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A Cavs-centric look at the possible second NBA bubble

It might happen, so let’s talk about it.

Atlanta Hawks v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

Per reporting from ESPN, a second NBA bubble is being discussed with Chicago identified as the choice for the host city. September is the reported target date, placing it weeks before free agency and the NBA Draft. There are still a lot of unknowns regarding the Chicago bubble, but Wintrust Arena — which is attached to a hotel — has been reported as a possible host site.

Worth noting: If the Cavs, its players and league all decide they want to take the risk of this second bubble, then it’s probably going to happen. This idea has momentum behind it, even amid all of the very fair concerns about its plausibility.

The exact number of Cavs interested in the second bubble is unknown. (Cavs forward Larry Nance Jr. at least had fun with the idea.) Remember: there is still an ongoing pandemic in the United States. Coronavirus cases are hitting new highs. Forming the second bubble will certainly entail risk. It’s hard to know if it will even happen until the Orlando bubble starts with its 22 teams and everyone can see how it plays out. How other returns, like MLS’ bubble and Major League Baseball’s shortened season, play out could impact the possibility of the second NBA bubble.

From a Cavs perspective, it’s not a surprise that they want a way to compete amid a pandemic. Publicly, multiple players and head coach J.B. Bickerstaff have called for the so-called ‘Delete Eight’ teams to play some sort of competitive basketball between now and the start of next season. When the idea of a second bubble was first proposed, Cleveland was reported as one of the teams who pushed for it behind the scenes

“We can’t allow this to impact next season,” Bickerstaff said in an interview with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. “The biggest thing for young, developing players is to play games. If they don’t get to play and experience against other NBA players, it is a disadvantage. Building chemistry, building rhythm, guys starting to understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses. That’s a huge thing for all of your groups. We can’t afford to go into 2020-2021 and be a step slow, a step behind because some of these teams will be a couple months removed from playing competitive playoff-level basketball. The league, our front offices, our coaches — we’ve all been in communication because we have to figure something out because it’s too important.”

“It’s paramount for teams like us that are in the bottom eight to have some good competition,” Kevin Love said in a recent Zoom call with reporters. “Eight months off from competitive basketball is not conducive to getting better.”

“We were looking to ruin teams’ hopes for the playoffs and get a few wins here and there and just play it out,” Collin Sexton said on his own Zoom call. “We weren’t going to make the playoffs, but I felt like us playing those games was definitely going to help.”

The first question the Cavs will have to answer if the Chicago bubble happens is the team’s roster. A few players likely to participate baked on some speculation/reporting: Sexton, Darius Garland, Kevin Porter Jr., Dante Exum, Dean Wade, Alfonzo McKinnie, Jordan Bell and, travel back from Turkey permitting, Cedi Osman. (Like the U.S., Turkey is not on the European Union’s initial safe travel list.) This second bubble definitely could definitely be a chance for Wade, Bell and McKinnie — all who are on contracts that are non-guaranteed — to make a case for themselves to be on the roster in 2020-21.

But will Love participate? What about Andre Drummond, who is heading into a contract year if he picks up his player option as he’s said he’ll do? It also seems likely that neither Tristan Thompson nor Matthew Dellavedova, both pending free agents, would participate and risk injury before free agency. If those four don’t play, that’s four likely rotation pieces unavailable. And, in Love and Drummond’s place, two players that likely figure into next year’s plans not included in the tune-up. Still: there’s a lot of time between now and September and maybe they’ll decide to play. Love’s comments, at the very least, suggest he’d be at least open to it.

There’s also the Dylan Windler question. He’ll be 24 at the start of next season and didn’t play an NBA game this year due to injury. September is after his recovery should be completed, per sources, so it’s possible he could get a chance to play in Chicago as a lead-up to his real rookie season. It’s not a lock that he’ll translate to the NBA, but the organization likes him and he’ll get a chance in some capacity.

The Cavs also won’t benefit from the timing as much as they could be if the bubble was scheduled for later in the fall. Right now, the NBA Draft is scheduled for October 16 and free agency opens up two days later. Where the second bubble to occur right after that, Cleveland could get a headstart of incorporating its new pieces. But, logistically, that would be too close to the likely start of training camp if the 2020-21 season starts in December as planned. It also might be asking for too much to get that much of a head start.

Still, there’s upside here. Game time for the Cavs’ various young pieces against other teams is a good thing. The season ending didn’t keep Cleveland from playoff basketball, but the floor time Sexton, Garland, Porter Jr. and others would have played mattered in some way. It’s hard to calculate exactly, but when they say they are missing out on something, it’s worth listening.

Chicago could also be a platform for the Cavs and the other teams to continue publicly advocating for change in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Notably, Bickerstaff is on the coach’s committee that is helping to shape some of the response coaches are taking with several Cavs players speaking out in some way. It would be surprising if the Cavs and the other teams possibly heading to Chicago don’t do something, even if that is a few months from now.

Cleveland also had its season end less than 10 games after Bickerstaff took over for John Beilein. Again, that wasn’t a season-altering change or one that was going to take the Cavs to another level. But getting him more time coaching a roster that will be largely the same next season can’t hurt.

Above all, though, the safety of the players and everyone going comes first. NBPA head Michelle Roberts has said a second bubble would need to follow the Orlando model. It’s entirely unclear how that will go exactly. Until that happens, it’s impossible to speculate about what a second bubble will look like. But it’s understandable why the Cavs want, even if what it will offer exactly is unknowable.