Heading into the NBA restart in Orlando, it felt like any one of a million things could go wrong. But three weeks into the grand experiment with the playoffs around the corner, it has been shockingly smooth sailing. Sure, the Lou Williams debacle wasn't great, but other than that players have stuck to the rules and it's resulted in consecutive weeks of no positive coronavirus tests from the bubble.
While it's of course important to remember that there's still three months to go until the season is complete, it's encouraging to see everything go as well as it has. Adam Silver said as much in an SI interview with Chris Mannix published this morning, calling the current situation "better than we envisioned." He did note, however, that the bubble concept is not a sustainable model due to the cost, which could have implications down the line. Here's what Silver had to say after Mannix asked him about the financial consequences if the league didn't manage to return this year:
[Pauses.] I’m hesitating only because it’s better to play than not to play, but in terms of a net basis, it’s not as dramatically different as people might think, because it is so costly to do what we’re doing in Orlando. It’s not a sustainable model, but we also recognize that this virus will end and that at some point we will return to more of a normal business operation with fans in seats.- Adam Silver
The bubble setup will reportedly run the league about $170 million if it lasts the duration. That's a lot of money, even for a professional sports league with revenue in the billions. But it's noteworthy Silver used that particular terminology because there remains a very real chance that a "normal business operation" won't be in the cards when the NBA wants to start the 2020-21 season in December.
Reggie Miller went on The Dan Patrick show today and said he thinks there could be an East and West bubble if there isn't a widespread vaccine by the time next season's start date rolls around. We've pondered what the NBA might do if they needed to create a bubble for next season on this very site. We had no answers, but concluded that an immense amount of creativity would be required to sell it to the players.
But if Silver says it's not sustainable, which lines up with the bill the NBA is footing once it's all said and done, that changes the situation entirely. In the sadly likely event that it won't be safe for fans to return to arenas and the coronavirus is still running loose throughout the country, what will the NBA do if another bubble (or several) isn't feasible? While the jury is still out on how the NFL will handle things, MLB's strategy hasn't exactly been one to model. But there aren't many alternatives without a bubble.
Silver and his cohort will have a lot of decisions to make rather soon. Right now, it doesn't seem like there's an easy answer. Then again, 2020 isn't the year of easy answers.