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NBA homestands? Bubble has teams thinking reduced travel


LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA - AUGUST 26: A general view of the facade after the postponed game five of the first round of the NBA Playoffs between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets at The Field House at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on August 26, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. The NBA announced the postponement of today’s games in response to the Milwaukee Bucks boycotting their game in protest against the shooting of Jacob Blake by Kenosha, Wisconsin police. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kim Klement - Pool/Getty Images)

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It’s been something known but not discussed much by scouts and GMs around the NBA for years: about three weeks to a month into the NBA season, the quality of play drops some. Players across the board are not as sharp with their rotations, not as crisp with their actions, their legs seem a little bit dead. It’s league-wide, all teams and all players, and it’s just accepted as part of the travel and grind of the NBA season wearing guys down.

That hasn’t happened in the NBA’s restart campus in Orlando (the “bubble”). Four months off followed by no travel, and players have stayed sharp. It’s led to big individual performances and dramatic games.

Which has some GMs and team staff talking about possible tweaks to the NBA schedule, reports Baxter Holmes at ESPN, who had details from an August call with front office staffs and Adam Silver, among others.

A second GM then chimed in on the same theme, sources said, echoing that the lack of travel and additional rest contributed to better play and helped even out the competition. Sources said a league official on the call then brought up the concept of teams heading into cities to play a potential series of games -- fly into a city and play the host team in two games over a short time span. The idea, which several GMs considered akin to a baseball homestand, was discussed in an effort to reduce the mileage teams might have to fly during the regular season...

In a call with reporters Wednesday, Utah Jazz EVP of Basketball Operations Dennis Lindsey also mentioned this concept. “The league ... teams specifically and the health performance group has gotten a lot of feedback from the players that the reduced travel, they physically feel better,” Lindsey said. “So, would we ever get to a situation like baseball where you play a team more than one time in the market. Obviously, there’s some business concerns there, but that reduced travel, I definitely think the product is more compelling because of that. The players feel better and, frankly, we need to listen to the players.”

There are more than a few business concerns.

If the Miami Heat have a homestand and play two games in three nights against Indiana, then two games in a row against Charlotte, are fans going to come out to the arena the same way? As noted by one exec in the ESPN story, in baseball different pitchers every night change the game up. The NBA would roll out the same product two out of three nights, how would fans react to that? In trying economic times for the league, does the NBA want to break out something new like this?

That’s just the tip of the iceberg of challenges. For example, teams share their arenas with other teams (NHL squads, mostly) as well as concerts and events, putting homestands into that mix would be difficult.

But if it’s better for the players, and maybe there are some reduced expenses with flying, it will get discussed. The NBA has worked hard in recent years to reduce back-to-backs, to cut back on team travel where possible, to help players. This is another step down that road.

With the NBA’s schedule and economics turned upside down by the coronavirus, everything is on the table. Radical ideas are getting discussed. Homestands for NBA teams is going to be part of that.