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Orlando reportedly ‘clear frontrunner’ but Las Vegas, other cities still in play to host NBA return

Houston Scenics

HOUSTON, TX - MARCH 26: A view of the Houston skyline at dusk on March 26, 2013 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

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After talking to people around the league about an NBA return, this is my best guess for what it looks like: Teams host three-week training camps at their own facilities, then travel to Orlando and maybe Las Vegas — both cities could be home to games — for a handful of regular season games (and maybe a preseason/exhibition game or two), followed by the playoffs, all in a fan-less environment where players can eat, sleep, and play games in one location.

Orlando has jumped to the front of the line for host cities if the league returns, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

However, literally every part of the above scenario is still on the table and could be different. Nothing is set in stone.

That includes using Orlando (the Walt Disney World Resort) as the “bubble” city. The NBA will want to see rates for the virus falling in those areas, but data out of Florida is not entirely reliable.

Other cities outside Las Vegas (an MGM hotel facility, likely the Mandalay Bay) remain in play to host games, but after those two other cities are on the second tier of options and all have flaws as well. Phoenix was a city one source mentioned to me. Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer mentioned Houston or the idea of playing games in each team’s arenas — although the league still wants the games centralized.

Other locations are also under consideration, including Houston, multiple sources say. In downtown Houston, Toyota Center, the Rockets’ home arena, neighbors the George R. Brown Convention Center; combined, they have the facilities necessary to serve as a neutral site to host games. It remains possible that teams could play games in their own arenas... But playing games at a neutral site makes it easier to control variables—the more people involved, the greater the risk. With travel comes the inclusion of pilots, drivers, and hotel workers. Players and staffers would be living with family members or roommates, all of whom can’t be tracked by the league. Hosting the rest of the season at a neutral site would create less risk, though it remains to be seen what the league and players union will agree on. No matter where games are played, thousands of swabs and tests for players, coaches, and other personnel will be needed.

There is risk no matter what Adam Silver and the NBA chooses; the question becomes which one has the least risk. As noted above, while a lot of players like the idea of something closer to a regular NBA season — staying in their homes, traveling to games in other cities — that seems less and less likely this season because of the challenges.

Whatever the scenario for a return ends up being, it all hinges on testing. The league needs to be able to procure 15,000 tests or more — without taking those away from hotspots for the virus where they are in need — and be able to test players regularly, maybe daily. The only way any centralized location works to host games is with extensive testing — not just of players, but of coaches and team staff, plus hotel/resort workers — and if someone tests positive contact tracing and quarantine would follow.

Just know that while Orlando is the most likely places games take place, like everything around the coronavirus, no plan can be locked in yet.