back issue — is one of the dark horses in the East. If this team becomes as good on the court as it does on paper, if it can play like it’s a home game and not a road game (the 76ers were 10-24 on the road), they have a chance. This lineup may give them the best chance.