And the show has begun! The National Basketball Association (NBA) scrimmages inside the Disney bubble have kicked off and it seems teams are raring to give it their best shot for the playoffs in this interrupted 2019-2020 season.
The contenders look solid. The Los Angeles Clippers, Indiana Pacers and Milwaukee Bucks look very sharp. The Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers tune up also gave us a good glimpse of their playoff hopes.
With Rajon Rondo injured and Avery Bradley opting out of the restart, it seems ball handling duties will fall under the hands of Kentavious Caldwell Pope, Alex Caruso and Lebron James. I see James will most likely be the ball handler and playmaker at the stretch. The Lakers finishing team would look like LBJ at point, Anthony Davis at center combined with 3 shooters: Danny Green, KCP and perhaps Dion Waiters who looks very much in shape in his comeback attempt.
An interesting twist in the scrimmage is when the Miami Heat took things to the next level with video taped fans cheering for them as the designated home team against the Sacramento Kings. I would expect each team to reinvent and find ways to keep the feel of home court advantage specially when the playoff games begin.
It’s too early to say which teams are going to make it all the way since these scrimmages are meant to give players a chance to get back in the balling groove before the actual rigour of the seeding games and the playoffs.
What’s amazing is how the NBA made this bubble actually work! Even without the live audience, they were able to somehow make it close to normal even showing the backdraft of the benches in black with LED like billboards flashing the logos of the NBA home team. The live announcers are also more “animated” as I believe you really need to talk more without the usual energy of the fans that add vibe to the game.
I attribute this to the genius of NBA commissioner Adam Silver. The NBA hard court also has the Black Lives Matter slogan printed on the floor to make the games more relevant to current issues and the NBA’s stand on it. This bubble experiment is bound to succeed and could possibly be the blueprint of all major professional sports in the United States once they start opening up again. The NBA is also embracing technology to try to bring live fans via partnership with Microsoft. Fans can enjoy watching games live as if they are actually in the stands cheering for their teams. Now that is also one thing to look forward to. Silver will be a tough act to follow. He has set the bar for future commissioners of the league.
I just wish that the regular games get broadcasted on cable tv here in the Philippines so we could all start witnessing NBA history unfold. This could be the norm for sports until a vaccine for the covid 19 virus is developed.
The PBA’s Future
Thirdy Ravena hooking up with the Japan B League, Greg Slaughter signing up with a Euroleague agency, Kai Sotto signed and committed to the NBA G-League. These are but a few developments happening in local hoops. I believe Kobe Paras, the Gomez De Liano brothers, Juan and Javi, perhaps even current Ateneo rookie Dwight Ramos might follow the same route, that of signing pro ball internationally. Even Talk N Text Sophomore Bobby Ray Parks’ short term deal with Talk N Text doesn’t guarantee a long term commitment to the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA).
If the trend of high profile players seeking asylum (and a heftier payday) overseas, what does this do to the future of Asia’s first pro league? I believe the PBA will continue its legacy with a core base of basketball fans but the viewership may possibly dwindle because the amateur stars might grab the first international opportunity or at best just sign a short 1-2 year rookie deal in the PBA to get more seasoned before making the leap to the next level.
This is still good for Philippine hoops because we know our players are now being recognised and respected globally, thanks to the Gilas Pilipinas program. Talents playing abroad won’t lose their eligibility to play for the national team so the Gilas program will be ensured of a steady supply of players. What used to be a league that every homegrown kid dreams to join will now be a second or third tier option for the blue chips.
It is possible that the PBA ends up as a farm team for other Asian and European ball clubs. Knowing how the politics of sports is in the country, the knee jerk reaction would be to tighten controls to make amateur stars think twice before playing abroad. My personal opinion is that the PBA embraces this new would be norm and device ways to upgrade their policies to make it easier for the players. Eg: update the max salary for a high profile talent. This may require a player ranking system similar to what the Australian National Basketball League (NBL) does. It may require the PBA to apply a soft cap system if they intend to recruit the ranked amateur stars
Ultimately, the winner is the Filipino player and pinoy hoops in general. The Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas or SBP may need to be the mediator between the amateur ranks, the pro league and international ball clubs to make sure that the future stars are protected, educated and given access to the best possible options for their livelihood and career.
With Metro Manila possibly going back to modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) and the lack of government strategy or even a stimulus funding to help businesses and sports, the Pinoy baller has no choice but to expedite the decision to play overseas. FEU Tamaraw, Ken Tuffin, didn’t hesitate to play in the New Zealand NBL the moment he got drafted.
If our talented young athletes decide to take their talents overseas, my wish is for us to support and not be a roadblock. Pave the way, don’t set up barriers. Pinoys who excel overseas will always return to the motherland and will always give something back. That’s just how we are.
(The writer is a senior leader in the Business Process Outsourcing industry managing Philippine countryside operations)