The Whiteboard: What a second NBA bubble means for each team in the ‘Delete Eight’

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As if one bubble weren’t risky enough, ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan reports the NBA is currently discussing opening up a second bubble in Chicago for the eight non-playoff teams.

Nothing is set in stone yet, and there are still several issues that would need resolving with such an unnecessary and borderline reckless idea. These include deciding on testing and other social distancing protocol like NBA’s Orlando bubble has established, and getting all eight teams to agree on a second bubble rather than hosting their own mini-camps or regional scrimmages.

While the NBA finishing its season with 22 playoff/borderline playoff teams makes sense for financial and entertainment purposes, giving these eight surefire lottery teams more games feels far less vital. However, aside from being an obvious cash grab for more TV time in September, it does serve a functional purpose: For these “Delete Eight” teams, it may be their only game action between mid-March and early December, when the 2020-21 season is expected to begin.

Without this kind of bubble, or at least team-by-team mini-camps, the players on these teams would be going nearly nine months without any form of organized basketball. Not only does that weaken the product and everyone’s wallets, but it also threatens to alter careers — not only with rust, but the potential for soft-tissue or even more severe injuries after such a long layover.

Assuming this idea comes to fruition, it’s worth taking a look at what a second NBA bubble would mean for each of the eight Delete Eight teams, going from least-incentivized to most-motivated to participate:

New York Knicks

The Knicks were the only Delete Eight team not on Thursday’s call, opting to continue interviewing candidates for their head coaching position instead. Still, it’s safe to assume they’ll be against this kind of second NBA bubble, and why wouldn’t they be?

Mike Miller is just the interim coach, half of this mismanaged roster is playing on expiring or non-guaranteed contracts, and if the veterans have no incentive to play because it might jeopardize their next deal, it’ll hardly be worth it for youngsters like RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson to toil away in shorthanded, massacre defeats. Like most years, the Knicks’ season was dead long before it was officially over. They’re probably not keen for a resurrection at this point.

Golden State Warriors

While it’d be nice to see Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green all on the court together again, don’t bank on it happening in Chicago. The Warriors could use the time to work in Andrew Wiggins, sure, but it’d come with added injury risk for a team that was battered and bruised all season.

The Dubs believe the 2019-20 campaign and the poor injury luck that dogged them since last year’s Finals were just bumps in the road on their path to more championships. This is another team that would much rather hold its own mini-camp than have stars suit up for pointless games, especially with the revival of a dynasty at stake in 2020-21.

Detroit Pistons

We could talk about all the dead money coming off the books and what Troy Weaver needs to do this summer yet again, but we’ll keep this simple: The Pistons’ best and most interesting player moving forward is Christian Wood, and as an unrestricted free agent this fall, he probably wouldn’t be participating in this kind of bubble that would jeopardize his upcoming pay day.

Even if he did play, the Pistons probably wouldn’t let the injury-riddled Blake Griffin participate. It’d also be risky for veterans on expiring contracts like Brandon Knight, Langston Galloway and John Henson. So even if this bubble gave Detroit deeper looks at Wood, Luke Kennard and the intriguing Sekou Doumbouya, most everyone would agree we’ve had enough depressing Pistons basketball for this year.

Cleveland Cavaliers

For the Cavs, this would be all about the Sexland backcourt. Andre Drummond has already said he will pick up his $28.8 million player option next season to keep him in Cleveland, so maybe he wouldn’t view it as much of a risk with that insurance sitting in his back pocket, but J.B. Bickerstaff needs as much time with the younger cornerstones as he can get.

Tristan Thompson and Matthew Dellavedova are impending free agents, so they’re possible absences. Whether the Cavs are telling the truth about wanting to keep Kevin Love around or lying to preserve his trade value, they can’t afford him getting hurt when he’s owed about $30 million a year through 2022-23. So yes, this would mostly be about trying to figure out what the hell to do with Collin Sexton and Darius Garland minutes, as well as giving ample time to Kevin Porter Jr.

Chicago Bulls

Like fans in the Big Apple, most Bulls supporters were ready for the season to be over when it was suspended in mid-March. As fun as Zach LaVine can be at times, Lauri Markkanen wasn’t exactly having a breakout year, Wendell Carter Jr. was a bit of a letdown and the team was pretty miserable overall. Otto Porter Jr. had just returned to action when the league went on hiatus, but the only true silver lining for the new Chicago brass would be getting an up-close look at Jim Boylen to evaluate him for the future.

On second thought, maybe it’s vital the Bulls get this second bubble going. Maybe it’d be a blessing in disguise for Arturas Kornisovas’ dismay at his own head coach’s ineptitude to force his hand into giving Boylen the ax. It’d be unproductive to watch more of the same in Chicago next season, because there are intriguing young players on this roster. It might not be pleasant to watch this team play miserable basketball again, but if bad basketball got Boylen out of the Windy City, maybe that pain and suffering would be worth it after all?

Minnesota Timberwolves

This one’s a bit more delicate, because in terms of on-court chemistry, it’d be great to have Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell healthy and bonding on the court together. At the same time, this second NBA bubble already feels fairly reckless in the face of the coronavirus pandemic without factoring in that Towns sadly lost his mother to COVID-19 in April.

Some things are just bigger than basketball, and with two other intriguing young pieces hitting free agency this fall in Malik Beasley and Juan Hernangomez, it just feels like there are too many fractures in play for the Timberwolves to actually get a good look at KAT, Russell, Beasley, Hernangomez, Jarrett Culver and Josh Okogie together in a way that’s both safe and productive.

Charlotte Hornets

The Hornets have a couple of intriguing young players whose development needs monitoring, but no “sure thing.” Their only notable players hitting free agency who might be hesitant to play are Bismack Biyombo, Willy Hernangomez and Dwayne Bacon (restricted).

In other words, this young team would be perfect for the Delete Eight bubble, if only to give the coaching staff more time to work with Devonte’ Graham, Terry Rozier, PJ Washington, Miles Bridges and the Martin twins.

Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks’ roster is loaded with youngsters who need time to grow together, not to mention they had just added an injured Clint Capela at the trade deadline without actually getting to see him play yet. That pick-and-roll with Trae Young will be a treat, and it’s no wonder Atlanta and the entire fanbase are eager to watch them go to work sooner rather than later.

Between that duo, John Collins, Kevin Huerter, Cameron Reddish and De’Andre Hunter, no Delete Eight team has as much motivation to return to game action — in any capacity permitted to them — as these Hawks.

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Time for another alternate timeline: What if Sam Hinkie were still in charge of the Philadelphia 76ers?

Zion Williamson looks fit, muscular and absolutely terrifying for the rest of the league.

Remember how the Milwaukee Bucks were head-and-shoulders above the rest of the league before the season was suspended? The Ringer reminds us of all the reasons they should be the heavy title favorites.

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