Just when we had thought we had seen everything from the 2020 Minnesota Timberwolves, news broke in early July that the NBA and NBAPA were discussing a return to play for the eight non-invited teams to the restart bubble in Florida.
If this new bubble happens, this time in Chicago, it doesn’t sound as if these teams would be finishing their regular seasons. Instead, the non-playoff teams would be able to hold mini camps. At least these are the early ideas as nothing is solidified yet.
Of course, the Wolves would be among the eight teams in the consolation bubble. It’s been almost five months since the team has played an organized game. The same is, of course, true for every other team. However, if a little more than two-thirds of the league is going to play this summer while the worst third of teams in the league sit idle, they could be especially out-of-sync should the 2021 season begin this winter.
Why Another Bubble?
Yet, given the worsening COVID-19 situation nearly everywhere in the country, corralling eight more teams seems like an unnecessary risk. Having a secondary bubble for teams with nothing to play for seems especially needless. Teams appear to be taking things seriously through testing, precautionary measures like shutting facilities down and more.
But it’s hard to shake the thought that it only takes one person to trigger a catastrophic outbreak. With so much unknown about the long-term effects of COVID-19, the consequences could be devastating.
Another reality and even concern is how it seems players are going to play no matter what. Trae Young played in a pickup game in early June, while Jabari Parker was playing tennis outside without a mask the day after testing positive for the virus. It’s not unreasonable to think the NBA looks at these events and thinks creating a controlled environment could increase player safety if the players are engaging in potentially risky behaviors on their own.
Maybe the league does try to profit off these scrimmages by broadcasting them in some way, but it’s hard to see eight terrible teams scrimmaging after a five month hiatus being a television-worthy product. The NBA wouldn’t be the first corporation to try making money regardless of serious external circumstances.
Largely, it seems like players do indeed want to play. The biggest concerns for many of them now seems to be how they’ll keep themselves busy when they’re not playing basketball in these bubbles. The list of amenities for the NBA’s Florida bubble is generous, but would the league provide the same for the Chicago bubble? It’s clear a lot still needs to be ironed out if this is going to become a reality.
It’s hard to imagine either bubble happening if a significant number of players were openly refusing to play. If the league wants to attempt this, player safety must be front of mind and without draining too many medical resources and tests from the Chicago area. The answers here aren’t simple.
Would Karl-Anthony Towns Play?
This is a pretty big one — we last saw Towns play February 10 against the Toronto Raptors after he went down with a wrist injury. Towns’ health status is still unknown and is just one reason he could pass on a possible consolation bubble. Towns also tragically lost his mother to COVID-19 this past winter and it’s possible he may decide playing isn’t worth the exposure risk anyway.
To be clear, there’s no wrong reason for anyone to pass on participating in any bubble right now. Players in both the NBA and WNBA have opted out for various reasons including social justice, parenting time, and injury, virus, or other concerns. There is no invalid reason.
For the Wolves, getting an idea of who fits best with Towns and D’Angelo Russell. If the team figures to invest long term in guys like Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez, seeing them play together as a unit before Thanksgiving would be beneficial.
Getting Towns more familiar with and developing on-court chemistry with his new teammates will be important. You probably don’t want to see Towns attempting to develop chemistry while trying to shake off almost a year’s worth of rust if you can help it.
Nothing is ideal right now and neither is attempting to assess how Towns and Russell play together while scrimmaging against the Hawks or Knicks after a five-month hiatus. Yet, this may be the best-case scenario if players want to play. Otherwise, we may not see these players again until the winter, if not longer.
There are likely other questions the Wolves would want to answer with consolation bubble scrimmages and mini camps, but none matter as much as figuring out who fits best around Towns and Russell. Without Towns, the Chicago bubble would likely be a way for the rest of the roster to stretch their legs after a long layoff. Should Towns choose to sit, a reasonable decision, the team would be attempting to evaluate the team without their best player and against the worst teams in the league.
If it comes down to that, the Wolves will have to take it.
Is It Worth It?
The important thing for the league will be assessing its own risk tolerance. Justifying the Florida bubble is somewhat easier because it’s the playoffs and it’s an attempt to crown a champion and conclude the 2020 season.
A consolation bubble isn’t nearly as easy. Having players risk their health or sacrifice time away from family for scrimmages and mini camps doesn’t carry the same weight. There will certainly be players who see the value in getting back on the court in any way. Considering players have opted out of Florida and the chance of a playoff run, it wouldn’t be surprising to see guys passing on Chicago either.
It’s possible that the league backed itself into a corner when the Florida bubble became reality: either have the eight-worst teams sit out for almost a year or attempt to also provide them with an opportunity for organized activity. For the Wolves, the risk makes even less sense without Towns.