NBA has its work cut out with the bubble-less season

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • The Michael Jordan statue stands in front of an I Voted banner on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in the atrium of the United Center, transformed for the first time into a super voting site in Chicago.

    The Michael Jordan statue stands in front of an I Voted banner on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in the atrium of the United Center, transformed for the first time into a super voting site in Chicago. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 11/27/2020 6:55 PM

The NBA released its preseason schedule Friday and the Bulls might have a unique experience right away.

The Bulls' preseason begins with two home games against the Houston Rockets, on Dec. 11 and Dec. 13, both at 7 p.m. Then they'll play two games in Oklahoma City on Dec. 16 and 18.

 

The schedule takes first-year Bulls coach Billy Donovan back to his former coaching home right away. But it's also unique because the Thunder are one of the few teams in the league that plans to allow fans in the arena at the start of the season.

It's not clear when or if the Bulls will be allowed to host fans at the United Center. Rules about game attendance are being set by cities and states.

Back in the spring, there were plenty of questions about whether the NBA could pull off the Orlando bubble. All things considered, it ran pretty efficiently and the league was able to complete a full playoff schedule roughly five months after the season was suspended.

Now the league is coming right back with a non-bubble season, complete with 72 games and travel. Opening night of the regular season is set for Dec. 22.

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Needless to say, this will be a challenge. Major League Baseball managed to complete the 2020 season with similar circumstances. But basketball is a high-energy, close contact sport. The risk of spreading a highly contagious disease at a basketball game or practice would seem to be much greater than baseball or football.

The most important part for any sport trying to play during the pandemic is for all participants to stay home as much as possible. The NBA's plan is going to last eight months and include travel to all 30 NBA cities.

You wonder why the NBA didn't plan for a shorter season, then try to come back with a regularly-scheduled 2021-22 campaign, ideally with fans in the seats.

But they chose a 72-game model, with the Finals slated for July. The regular-season schedule is not out yet, but there was talk of playing two-game series to help limit travel slightly.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The Thunder haven't specified how many fans will be allowed at home games. The team has said it will require 6 feet between groups of people and masks worn at all times. Self-service ticket-scanning and concessions have been installed, and extra staff members will be on hand to help sanitize the restrooms.

Three other teams have announced plans to host fans. Memphis is aiming for 20% capacity at FedEx Forum, Utah is planning to allow 1,500 fans per game, and Atlanta is allowing a small number of family and friends. Obviously, everything is subject to change.

Bulls bring back Vonleh

The Bulls officially announced the signing of power forward Noah Vonleh on Friday. He spent part of the 2017-18 season with the Bulls, appearing in 21 games, and has always been a steady rebounder while bouncing around the NBA.

It's an interesting addition, because the Bulls already had a full slate of players on guaranteed contracts. Maybe Vonleh is just trying to earn a job in training camp, but logic suggests this might be the time to talk buyout with Cristiano Felicio. In theory, Felicio could find a new home overseas where he'd get more playing time, and the Bulls would save a few bucks.

The lowest-priced guy on the roster right now is center Daniel Gafford at $1.5 million, but he's not likely to be released. Luke Kornet is set to make $2.3 million.

There was also a report the Bulls signed guard Zach Norvell, who spent two years at Gonzaga then played briefly for Golden State and the Lakers last season. He's likely pegged for the Windy City Bulls, although no plans for the G-League season have been announced yet.

Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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