The NBA is expected to vote on an official structure for its Orlando bubble next Thursday, but two reports from ESPN reporters indicate a plan including the Phoenix Suns is a strong possibility.
First, it was Ramona Shelburne, who reported on a possible format that would bring all teams within six games of a playoff spot to Orlando. The Suns are exactly six games back from the eighth seed in the Western Conference, which is currently occupied by the Grizzlies.
Among the four plans discussed on the Board of Governors call today was one in which teams that are within six games of a playoff spot would be invited to compete in regular season games, then a play-in tourney for the final playoff spots, sources told ESPN.— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) May 29, 2020
This would make the regular season games more meaningful, which is something Portland star Damian Lillard came out in favor of publicly this week to Yahoo Sports. Shelburne later added that players have “continuously stressed” that they don’t want to jump right into the playoffs to restart the season. Regular season games to finish out the race for the eighth seed in each conference, followed by a play-in tournament, would provide a longer runway toward competition.
Later in the evening, Adrian Wojnarowski added context to the 22-team plan in a story online:
The 22-team plan would include teams that are currently within six games of the final playoff spots in each conference, sources said. New Orleans, Phoenix, Portland, Sacramento and San Antonio would land in Orlando under those guidelines, with Washington joining as the only team within six games of the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.
However, Woj also noted that a smaller, 20-team structure that cuts out Washington and Phoenix is still in play as well. Most importantly, Woj reported that when next Thursday’s vote arrives, the NBA’s owners are expected to fall in line behind commissioner Adam Silver and allow him to create a system as he sees as fit.
Between these two plugged-in NBA reporters, however, the 22-team concept is what they both came away believing in. It makes a lot of sense, like the Goldilocks of bubble ideas. Not too big, not too small, with enough in it for each of the teams involved to keep it competitive and entertaining.
The league would likely be able to salvage local television revenue for nearly three-quarters of its teams, and in addition to a month or so training camp, regular season games would be a more legitimate warmup. Plus, ending the season completely for teams could be a real detriment, even with the understanding that every additional person who heads to Orlando increases the health risk to all involved.
I had been concerned that for a young, building team like the Suns or Hawks, the early end of the 2019-20 season would mean no competitive, team-building basketball from mid-March to Christmas Day. Even with practice facilities back open and all the training time in the world, that’s a bizarre, difficult schedule to deal with.
Atlanta won’t be as lucky as the Suns, but it does appear the Suns’ ability to hang onto the outskirts of the playoff picture throughout the season will pay off. They could very well get to ship out to Orlando in the next few weeks and participate in an unforgettable NBA bubble extravanganza.
Most importantly for Suns fans, it means the welcome sight of purple and orange jerseys on the hardwood once more. It means arguing about whether the whole thing is worth it, and getting fired up about the future for Deandre Ayton and Devin Booker all over again. It means getting more of the sage wisdom of Monty Williams, and another chance for pieces like Ty Jerome, Elie Okobo and Dario Saric to prove themselves.
It means basketball. Again. With a whole bunch to worry about, a creaky system that will get as much news as the games themselves, and a much different world around it than when we last watched.
But, basketball. The real thing. Not a video game televised on tape delay on ESPN (though wasn’t that super fun?). Not HORSE. Real, NBA basketball.
And quite possibly featuring your Phoenix Suns. It’s OK to start getting excited.