The Naismith Cup – Round 2.
If the NBA is able to resume its season this summer, there’s a strong chance of a playoff matchup between the Toronto Raptors and the Memphis Grizzlies.
ESPN’s Brian Windhorst discussed what the league’s return to action might look like, as well as the potential location. He was joined on his podcast, The Hoop Collective, by ESPN’s Tim Bontemps and Bobby Marks.
As far as a format goes, the insiders agreed that a 16-team playoff would be the best decision.
“Any rational person who looks at this with a level head is going to say that this needs to be a 16-team playoff scenario,” Windhorst stresses. “It’s half the people you gotta protect; half the chances of people getting infected.”
Another option would be a hybrid model including anywhere between 16 and 30 teams. Similar to European tournaments or the Olympics, this would include a round-robin bracket with the top teams moving forward.
At the end of the day, a 16-team format still appears to be the most viable option.
“The easiest thing for the league is to keep it simple,” Windhorst said. “We’re basically in survival mode right now to try and salvage some type of playoff here, to crown a champion,”
“Going from 30 teams to keeping it simple at 16 teams and mitigating against risk and disaster is the best solution going forward.”
Kaitlin O’Toole: The NBA is looking to return to the season this summer, and aside from making sure it’s safe, the league’s other biggest question is how to fairly crown a 2020 NBA champion. Joining me now is Toronto Raptors team reporter Aaron Rose. Aaron, before the season was suspended, four teams had clinched playoff spots. The Bucks, Lakers, Raptors and Celtics, with only a handful of spots still up for grabs. One idea that the NBA is reportedly considering now is seeding every playoff team, 1 through 16. What would this mean for the Raptors?
Aaron Rose: Well, it would probably mean the Raptors get a taste of the West, something they obviously have never had in their franchise history. It probably means that the Raptors would start the playoffs against Memphis instead of Brooklyn. A match up I think Raptors fans would like to see, because Memphis is a young, exciting team with two Canadians in Dillon Brooks and Brandon Clark and former Raptor Jonas Valanciunas on the roster. I think Memphis could give Toronto a little bit of trouble with their youth and speed, but ultimately, if we’ve learned anything from NBA history, it’s that when the playoffs come around, it’s all about playoff experience. Then I think the other biggest difference is in the second round, where Toronto would probably take on the Denver Nuggets instead of the Boston Celtics. And to me, Denver is a much better match up simply because of Toronto’s bigs in Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol. I think Marc Gasol is a great match up against Nikola Jokic. And I think the Raptors would certainly have the benefit downlow in dominating the post.
Kaitlin O’Toole: So if things continue this way, let’s talk about the semifinals. There would be a potential that they could face the Lakers. I mean, is this something that the Raptors would be concerned about going up against someone like LeBron?
Aaron Rose: I think LeBron is the boogie man for the Toronto Raptors. He’s 12-2 all time against Toronto, and he’s somebody Raptors fans do not want to see, but they’re probably going to have to face him either in the semifinals or in the finals. So you might as well get it out of the way. And it creates a really interesting finals where the Raptors would probably take on the Bucks, creating a real big interesting story about is Giannis going to sign with the Raptors in 2021. Does he go into this offseason and decline his contract extension? That would be a really interesting matchup in the finals. And the other potential finals matchup is probably against the L.A. Clippers, where you have Kawhi Leonard taking on his former team and you never know who’s going to be crowned champion. Is it the finals MVP returning to the finals or is the reigning championship team in the Toronto Raptors? Either way, it’s a really interesting story for the Toronto Raptors.
Signed as a 29-year-old free agent, Garbajosa started his season in Toronto coming off the bench behind a lineup built around All-Star forward Bosh, Rasho Nesterovic, Morris Peterson, Anthony Parker, and T.J. Ford. By the end of November, however, Garbo was in the starting lineup and routinely playing over 30 minutes a night (in a Phoenix Suns-lite small-ball run-and-gun lineup). His averages for his rookie season in the NBA don’t jump off the page — 8.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists, shooting splits of 42/34/72 — but Garbajosa’s long-range shooting from the power forward spot, along with his spirit and defensive toughness, meant a lot to Toronto.
To understand that, we have to look at the construction of the Raptors in 2006-07. And to understand that, we have to recount the years leading up to it. After their peak in 2001, the Raptors were in a slow and steady decline. They hit bottom after trading Vince Carter, then hiring Kevin O’Neill as coach, and then kicking off the Rob Babcock-led era. That trio of decisions sent the franchise back to the stone age. After a few years of treading water, the Raptors would land at 27-55 in 2005-06 under second-year coach Sam Mitchell and be forced to start all over again. During that losing campaign, Toronto replaced Babcock with Colangelo — fresh off winning the 2004-05 Executive of the Year award — and looked to reinvent themselves.
