Back to the bubble: G League season will be played at Disney

The G League will crown its 2021 champion in a bubble, just as the NBA did last season.

Plans were announced Friday for the G League season, which will be condensed and played at the Walt Disney World resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Teams have been given a preliminary plan calling for games to begin around Feb. 8, but no schedule details have been set.

There will be 18 teams in the league, including the G League Ignite — the new team formed this season to serve primarily as a one-year development program for elite NBA draft prospects. Eventually, eight teams will advance to a single-elimination playoff.

Former NBA players who have signed with the G League in recent weeks include 2008 No. 2 overall draft pick Michael Beasley, Lance Stephenson, Jeremy Lin and Nik Stauskas. All did so with plans of playing in the Disney bubble.

“We worked closely with our teams, the Basketball Players Union, and public health experts to develop a structure that allows our teams to gather at a single site and safely play,” NBA G League President Shareef Abdur-Rahim said. “We are thrilled to get back to basketball and to fulfill our mission as a critical resource for the NBA in developing players, coaches, referees, athletic trainers and front-office staff.”

The season is expected to last for about a month.

The G League did not crown a champion last season. It suspended play March 12, one day after the NBA originally did, in response to the coronavirus pandemic and ultimately cancelled the remainder of its season in early June.

NBA teams that are not sending affiliates to the G League bubble will still be permitted to assign roster players and transfer two-way contract signees to go play at Disney. It will be a similar operational plan to what the NBA used at Disney from July until October — including daily testing, strict protocols and other mechanisms designed for safety. Those rules will also be in place for coaches, team staff and league staff that goes to Disney.

The 17 NBA clubs sending affiliates to the bubble are the Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio, Cleveland, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Indiana, Charlotte, Minnesota, Orlando, Brooklyn, Memphis, Oklahoma City, Toronto, Houston, Utah, Golden State and New York.

Some opted out, including the Los Angeles Lakers’ affiliate.

“While we appreciate the G League’s efforts in putting together this model to accommodate all member teams, we have determined this is the best course of action for the Lakers organization,” the South Bay Lakers said in a statement Friday. “We look forward to our eventual return to G League basketball. In the meantime, we will continue to assign opportunities to our staff as they become available.”

Capitanes — a Mexico City-based team from the top Mexican pro league — was scheduled to join the league this season as its 29th team, the start of what was planned as a five-year experiment that would have made the club the first G League team from outside the U.S. and Canada. That plan is now apparently delayed, as Capitanes will not be sending a team to the bubble this season.

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