On a call with the NBA’s Board of Governors on Thursday, NBA commissioner Adam Silver will outline a 22-team proposal for returning to play at Walt Disney World Resort, per The Athletic’s Shams Charania.
The league’s owners are expected to endorse the proposal, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
The proposal reportedly includes the 16 teams currently slotted for playoffs seeds and six additional teams. According to Wojnarowski, all 22 teams will play eight additional regular-season games to determine seeding prior to a play-in series for the eighth seed. That tournament will feature the eighth- and ninth-place teams, only if they finish within four games of each other, Charania reported. The ninth-place team would then have to win two straight head-to-head games to unseat the eighth seed.
Which teams will be invited to Orlando?
The six teams joining the current top-eight seeds in each conference are the Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs, Phoenix Suns and Washington Wizards, per Wojnarowski. Only the Wizards represent the Eastern Conference. The East’s Charlotte Hornets and Chicago Bulls are the only teams currently within eight games of a playoff spot that will not be invited.
The league reportedly plans to resume the regular season on July 31 and finish playoffs by October 12.
Silver previously considered options that included only the 16 playoff teams, 20 teams playing a World Cup-style group play-in stage and all 30 teams finishing a 72-game regular season prior to the playoffs.
According to Charania, Hornets owner Michael Jordan urged the commissioner not to consider options that called for teams to return for meaningless games out of concern for player health amid the coronavirus pandemic and safety from injuries potentially caused by a condensed schedule following a four-month hiatus. The Bulls were reportedly among those that supported a 30-team return to action.
Play-in questions that need to be answered
In the East, the Wizards (24-40) will have to close the gap on either the Orlando Magic (30-35) or Brooklyn Nets (30-34) to four games, which is entirely possible, even if all three will play their remaining eight regular-season games against playoff-caliber opponents. One Bradley Beal hot streak for Washington could cost the Magic a playoff spot that previously seemed inevitable with a five-game lead in the loss column and only 17 games remaining in the season. Also, the one extra game Orlando played prior to the hiatus could mean the difference between the seventh seed and not making the playoffs.
On the other side of the bracket, the Suns trail the Memphis Grizzlies by six games for the eight seed. Cutting two games off that in the final eight is far more likely than overcoming six would have been if they played the originally scheduled 17 games left in the regular season. Of course, trimming the Grizzlies’ lead and leapfrogging the four teams between them in that time makes that a whole lot more difficult.
The Blazers, Pelicans and Kings are all 3 1/2 games behind Memphis, and the Spurs are only a half game behind them. Portland has played 66 games to date, New Orleans and Sacramento have played 64, and San Antonio has played 63. Are the Spurs disadvantaged simply by when the season stopped? What happens if all three of those other teams stay tied for ninth place? Is there a more elaborate play-in tournament? Or do they play some sort of round robin to determine who challenges the eighth seed?
There is no perfect solution to a disrupted season, and this may be about the best. You can bet Silver weighed every option financially on a risk-reward basis, and there is still considerable risk to any return.
Risk vs. reward
The proposed window gives players 74 days to play a maximum of 36 games (38 in the unlikely event a ninth-place team unseats an eighth seed and plays four straight seven-game series), so they essentially will play every other day, save for breaks between series that end in fewer than seven games. That eases some injury risk, but there is no telling how taxing an expedited return after such a long layoff could be, and even every other day in the playoffs is more condensed than the traditional drawn-out schedule.
Then, there is the more pressing concern surrounding the coronavirus epidemic. Walt Disney World will play host to 22 rosters of at least 15 players plus coaching staffs and additional team personnel, all of whom will come into contact with television broadcast crews, arena workers and hospitality staff, among others. Players will also be allowed to host guests once the playoffs start, according to Charania.
It is a ripe atmosphere for COVID-19, even if everyone inside the single-location site is tested on a daily basis, and especially if players are allowed to leave and reenter. While games will not feature fans, the amusement park will be open to the public in some capacity well before the league resumes its season. Any risk that could result in lives lost — either directly or indirectly tied to the NBA — is a massive one.
Obviously, this will be a financial boon to the league, as 22 of its 30 teams will fulfill contractual obligations to their regional sports networks, and national TV playoff ratings could be astronomical. Players will resume earning their full paychecks and make close to 90 percent of their full salaries, although there will be some negotiation necessary in order to compensate the eight teams left home.
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