For the 2006-07 season, the Raptors nabbed the first overall pick, selecting international man of mystery Andrea Bargnani. Continuing the theme, Colangelo brought in Euro big man Nesterovic (from the Spurs), signed Israeli Super League star Parker, and added the already legendary Garbajosa. By this point in time, it was common knowledge that no big name players wanted to sign in Toronto. The Carter trade proved that some players (like Alonzo Mourning) didn’t even want to report to the Raptors. For the squad to find talent, Colangelo rightly guessed it was time to look elsewhere. (Credit where credit is due, it was Babcock who perhaps inadvertently kickstarted this idea by signing Jose Calderon in 2005.)
The plan worked. The Raptors finished the 2006-07 season at 47-35, garnering Colangelo another Executive of the Year award, along with a Coach of the Year award to Mitchell. Meanwhile, Bosh blossomed into an All-Star, and all of the team’s components came together in ways that made sense. Yes, the Raptors weren’t the best team in the league (and they definitely benefited from being in a weak Atlantic Division), but after a few years of directionless ball, it certainly felt like they knew where they were going.
The league’s 22-page “Phased Return to Sport Protocol” would allow for a maximum of six players at a time to meet in a team’s practice facility, along with a small group of team personnel. On-ice workouts cannot include coaches or trainers and players will have to wear face coverings elsewhere inside team facilities. Players and team personnel will be required to undergo testing in advance of returning to practice facilities or, if the local supply does not allow for widespread testing, to quarantine for 14 days before they can enter.
The league emphasized that these workouts would be voluntary — to allow for safety concerns and any immigration issues for players returning to the United States — and conducted only where local jurisdictions have relaxed restrictions to allow gatherings.
“We are continuing to monitor developments in each of the club’s markets, and may adjust the overall timing if appropriate, following discussion with all relevant parties,” the memo said.
The plan looks to be a starting point for vetting the logistics of the return to play. The competitive and financial stakes of the league’s return and the health risks associated with going back to normal, make any discussion complicated.
The players’ union vote on the playoff format came after considerable debate but received near unanimous approval, with 29 of 31 team representatives voting to continue discussions.
Under the format, the playoffs would expand from 16 teams to 24, with the top four teams in each conference earning byes. Those top four teams would compete in a round-robin tournament to determine seeding, while the other 16 teams competed in best-of-five series. N.H.L. Commissioner Gary Bettman has said that the games would be played without fans and with limited travel. Competition would be confined to between two and four sites, the locations of which have yet to be determined.
The NBA is looking to restart in late July and relocate the whole league inside a Walt Disney Co. complex in Orlando. MLB owners and the players’ union are hammering out a deal that could start the baseball season even sooner. NHL players recently approved plans for an expanded playoff. Even the governors of New York, California and Texas are lending their support.
What their plans have in common is an acceptance that some players may be infected—and a belief that leagues should focus on limiting potential outbreaks.
That represents a massive shift from only a few weeks ago, when sport leaders were exploring reopening with more stringent measures that proved impossible to implement, and it coincides with a broader reassessment of risk as the nation attempts to restart a crippled economy.
“A month ago, complete lockdown was absolutely appropriate,” said Bob Wachter, chair of the department of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. “Part of it was because the disease was so rapidly moving and there was so much we didn’t immediately understand, and part of it was that we needed some time to get moving on some things that absolutely needed to be in place.” Now, though, “I think we’re beginning to learn that with aggressive testing and contact tracing, there are ways of containing the virus.”
The story of how the leagues got to thinking of playing sports again in restricted environments is also the story of how leagues moved the goal posts on safety and how much has changed psychologically and economically since one positive test was enough to wipe out billions of dollars.
In the brave new world of sports, a single positive test might not even stop a game. The leagues are proceeding under the assumption that players and coaches testing positive is inevitable. The future of sports is contingent on baking that risk into their plans.
“I think it may be too stringent to say that one player testing positive means everything has to shut down,” Wachter said.
There is no guarantee these seasons will finish even if they restart. There are still months of hurdles to clear and hard questions to answer. There is also the distinct possibility of disaster if players or coaches get seriously ill.
But the best-case scenario is the sports famine ending with a feast: a summer with NBA and NHL playoff games and MLB action followed by a bounty of NFL, college football, tennis and golf majors in the fall.
The glimmers of hope from sports officials are reflections of broader changes across the U.S. as states reopen, cases decline, testing increases and scientists learn more about this microscopic pathogen that turned the world upside down.
They also have the luxury of peering across the nearest ocean and studying how leagues in Asia and Europe have restarted play—and kept playing through some positive tests.
