2020 NBA restart: It's OK for players to vocalize bubble concerns

2020 NBA restart: It's OK for players to vocalize bubble concerns

Even after Jayson Tatum very eloquently detailed his apprehensions about entering the bubble, there are some who continue to roll their eyes whenever a player expresses even the tiniest bit of concern about their sport’s resumption of play.

Listening to Boston Celtics players explain their various issues over the past week, I found it refreshing. I found it human. These players are leaving their families and risking their safety to bring us a tiny slice of normalcy with the return of pro sports.

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Yes, most are handsomely compensated — but they are also being thrust into an unprecedented situation with restraints they never signed up for, all largely for our entertainment.

What’s more, most recognize this. Tatum admitted it would be callous of him to sit out the restart solely in fear of compromising future earnings at a time when unemployment numbers are so outrageously high.

But if players want to vocalize their concerns — big and small — I’m all ears. There is no playbook for what players are about to endure inside this bubble and how they handle it all is a big part of the story.

When Tatum bemoans being apart from his 2 ½-year old son for as much as three months, I get it. FaceTime and Zoom make the world smaller but they are not substitutes for daily interaction between child and parent. When Gordon Hayward is adamant he will depart the bubble, and deal with the obstacles of reentering, to be there for the birth of his first son, I get it.

Life events, particularly those that could not have reasonably been expected to interfere with one’s work schedule, should not be ignored because it might temporarily hinder a team’s quest for a trophy.

At a time when all of our lives have already been altered, players are being asked to sacrifice even more of their typical freedoms.

It’s fair for them to be skeptical. It’s fair for them to voice concerns, even if others don’t believe they are as much of a hindrance as that player might be suggesting. We’d go so far as to suggest it would be weird if players didn’t have concerns about how this is all going to work, or offer emotional reactions to the infancy of their bubble stay.

We’re guessing many of the anxieties and inconveniences will likely dissipate as players settle into the bubble. Eventually, the return of games and competition should offer a much-needed jolt of normalcy in an otherwise bizarre living situation.

Celtics Talk Podcast: Can Tatum be a title team's best player? | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

If a player expressing their concern somehow diminishes your excitement for what’s ahead, I’m not sure what to tell you. To expect robot-like enthusiasm from athletes is misguided. To fret that players might vocalize genuine human emotion instead of simply reciting boring sports clichés flies counter to what we constantly yearn from our athletes.

There is a delicate line to walk. And players bemoaning 5-star hotels and pre-packaged meals won’t sit well in all corners. But I don’t mind the glimpse it offers if a player wants to share his knee-jerk reaction.

The guess here is that when Celtics players put on their uniforms and see the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo on the other side of the floor, competition will take center stage and the NBA will deliver a product much like the one we’ve yearned for since everything paused in March.

Sure, it's fair to wonder how the early scrimmages and seeding games will look, as each team will have different motivations in the ramp-up to the postseason, but the playoffs should have much of the excitement that we’re used to from those games. Let the famed Dream Team scrimmage be a prime example of how the absence of a crowd doesn’t always affect the intensity on the court.

This is all wildly unique. If being away from his son affects Tatum’s play, I want to hear about it. If Jaylen Brown worries that the return of games stunts the momentum of the social justice movement, I want to hear him vocalize that.

The human element is a major storyline to this wild experience.

Celtics Talk Podcast: Jaylen Brown continues to be MVP of the bubble for C's

Celtics Talk Podcast: Jaylen Brown continues to be MVP of the bubble for C's

Jaylen Brown has improved every facet of his game in Year 4 of his promising NBA career.

The Boston Celtics forward is averaging career highs in every major statistical category, and he's done a stellar job playing the Robin to Jayson Tatum's Batman throughout the 2019-20 season.

