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The 8 non-bubble teams should play for the #1 pick

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The 8 teams not in the bubble don’t need a 9-month gap between the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons. Let’s have some fun here.

Atlanta Hawks v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

The NBA is finally coming back, as 22 teams will be going to Disney World to complete for a championship. The bottom-8 teams were not invited: Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Atlanta Hawks, Detroit Pistons, New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls, and Charlotte Hornets.

As things currently stand, all of these teams will have nearly a 10-month gap between March 11th and the opener for the 2020-21 season (probably in December). That’s a long time for competitive basketball, and the organizations here realize the implications behind it — particularly tied to the development of its young players.

All of these ideas are likely to happen, as most of these teams can’t afford this type of stagnation. If the NBA wanted to get innovative here, they should consider a tournament for the number one pick.

Yes, it sounds outlandish, and teams that could miss the playoffs may be upset at losing the chance to acquire a top-4 pick. However, those teams have a playoff berth to play for. These teams could also have a chance to play meaningful basketball. Playing for the number one pick would give these “Delete 8” something to play for, a platform that could create young stars, and a chance to evaluate the long-term future.

How It Could Be Structured?

Beforehand, there would need to be a mini training camp and exhibition games to shake off the rust, similar to the bubble system. This tournament would fall under traditional 8-team bracket with the seedings going in reverse order:

  • 1) Golden State Warriors vs. 8) Charlotte Hornets
  • 4) Atlanta Hawks vs. 5) Detroit Pistons
  • 3) Minnesota Timberwolves vs. 6) New York Knicks
  • 2) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. 7) Chicago Bulls

Instead of going best-of-7, they could go off a best-of-5 format. To determine the 3rd and 4th picks, there could be another best-of-3 matchup for 3rd between the two semi-final losers. After that, picks 5-14 go by record prior to the league shutdown.

At most, a team could play up to 15 games, which is huge for the development of a young team. In addition, unless a team gets swept, losing teams get 4-5 games — plus whatever number of exhibition games — to feed reps to, and evaluate, its young talent.

What’s In It For the Teams?

Obviously the prize here is a top-4 pick. Even in a lackluster draft, the opportunity to land a high-end talent is huge for any rebuild — or reboot in the Warriors’ case. In addition, each of these teams have something to play beyond the picks.

Golden State could evaluate the young talent around Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green to see who could play big minutes for its potential playoff return. Cleveland would have more reps to see both of its awkward pairs together (Collin Sexton and Darius Garland; Kevin Love and Andre Drummond). Charlotte found some gems in Devonte Graham and PJ Washington, so finding a way to sustain that momentum is crucial for this small-market rebuild.

A few of these teams also made big moves at the trade deadline. The Hawks never had the chance to see how Clint Capela fits alongside Trae Young and John Collins. While the pairing of D’Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns catches the public eye, it’s also an opportunity to see how Malik Beasley and Jarrett Culver fit alongside them.

Other teams are in the midst of a front office shakeup — Chicago, New York, and Detroit — and could use this team to evaluate potential cornerstones for the long haul. How would each of these young players respond to a bit of pressure?

Each team is at a crucial point of its team development, and creating incentive for them could pay dividends in the long-run?

What’s In It for the League?

For the league, it’s an exciting way to involve the teams that didn’t make it to Disney. It could be a great way to generate some new stars as well.

If this structure held true, everyone would be treated to a Trae Young and Steph Curry matchup, which would be glorious. People will also have their eyes on the All-Star pairing of Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell. It also gives extra exposure to “good stats” players such as Colin Sexton and Devonte Graham.

If they were could find a sweet spot where they’re running these games when the bubble’s not going on, surely fans will want to see how this shakes out.

Where Could This Take Place?

It probably wouldn’t be a good idea to have all 30 teams in Disney. However, could they bubble these 8 teams in Las Vegas? When the NBA was in discussions to return, Vegas was one of the locations mentioned for the bubble. With 22 teams, Vegas seemed like a difficult bubble spot, but it could work with 8 teams.

Last week, Texas announced that they would operate games at a 50% capacity. While the NBA would probably prefer the “empty arena” route, this allows the players to invite a select number of family to these teams. The problem is finding a city where they could bubble the teams in. If they did go this with this option, they could explore the possibility of Austin, especially since it could be an expansion option, with its presence in the tech industry.


This scenario would never happen. It’s a tough sell, as teams in the top-3 would probably prefer their lottery odds, rather than this tournament format. In addition, those teams in the bubble that miss the playoffs wouldn’t be for this as well — i.e., Portland. Nonetheless, it would be a fun one-year experience that’d generate more excitement than watching ping-pong balls.

It’d also be fun to see how players respond to this. Do some teams reel it in to preserve health? Or do players kick up the intensity to win the number one pick and pair themselves with LaMelo Ball, Anthony Edwards, or James Wiseman?

This idea would never gain traction, but one could hope, right?

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