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The NBA G League may return either fully or partially in a bubble

The NBA G League couldn’t finish last season due to the coronavirus pandemic and the challenges of commercial travel during it, so a bubble might be the only way for the league to resume in 2020.

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The NBA G League and its teams are currently considering the possibility of playing a 2020-21 season that would take place either fully or partially in a bubble, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation.

The G League, the NBA’s developmental league, is made up of 28 teams who are each affiliated with one NBA team as a sort of minor-league feeder system for parent organizations to develop young talent and look for diamonds in the rough. The G League suspended its 2019-20 season on March 12 due to the coronavirus pandemic before canceling it entirely on June 4. Unlike NBA teams — who fly in private jets and are thus more easily and safely able to isolate during travel — G League teams have always flown on commercial airlines, making getting anywhere during a pandemic a much less safe proposition for them than it is for their parent teams.

The G League has yet to announce anything about the upcoming season, but sources say that discussions are ongoing about how to pull off a season, with the NBA itself resuming on Dec. 22.

The allure of a bubble similar to the one the NBA just completed its season in is that it would allow players, coaches and executives on the fringes of the NBA to still get development time and continue their careers in a safer environment than would be possible without massively increasing the cost of travel for the league.

Scenarios on the table in these nascent conversations include a full season in a bubble, or targeting 24 games (possibly over 6-8 weeks) in a bubble followed by some travel afterwards. The possibility of regional bubbles are also being discussed, sources say. G League teams were informed that the goal is to play out a full season in some form or another as the NBA neared its own agreement with players to return. A normal G League season is 50 games long.

While a bubble like the NBA underwent — reportedly at the cost of $180 million, according to the New York Times — may not seem feasible for the G League, some elements of it may be baked into the league’s normal operating costs. G League contracts are already mandated to provide housing for players, and every team already takes part in the annual NBA G League Winter Showcase every December, which was already a pseudo-bubble (that obviously had less restrictions than the current one would, although protocols like how frequently players and other personnel would be tested in this G League bubble are still not set in stone, sources say).

With Las Vegas hotel rooms not exactly being booked to capacity during the times of COVID-19, the league may be able to relatively easily find a natural bubble for itself by building upon the existing structure and budget it already has in place for player housing and the showcase. Most G League players also have roommates, making the amount of rooms necessary less than the NBA bubble, where every player got their own private accommodations.

The G League also recently invested in the creation the G League select team (based in Walnut Creek, California) that was set to debut this season — signing five-start prospect Jalen Green, among other notable players. The bubble would give the league an opportunity to showcase that roster that would not exist otherwise. NBA teams also likely want opportunities for their young players to continue to learn and grow. The Lakers, for example, own the South Bay Lakers, where their only 2019 draft pick (Talen Horton-Tucker) and pair of two-way players (Devontae Cacok and Kostas Antetokounmpo) played the majority of their minutes during the 2019-20 season, and where the team developed Alex Caruso in prior years.

Despite these discussions, however, a deal is not done, and would have to be approved by the G League’s brand-new union as well. To demonstrate how tentative this all still is, one player that spoke to Silver Screen and Roll hadn’t even heard the league might be on its way back. Still, the G League even having a shot to play this season is somewhat of a surprise due to its normal reliance on commercial travel, making these discussions even happening notable in and of itself.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.

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