No team has benefited inside the NBA bubble more than the Phoenix Suns.
A team headed nowhere when the NBA suspended its season, the Suns have been a delightful surprise in the restart.
Shooting guard Devin Booker has solidified his All-Star credentials, center DeAndre Ayton is developing into an All-Star and Monty Williams is establishing a culture of accountability, effort and winning.
And now the Suns, 4-0 with three victories over playoff-bound teams, are being talked about as a potential playoff team next season.
They have taken advantage of the games, minutes and experience — valuable for the Suns’ development and future.
So you can understand the frustration and disappointment if you’re a coach or front office executive with one of the eight teams not in the bubble and unable to participate in team and player workouts while watching teams like Phoenix, Washington, New Orleans and Sacramento play meaningful games.
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There was once talk of a second bubble in another city for those teams — the Delete Eight — but it was simply a discussion of an unrealistic option given COVID-19 health and safety concerns.
Managing a bubble-like environment to determine a champion is one thing; creating a second bubble for teams not involved in the restart just doesn’t make sense, accounting for the costs, too. The reward doesn’t outweigh the risks in a second bubble.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said there was never going to be a perfect option, and with that comes inequity.
Take a team like the Atlanta Hawks. They have five key players 22 or younger, including 21-year-old All-Star Trae Young. The franchise wanted to be part of a 30-team restart, and it needs all the development it can get. There isn’t a Summer League this year and the next training camp likely will be compact to account for a condensed 2020-21 season.
Take the Cleveland Cavaliers. Similar situation. Young team with lottery picks that requires more time on the court.
Same for the Charlotte Hornets, Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons and Minnesota Timberwolves and to an extent, the Golden State Warriors.
Those teams need development, too. Even the Wizards, who will not make the playoffs and may not get a win, had individual workouts before leaving for Disney, then practices inside the bubble, three scrimmages and will play eight seeding games.
Those minutes and reps matter as does the sole focus on basketball with limited distractions, and teams not inside the bubble fear they will be left behind when next season resumes, whenever that is. Let’s say the 2020-21 season doesn’t open for training camps until January. That’s nearly 10 months without organized team practices for those eight teams. That hurts.
The NBA and National Basketball Players Association listened to options, and both sides understand the dilemma and remain in talks to find a compromise.
One idea floated on a recent owners call, as first reported by The Athletic and confirmed by USA TODAY Sports, is bringing the Forgotten Eight to the Disney bubble near Orlando once teams are eliminated. So far, that environment has been a success. No player has tested positive for COVID-19 for three consecutive weeks, and the league’s plan to minimize cases is working.
That would require additional testing and resources, but it would in theory assuage health and safety concerns and satisfy those teams wishing to get time on the court. It’s just an idea, and three team executives told USA TODAY Sports they are skeptical of that becoming reality.
They requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the topic.
Another option would be to allow teams to conduct mini-camps in their home markets at practice facilities, and that has support among team executives. It’s not the same as a scrimmage against another team but it permits teams to get players in one spot, workout individually and collectively and get 5-on-5 runs.
That idea comes with more COVID-19 concerns, too. Teams would have to ensure players test negative and then quarantine at home with only trips to the practice facility. That’s a riskier endeavor when it comes to player and staff health and safety.
The NBPA has been steadfast in their stance on protecting players from COVID-19. But three NBA executives told USA TODAY Sports that players will find a way to play and that it would be better if they played in a team’s controlled environment with COVID-19 testing, trainers and recovery aid rather than a local gym or fitness club.
The NBA didn’t believe a 30-team restart was feasible given the circumstances. Finishing a season amid a COVID-19 pandemic isn’t easy. It requires sacrifices and creates a level of unfairness.
Both sides are understandable, and it’s also reasonable to envision one side will continue to be on the outside of the bubble looking in, leaving eight teams frustrated.
Follow NBA columnist Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter.