There are very clear talks about the potential re-opening of the NBA season. While this provides a lot of much needed excitement to many of the fans, the process of the NBA returning brings with it many significant challenges.
There are a plethora of logistical issues that can occur with resuming the season. And while those issues deserve an article of its own, I want to primarily focus on the competitive issues that may occur if the season were to resume. In this article, I will provide three potential scenarios that believe could occur in order to resume the NBA season
Play the Final 15 games
In an ideal situation, the NBA would simply finish the rest of the season and would have all of the teams play. This would allow teams like the Pelicans, Trailblazers and the Spurs a chance to attain a playoff berth. While some may argue that each team earned their current rank in the standing, I would argue that it would be unfair to teams that are now going to play their easiest stretch of basketball.
Look at the Pelicans who had their easiest stretch of games at the end of the year. In addition, this gives teams that are already playoff teams an opportunity to essentially practice and get ready for the playoffs. Considering the hiatus, I would expect the first few games back to be a little sloppy, but then the 15+ games would provide enough of a buffer to allow teams to get ready for the playoffs.
The problem is that there are many teams that would be unwilling to risk their NBA players in these circumstances due to the fact that they are already eliminated from the playoffs. Take for instance the Golden State Warriors who are statistically out of the playoffs. They have virtually no incentive to win games and are putting players at the risk of getting infected.
The simple solution to this issue would simply have these teams either forfeit for the rest of the season allowing the rest of the games they would have played to be counted as wins or the team can just play rotational players in order to ensure that they are not risking their star players.
However, the other major problem is that this is the by-far the most impractical option. This would cause the regular season to continue for at least a month until the actual playoff, which normally lasts for at least 2 months. This would potentially cause the finals to occur during the same time as the NFL and college season, which would be terrible for business. Therefore, while I like this idea, it is no doubt the most impractical and least plausible option.
Fulfill TV contract and immediately start the playoffs
While it may be impractical to finish the entire NBA season, the league is going to do everything in its power to fulfill its TV contracts. Many of the TV contracts require that each of the NBA teams play a total of at least 70 games. Therefore in order to reach this requirement, the league would essentially need every team to play about 3 more games, which would allow the league to start the playoffs earlier.
Another positive aspect is that if the playoffs started early enough, they would not have to worry about competing with either the NFL or college football. However, in terms of per competition, this is one of the worst options available. The problems however arise with teams in the Western Conference, especially teams fighting for that last playoff spot. These teams are only a few games behind Memphis and were hoping that the final stretch of the season would help propel the team into that final playoff spot.
The problem with only playing 3 games is that even if a team like Portland were to win all 3 games, it still would not be enough to propel them to that final playoff spot. This has led a player like Damian Lillard to state that if this proposition were to occur, then he would not participate in the regular season. And I am sure the majority of other teams would follow suit.
Consider every team behind the Orlando magic. The only legitimate reason for them to play is to maintain their TV contract. Aside from that, this proposal would have provided no major incentives to these teams and would cause the rest of the regular season to be a waste of time and energy. Also five games would not be a long enough buffer to allow teams and players to be ready to compete at their optimal level.
This could cause players to remain rusty during the playoffs, and could ultimately damage the best product of the NBA. While this is my least favorite option, it is the most practical, and is the most likely plan NBA will adopt, so it will not have to compete with the NFL or college football.
Fulfill TV contract and create a mini-playoffs
The last option that the NBA could implement is having a mini version of the playoffs prior to the start of the actual playoffs. How this would work is that the NBA could have NBA teams play the minimum number of games to earn the money for their TV contracts, and then enter a mini playoff to determine the 8th and 7th seed for each conference in the playoffs.
Ideally it would be a 3-game series between the 8th and 9th seed and the 7th and 10th seed. This would be ideal as the teams in the lower seeds would still have a chance to compete in the mini playoffs and would therefore have a chance to play in the playoffs. This would both make the last few games of the regular season very exciting, and would provide a proper buffer to the other playoff teams to ensure a better postseason product.
While it would extend the season, it would at most only add 6 more games per conference. It would extend the playoffs for a week, but the net benefit of this arrangement would provide much needed life to the season. The only real problem is that it would be unfair for teams like the Mavericks or the Magic who were essentially guaranteed a playoff spot in all other scenarios.
In this proposal, a team that earned their spot could lose and would be unfair considering the work the team placed in the season. My rebuttal to this critique is that if the 7th or 8th seed cannot beat a lower seed in a series then quite frankly they do not deserve that seed and would have also undoubtedly lost in the first round of the playoffs. While it is not the most ideal scenario, I believe this is a compromise that would allow fairness while also maintaining the proper timeline of the NBA playoffs.
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