NBA great Patrick Ewing has left hospital and is recovering at home after being diagnosed with Covid-19, his son said yesterday.
The 57-year-old Hall-of-Famer was hospitalised last week after announcing he had tested positive for the coronavirus.
However the former New York Knicks star and current Georgetown University coach is now on the mend at home, his son Patrick Ewing Jr. said on Twitter.
“I want to thank all of the doctors and hospital staff for taking care of my father during his stay, as well as everyone who has reached out with thoughts and prayers to us since his diagnosis,” Ewing Jr. wrote.
“My father is now home and getting better. We’ll continue to watch his symptoms and follow the CDC guidelines. I hope everyone continues to stay safe and protect yourselves and your loved ones.”
It should probably come as no surprise that Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals, in which the Toronto Raptors beat the Golden State Warriors to become NBA champions for the first time, won Best Live Sports Event for TSN at the Canadian Screen Awards.
In the first of four nights of virtual award presentations on Monday, winners were named in sports, news and information, and documentary and factual categories.
Two stories about tragedies involving young Indigenous males took documentary honours.
“Nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up” won the Ted Rogers Best Feature Length Documentary prize. It’s Tasha Hubbard’s look at the case of Colten Boushie, the 22-year-old Cree man shot and killed in 2016 by white Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley, who was acquitted of murder and manslaughter in the case.
“Find the Secret Path” won Best Biography or Arts Documentary Program for the CBC and Mike and Patrick Downie, brothers of late Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie. The doc weaves the last year of Gord’s life — he died in October 2017 of brain cancer — with the story of Chanie Wenjack, a 12-year-old Anishinaabe boy who died trying to escape a residential school and whose tragedy was the subject of Gord’s “Secret Path” album.
The CBC also won the Donald Brittain Award for Best Social/Political Documentary Program for “Mr. Jane and Finch”; Best Documentary Program for “To the Worlds”; Best History Documentary for “The Accountant of Auschwitz”; and Best Science or Nature Documentary for “A Day in the Life of Earth.”
Bell Media’s Discovery Channel won Best Factual Series for “Disasters at Sea.”
The CBC’s “The Fifth Estate” was named Best News or Information Series; “CTV National News With Lisa LaFlamme” won Best National Newscast and Citytv’s “CityNews” won Best Local Newscast.
While some Raptors have remained in Toronto throughout the league-directed quarantine period, many others decided to return to off-season homes in the United States to wait out the hiatus.
Returning to Toronto for a team training camp would require an additional two-week quarantine in accordance with Canadian health officials — which would take away from athletes’ abilities to participate in conditioning and training during that time. Crossing the U.S.-Canada border, only to cross it again to attend a second training camp, doesn’t make a lot of logistical sense.
“I think an easy solution — and I think one that the NBA would work on — is allowing them to go straight to the playing site,” Charania said.
Raptors who have remained in Toronto have recently been able to begin private workouts after the Ontario government eased restrictions earlier in May to allow the OVO Athletic Centre in Toronto to re-open for voluntary individual on-court sessions, with strict guidelines in place.
With Jamal Murray’s five-year, $170 million contract extension beginning next season, the Nuggets virtually have no way of creating cap space this year. But there is one player who the Nuggets should target with their mid-level exception, Raptors forward Serge Ibaka.
Ibaka will become an unrestricted free agent this summer after signing a three-year, $65 million contract with the Raptors in 2017.
Ibaka was quietly having one of his best seasons in the NBA this year, averaging a career-high 16.0 points per game, 8.3 rebounds and shooting nearly 40 percent from deep, which is also a career best.
It’s hard to imagine Ibaka signing for so little (MLE is projected to be $9.7 million next season) given his play this season, but the allure of playing with Nikola Jokić and the Nuggets’ young core could bring the Congo native to Denver.
Ibaka started his career in Oklahoma City, playing alongside Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, and he twice led the NBA in blocks during the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons.
Ibaka could follow in the footsteps of Dikembe Mutombo, who is also of Congolese decent, in becoming one of the most intimidating defenders in Nuggets’ history.
As Ibaka’s career progressed, he evolved his game to keep up with the league. In his first five seasons with the Thunder, Ibaka took just 123 threes. In just 50 games this season, Ibaka took 166 attempts from deep, all while maintaining his status as one of the most fearsome shot-blockers in the league.
Ibaka has also shown the ability to put the ball on the floor, force defenders to collapse, and either dump the ball off to a cutting teammate or kick it out for an open three.
By signing Ibaka, the Nuggets would get Millsap’s defensive skillset, Plumlee’s offensive skillset, and an accurate three-point shooter all in one.