So far in the Orlando bubble, though, it's Brown who has taken over as Boston's Most Valuable Player.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Grizzlies, which begins Tuesday at 4 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 5 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Brown has been on fire through six games in the bubble, averaging 21.7 points, 7 rebounds, 1.3 steals, and 1.2 assists through six games. On a brand new edition of the Celtics Talk Podcast, A. Sherrod Blakely emphatically explains to Kyle Draper why Brown is indisputably Boston's best player at this point in time.

Celtics Talk Podcast: Banner 18 in the bubble? Celtics' title chances getting stronger as postseason nears | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

"In this moment, right now. Jaylen Brown is the best two-way player on this team right now. Right this minute," said Blakely. "And I'll go a step further, Jaylen Brown is the best player on this team period right now based on what he's doing in the bubble. Now, when we get to the playoffs do I expect him to be their best player? No. I expect him to be in the top three. I expect Tatum or Kemba to elevate and be that guy."

Blakely also praised Brown for continuing to be a leader off the court while dominating on it. After Sunday's overtime win vs. the Orlando Magic, the 23-year-old spoke at length about the issues of police brutality and mental health.

"Jaylen Brown is killing it, man. I mean he has been just an absolute beast," Blakely said. "And the thing that I love about Jaylen is that not only is he being a beast on the court and helping his team win, but all the social issues that he was championing before he got in the bubble that he said he would continue to have those conversations and use his platform to elevate those discussions, he's kept his word along those lines."

Also discussed on the latest episode of the Celtics Talk Podcast: How will Stevens handle playoff rotation? Has Robert Williams earned playing time over Enes Kanter? Who is the Celtics' ideal first-round opponent? And is Gordon Hayward the C's X-factor for the playoffs?

Check out the latest episode of the Celtics Talk Podcast on your favorite podcast app or watch it on YouTube below.

NBA odds: Celtics' title chances rise as East playoff picture gets clearer

NBA odds: Celtics' title chances rise as East playoff picture gets clearer

The Boston Celtics needed a few days to find their bearings in the NBA bubble. But now that they're on the right track, they could be staying Orlando for a while.

The Celtics locked themselves into the Eastern Conference's No. 3 seed Sunday with a 122-119 overtime win over the Orlando Magic. The victory was their third in a row after routing the Brooklyn Nets and stomping the defending champion Toronto Raptors.

One of the Celtics' major rivals, meanwhile, is heading in the other direction. The Philadelphia 76ers just lost All-Star guard Ben Simmons to a knee injury that could sideline him the entire postseason and fell to the No. 6 seed in the East with Sunday's loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Grizzlies, which begins Tuesday at 4 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 5 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Both the Celtics and Sixers have three seeding games remaining, but as it stands now, they'd face each other in the first round of the NBA playoffs, a matchup that Boston actually might welcome with Simmons sidelined.

In short, things are looking up the C's -- and the sportsbooks have taken notice. Here are DraftKings Sportsbook's latest 2020 NBA championship odds as of Monday morning:

1. Milwaukee Bucks: +250
2. Los Angeles Lakers: +260
3. Los Angeles Clippers: +310
4. Toronto Raptors: +1000
5. Houston Rockets: +1300
6. Boston Celtics: +1600
7. Denver Nuggets: +2500
8. Miami Heat: +2500
9. Dallas Mavericks: +4000
10. Utah Jazz: +4000
All other teams have odds worse than +4000

The Celtics entered the bubble with +2000 odds to win the title but now sit at +1600, closely behind the Raptors and Rockets.

As for the Sixers? They also had +2000 odds prior to the seeding round but have plummeted outside the top 10 to +5000 after Simmons' injury.

The Bucks, Lakers and Clippers have long been the three most serious title contenders. The Celtics have held steady as a dark horse, though, and recent developments have strengthened their championship case: Kemba Walker has looked great while ramping up from a knee injury, while Jayson Tatum has shaken off some early rust to return to All-Star form.

Boston can take its foot off the gas during its final three seeding games with the No. 3 seed wrapped up. But once the postseason begins, it's full speed ahead toward Banner 18.