SALT LAKE CITY — The NHL announced Tuesday that it will resume play by heading straight into a modified postseason rather than resume regular-season play. The NBA appears to be on track to resume its season this summer in Orlando, but details of a return are still up in the air.
Working out the logistics of what the NBA’s remaining season and/or playoffs will look like is proving to be a much more nuanced and difficult task.
There are competing agendas at play from every level in the NBA, from the league office down to individual players, and there probably won’t be a solution that makes everyone happy.
Let’s start things off with looking at how the players are feeling about everything.
ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne spoke with National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts Friday and reported that Roberts has been conducting team-by-team virtual meetings with the players this week. During those calls Roberts has found that the overwhelming consensus is players are ready and willing to play, but they’re getting a little restless.
“It’s time. It’s time,” Roberts told ESPN. “It’s been two and a half months of, ‘What if?’ My players need some level of certainty. I think everybody does.”
But, just because there is a willingness to play doesn’t mean that the NBA’s eventual decision will be one that players find favorable. The league is still trying to figure out what format games will be played once things get started. NBA commissioner Adam Silver is looking at multiple scenarios, including playing a handful of regular-season games following a training camp and leading into the playoffs, forgoing the rest of the regular season and going straight to the playoffs, or hosting a play-in tournament that would give some of the teams on the edge of playoff seeding a chance to join the postseason ranks, to name a few.
Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, whose team currently sits at ninth in the Western Conference, spoke with Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes on Tuesday and said if his team doesn’t have a chance to compete in the playoffs, he won’t be participating in the season restart.
“If we come back and I don’t have an opportunity to make the playoffs, I will show up to work, I’ll be at practice and I’ll be with my team. I’m going to do all that and then I’m going to be sitting right on that bench during the games,” Lillard told Yahoo Sports. “If they come back and say it’s something like a tournament, play-in style, between the No. 7 and No. 12 seeds, if we’re playing for playoff spots, then I think that’s perfect.”
There are also players who have preexisting conditions that would put them at a higher risk if they were to contract the coronavirus, like Cleveland Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr., who has said there could be players unwilling to take the risk of returning this summer.
Additionally, if the NBA decides to bring all 30 teams together and play a handful of regular-season games, don’t be surprised if some of the league’s star players on nonplayoff teams — Golden State’s Stephen Curry for example — watch from the sidelines.
Players aren’t the only ones who have a difference of opinion or have been speaking their mind about what they think should happen. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski agents have been hinting to team general managers that they don’t want their clients, who have had good seasons and are heading into free agency, damaging their stock in order to play a few games.
The league, no matter what format it decides on, will no doubt have to come to an agreement about what to do with players who elect not to play for one reason or another.
Meanwhile, there are multiple competing agendas among executives depending on which team they work for and what their short- and long-term goals are.
As Wojnarowski reported, there are multiple teams, especially those who are stacked with young players and are still in a rebuilding phase, that are looking forward to getting the players more time on the court together, such as the Atlanta Hawks.
“Our guys are excited about the opportunity to get back to it,” Travis Schlenk, the Hawks’ president of basketball operations and general manager, told ESPN. “It has importance for us. We’re a young team, and because of injuries and some other things this season, we didn’t get to see them all together.”
But there are plenty of other rebuilding teams who would prefer their team not play any remaining regular-season games, keep their high lottery position, and come back next season after having taken another step in the rebuilding process.
There are, of course, teams that would prefer to keep the current playoff seeding as is, like the Utah Jazz, who would face off against the Oklahoma City Thunder in a first-round playoff series based on current standings. If the NBA chooses to seed the playoff teams 1-16 based on record, rather than splitting the two teams by conference, the Jazz would face the Houston Rockets in the first round.
No matter how the matchup looks, the Jazz would most likely prefer to avoid the Rockets and the monotony of a third-straight year pitted against them in the postseason.
With any type of reseeding or new playoff format there are going to be winners, losers, advantages, disadvantages and upsets. Since the league is presumably considering every type of scenario, Silver is hearing from all sides who are gunning for the scenario that would best suit their team.
The league office
In the midst of all the noise from beyond the league office, Silver has to deal with his own competing interests.
On one hand there’s the business side of the NBA. Without regular-season games the NBA will lose out on some of the revenue from regional broadcasting contracts, and cutting the field to just playoff teams means the NBA will lose out on viewership from markets that do not have a playoff-bound team.
Since the NBA is already dealing with a significant dip in revenue due to the season suspension and the prospect of playing without fans, any way it can recoup some of that money is something to think about.
On the other hand, getting 30 teams to buy in when there could be dissent and lack of interest from players could be an embarrassment for the league. There’s also the safety of the players to think about.
One of the reasons that the NHL and its players association agreed to forego the regular season and move straight into the playoffs is the plain fact that less people means less risk. A smaller field of teams descending on a bubble city like Orlando will mean that less testing needed, less oversight, and more control over an already risky situation.
Silver has a very tough task ahead in ultimately deciding how the NBA moves forward. With so many competing interests, there’s no way to make everyone happy and Silver knows that.