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NBA Bubble Tea: Yacht Club

by Joshua Doering

Since the NBA has so nicely divided its teams into a hotel hierarchy, 110 Sports has decided to take full advantage. To preview the NBA’s return on July 30, the NBA Bubble Tea series will examine the main question surrounding all 22 teams at the Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando. Naturally, the teams will be divided based on the hotel they are staying in. 

While the six teams staying at the Yacht Club — Washington, Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento, San Antonio and Phoenix — own the six worst records among teams in Orlando, there are still intriguing storylines to explore, both on and off the court. 

Portland Trail Blazers: How much better is this team with a healthy Jusuf Nurkić and Zach Collins?

Just last season, Portland finished third in the West with a 53-29 record and reached the Western Conference Finals. Jusuf Nurkić started 72 of those games, averaging 15.6 points and 10.4 rebounds. The six-year pro is finally healthy after suffering a leg injury at the end of last season that he was recovering from until mid-March. Portland’s other returning big man from last season, Zach Collins, is also good to go after playing in just three games so far this season following shoulder surgery. 

The additions of Carmelo Anthony and Hassan Whiteside (31.6 points and 15.2 rebounds per game combined) along with the returns of Nurkić and Collins make this rendition of the Blazers even more dangerous than last year’s. Should Terry Stotts’ team manage to advance past the play-in tournament, they will pose a different kind of threat than one seeds are used to seeing in the first round of the playoffs. If nothing else, a strong showing in Orlando gives Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum even more confidence this team can compete for a title next season. 

Photo by Fenchieinportland / Wikimedia  Commons

New Orleans Pelicans: How good are the Pelicans at their best?

Another dozen or so games with Zion Williamson in a Pelicans uniform isn’t going to provide a complete answer to this question, but the way New Orleans performs in Orlando gives everyone a better idea of how close they are to becoming one of the better teams in the league. In all likelihood, the Pelicans will have to hold off the aforementioned Trail Blazers (among other teams) and beat the Memphis Grizzlies twice in the play-in just to reach the first round of the playoffs. 

New Orleans is 10-9 in the 19 games Williamson’s played, a clear improvement from its 18-27 mark without him but not enough to suggest this team is about to tear through its seeding games and give the Lakers all they can handle in a seven-game series. Even with Williamson, the Pelicans might be the 10th-best Western Conference team in the bubble. Getting past the play-in tournament would absolutely be a win for Alvin Gentry’s squad heading into the 2020-2021 season.

Photo by TonytheTiger / Wikimedia Commons

Sacramento Kings: How does Bogdan Bogdanovic’s performance impact his upcoming restricted free agency?

With the $40+ million the Kings are paying Harrison Barnes and Buddy Hield annually and De’Aaron Fox rapidly approaching free agency, Sacramento is facing serious financial constraints in the not-so-distant future. The first casualty of the Kings’ salary cap dilemma may be Bogdanovic, who is a restricted free agent after this season.

The three-year veteran, who turns 28 in August, is averaging a career-high 14.5 points, the fourth-highest total on the team. A strong showing in Orlando could very well lead to an offer sheet Sacramento is hesitant to match. It could also convince the Kings Bogdanovic needs to be retained regardless of the price. 

Now that the Kings have identified a core group they want to move forward with, their next job is figuring out what pieces to put around that core, and how much they’re willing to pay for them.

Photo by Petar Milošević / Wikimedia Commons

San Antonio Spurs: How will Gregg Popovich use his voice surrounding social justice issues?

The Spurs are without LaMarcus Aldridge and currently sit 12th in the West. Getting into the play-in tournament would be one of the most impressive accomplishments of Gregg Popovich’s career. While what happens with the Spurs on the court isn’t all that interesting, Popovich has never been shy about giving his uncensored thoughts on the state of his country. 

In his first comments after George Floyd’s death, Popovich called the leader of the free world “deranged,” “a destroyer,” and a “coward.” He then recorded a video as part of the team’s #SpursVoices social media campaign that garnered over a million views. 

The Black Lives Matter movement is obviously going to be a topic of conversation throughout the restart, which means Popovich will continue to be asked about it. He’s going to say what he thinks and when he does, people are going to listen because his words are profound, thoughtful and convicting. The bubble would not be the same without Popovich in it, even if it’s only for a little while. 

Photo by Zereshk / Wikimedia Commons

Phoenix Suns: Can Monty Williams continue building the culture he wants and deepen the relationships he has with his players?

The Phoenix Suns played 65 games before the NBA shut down and still finished with seven more victories in year one under Monty Williams than they recorded in 82 games last season. This team is getting better, and its three top scorers — Devin Booker, Kelly Oubre and Deandre Ayton — are all under the age of 25. Phoenix is going home after the seeding games are completed, but the time Williams gets with his players could prove invaluable moving forward. 

Being an NBA head coach is about one thing above all else: relationships. The Suns aren’t going anywhere if Booker and Williams don’t trust each other. If Booker decides he wants to go elsewhere at any point in the next four years, there isn’t much Phoenix can do about it. The best way to prevent that is to win games with a coach he respects. Being in the same place as often as possible certainly helps, especially for a new coach still learning about his players.

Photo by Keith Allison / Wikimedia Commons

Washington Wizards: Can Washington land the No. 1 overall pick in the draft lottery?

This is about the most interesting storyline surrounding each team in the bubble. Nobody said it had to occur before the team was eliminated. It will take a miracle for the Wizards to still be around when the lottery takes place on Aug. 25, but they have a 4.5% chance of getting the first pick. With a healthy John Wall, Bradley Beal and another nice piece via the draft, Washington is a playoff team next season that could end up with home court advantage in the first round.

Photo by Keith Allison / Wikimedia Commons

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