Looking Ahead to 2020-21: Regional Bubbles, A Permanent Play-In Tournament and Polo Shirts?

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Every weekday, SI’s Chris Mannix will check in with his Bubble Bits, a quick hit on something notable from inside the NBA’s campus

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. –

  • There’s no doubt that the play-in tournament has spiced up the NBA’s restart. Six Western Conference teams are slugging it out for the final playoff spot. Memphis, ravaged by injury, is desperately trying to hold onto the No. 8 seed while Phoenix, once thought to be just happy to be here, is 4-0 in Florida, with Devin Booker emerging as a breakout star.
    • Could a play-in series be adopted permanently? Adam Silver has pushed the idea for a while, and the restart afforded the league an opportunity to try it out. The purists will argue that it waters down the impact of an 82-game season. But there’s no question it has been fun, and when you consider how bad the final month of the NBA season can be, when teams that are out of the playoff race shelve top players, for health and lottery reasons, the chance to force a play-in series by creeping within four games of the No. 8 seed will unquestionably improve the quality of play. And we haven’t even seen the series that’s coming, which will undoubtedly be intense.
      Silver is for it, and I think there are ways to tweak it to satisfy opponents. Maybe instead of the No. 9 seed being within four games, it’s two. Maybe there has to be a certain threshold for winning percentage. This experiment has been too successful for the NBA not to revisit it.

    NBA Bubble Insider: How Will The West Be Won?

    • We’re a ways off from next season, but league sources have told me that the NBA is looking at options that include creating regional bubbles, should the COVID-19 pandemic still prevent normal business in the fall. Teams would report to a bubble for short stints—around a month—which would be followed by 1-2 weeks off. Ideally, the NBA would like to play an 82-game schedule that starts in December. A December start would allow the league to end the season in late June, putting the NBA back on a normal schedule and, importantly, not compete with the Olympics next summer. The players union is expected to take issue with that, preferring teams, particularly those making deep playoff runs, have more time off. Most executives I talk to are very skeptical of the NBA being able to have a full 82-game season in 2021.
    • Am I the only one that found it interesting that Nick Nurse didn’t win the Coach of the Year vote from the National Basketball Coaches Association? Nurse has guided the Raptors to the best winning percentage in franchise history—and did it after losing a top-five player in Kawhi Leonard. Nurse is expected to cruise to a wide win on the media ballot, which will be announced after the season. His peers, however, voted Billy Donovan and Mike Budenholzer as co-winners, with Nurse finishing third. Donovan and Budenholzer did excellent jobs this season—Donovan was third on my ballot, behind Nurse and Lakers coach Frank Vogel, while Budenholzer would have been fourth—but Nurse navigating Toronto to a the No. 2 seed in the East with a legitimate chance of defending its title should have won him the award in a landslide.
    Toronto Raptors' head coach Nick Nurse claps for his players during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Miami Heat at the HP Field House.
    • Speaking of coaches, they have spoken—and polos should be here to stay. Several head coaches told me they love the new semi-casual sideline attire approved by the league for the restart. Erik Spoelstra says not only is it more comfortable, it’s more functional for coaches who move around a lot. Scott Brooks said while he was initially against it, he has enjoyed dressing down in Orlando. 
      • Could the wardrobe change be adopted next season? I asked Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, president of the coaches association. “I think it’s appropriate for this setting,” Carlisle said. “There’s been discussion about polos vs. suits for a couple of years. We polled the coaches a couple of years ago, and at that time it was overwhelming in favor of suits. Probably 2-1. I think that’s generally the feeling.”
      • The Western Conference is going to be loaded next season. The bottom two teams right now are Minnesota and Golden State. The Warriors will compete for a top seed when they get Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson back. The Timberwolves will have another year of Karl Towns and D’Angelo Russell, plus a top-five pick. The five non-playoff teams invited to the restart should all improve. It’s possible that the worst team in the West is better than the No. 8 seed in the East.