It’s not how anybody would have drawn it up, but the NBA is going to bring it’s 2019-20 season amidst the ongoing pandemic with a tournament being played inside a metaphorical bubble in Orlando. Games are set to resume on July 30 when the 22 participating teams will begin to play eight games each to determine the 16 playoff teams and their seeding. Thus far, the NBA has completed the first four of the six phases in the restart plan. With exhibition games starting and the NBA season finally resuming, let’s look at everything that fans should know.
The NBA reached a critical stepping stone on Monday, which was the penultimate day of Phase 4 of the restart. The league announced that all 346 players who are currently in the Orlando bubble tested positive for COVID-19. With Phase 5 beginning on Wednesday and teams starting to play scrimmages against other teams that are staying in the same hotel, every player inside the bubble testing negative is a huge milestone. It’s the best sign yet that the idea of a bubble tournament can work in a way that’s safe for all of the participants. Obviously, players who tested positive during previous phases aren’t with their teams in the bubble. But if everyone inside the bubble is negative for COVID-19 this close to the start of the tournament, there is reason to be optimistic about the games being played without interruption.
Who’s In, Who’s Out?
As mentioned, only 22 NBA teams are present at the tournament in Orlando, as teams that were already eliminated from playoff contention weren’t invited. Perhaps more importantly, not every team will have all of their key players present. Some decided to opt-out of the tournament out of concern for their health and their family while other players have tested positive for COVID-19 and are waiting to recover and receive medical clearance before rejoining their teams inside the bubble.
Davis Bertans of the Wizards is one of the best players to opt-out of the tournament. He’s in line to be a free agent this summer and doesn’t want to risk injury or illness. Trevor Ariza of the Trail Blazers will sit out rather than help Portland push for a playoff spot. Avery Bradley of the Lakers will sit out of concern for his son, who has a history of respiratory problems. Brooklyn’s Wilson Chandler is sitting out over concern for his family. The Nets will also be without DeAndre Jordan and Spencer Dinwiddie, who both backed out after positive tests. Willie Cauley-Stein of the Mavericks will not play after his wife gave birth earlier this month.
The good news for teams is that they’ve been able to sign available players to a Substitute Player Contract to help fill out their rosters for the tournament. With several players missing, the Nets have signed Justin Anderson, Lance Thomas, Michael Beasley, and Jamal Crawford. Veteran JR Smith has joined the Lakers for the tournament. The Washington Wizards have supplemented their roster with Jarrod Uthoff and Jerian Grant. Meanwhile, the Mavericks are signing Trey Burke for the bubble tournament.
While the setup isn’t perfect, a champion will be crowned for the 2019-20 season when the tournament is over. So, what teams should be viewed as the favorites in this unprecedented tournament. LeBron James and the Lakers are viewed as the betting favorites. They have slightly better odds than the Milwaukee Bucks, who had the best record in the NBA when the season was suspended. The Clippers also have strong odds to win the title going into the Orlando tournament.
While the Lakers, Bucks, and Clippers are the leading contenders, a dark horse candidate coming out of nowhere can’t be ruled out, especially during an unprecedented situation that will have a lot of unknown variables. The Raptors, who had the second-best record in the Eastern Conference in March, could be a dark horse given the playoff experience on the roster from last year’s championship. The 76ers, who were 29-2 at home during the season, could be a threat in a situation in which every game is being played on a neutral court. Finally, the Rockets could be a threat to win the championship behind the duo of Russell Westbrook and James Harden after the team got a few months to rest and re-energize themselves.
A lot of conversation has surrounded what activities players can get into during their time. JR Smith’s IG live feed was shut down right away after he shared details of bubble life. But a few more players with a more responsible social media presence have shared a peek into the NBA’s campus.
Some of the players have started their own vlogs. Lakers JaVale McGee being one. You can find his content on Youtube.
Lots of fishing, video games and food complaints. To keep up with all the action inside the bubble but outside the game, follow @NBABUBBLELIFE on Instagram and Twitter.