With the desire still strong among the eight teams not invited to the NBA’s restart to avoid an eight-month layoff between formal group activities, Chicago has emerged in discussions as an idea for a potential landing spot for a second “bubble” environment, sources confirmed.
Significant hurdles remain for the eight teams to gather in one city, but sources told NBC Sports Chicago that Wintrust Arena has been discussed as a potential host for the group activities if those hurdles are cleared. The arena is connected to a hotel, which would make meeting the strict safety protocols that the league and players association desire more feasible.
ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan reported that the NBA is in “deep discussions” on this second bubble, which NBPA executive director Michele Roberts said last week would have to meet the same safety protocols as the one created in Orlando, Fla. for the 22-team restart. Roberts has insisted any such scenario would have to follow the same quarantining protocol to which the 22 teams in Orlando are subjecting themselves.
"I am very concerned and frankly, my concern aside, our players, our teams are very concerned about any — in terms of play that doesn’t have the same guarantees of safety and health that we’ve provided for the teams in Orlando," Roberts said. "So yeah, never say never, but there’s a standard. It’s a standard that’s got to be met, and if it’s not met, next question, as far as I’m concerned."
A conference call with seven of the eight general managers from teams not headed to Orlando occurred Thursday. Multiple topics were discussed, including where the focus would land geographically should agreement from all parties, including team owners and the players association, occurred. There remains varying levels of interest in the second bubble scenario, which a source said would feature at least a week-long training camp followed by scrimmages against other teams.
With health and safety remaining all parties' top priority, Chicago also made sense logistically because it recently hosted the NBA All-Star game. Security and logistical measures are known and in place. But multiple sources stressed no final decisions have been made and significant negotiations still need to occur.
All teams, including the Bulls, left out of the Orlando restart have expressed desire for some sort of formal offseason activities. Some have voiced a desire to hold mini training camps in their respective markets, with perhaps regional scrimmages, a source said. For instance, the Bulls could play the Cavaliers or Pistons.
But ESPN.com reported Roberts has pushed back on this idea because the 22 teams in Orlando are subjecting themselves to daily testing for the COVID-19 virus and quarantine measures for up to three months if they make the NBA Finals. The training camps in their own markets and regional scrimmages would allow the eight teams not going to Orlando to operate under different rules, which Roberts made clear on last Friday’s conference call she wants to avoid.
If the hurdles are cleared to create a second bubble situation, participation would be voluntary, a source said. Given that players have opted out of the Orlando restart, it’s fair to wonder how many veteran players or free agents would play in what essentially would be a glorified summer league.
As of now, players can visit team practice facilities for voluntary workouts that follow strict safety protocols, including assistant coaches wearing gloves and masks and a limit to the number of players shooting at each basket. The shared desire among the eight teams for group activities is to avoid the long layoff between mandated team functions.
"We’re facing a lengthy offseason. We will be in the practice facility a lot. We’ll be spending a lot of time with each other," Bulls executive vice president Arturas Karnisovas said in his end-of-season conference call with reporters on June 6. "Eight teams is a huge part of our league, and I think the league’s interest is to support those teams as well as they can. The proposed structure of some practices and some scrimmages that we would like to see this summer, I think it’s not too much to ask. But, again, I think we will get support from the league based on that."