GO GET YOUR MASK, WE BALLIN’.
To earn one of the 22 invitations to Disney World, teams had to be within six games of a playoff berth as of March 11, when the N.B.A. abruptly suspended the season in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Joining the 16 teams that occupied playoff spots on March 11 are five teams from the West (Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento, San Antonio and Phoenix) and Washington from the East.
The season is thus over for Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Golden State, Minnesota and the Knicks — teams that may wind up enduring a nearly nine-month wait for their next competitive game. The N.B.A. revealed Thursday that it was considering opening the 2020-21 season on Dec. 1 rather than its usual start in October.
After it ruled out inviting all 30 teams, the N.B.A. settled on 22 to build a competitive field while also reducing the number of people entering its planned safety bubble in Florida. The league spent much of May looking for a compromise ranging from 20 to 24 teams after deciding that proceeding straight into the playoffs with a 16-team field was not only unfair to the handful of teams within close range of a playoff berth when play was suspended, but that it was also potentially damaging to the overall quality of play.
Pete Davidson Comes Out of His Basement With Judd Apatow’s Help
Taking Lessons From a Bloody Masterpiece
David Frum Rethinks Conservatism
The league arrived at 22 teams last week for competitive and, of course, financial reasons. Having that many teams participate would enable the N.B.A. to stage what it has called 88 “seeding games” without fans — eight for each team — and up to four playoff play-in games before the postseason. The games would help several teams satisfy their local television contracts and thus lessen some of the revenue losses incurred leaguewide this season.
“Although we all know that there are much more meaningful and important issues for our country to focus on at this time, we are extremely grateful for the opportunity to play basketball again,” said Wizards GM Tommy Sheppard. “Our players and coaches have done a tremendous job of staying ready and active from a basketball perspective … there is still much work to be done, but we are excited to be able to return to the court and represent our DC Family.”
In a joint statement, Cavs GM Koby Altman and head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said, “While we are disappointed that the announced return to play proposal excludes the Cleveland Cavaliers, we understand all of the unprecedented factors that contributed to this outcome and we accept the hard decisions Commissioner Adam Silver and the NBA’s Board of Governors had to make. We also respect the exhaustive and life-altering measures that were considered as a result of COVID-19, but as a team, we greatly desired to be a part of the season’s resumption.”
Let the excitement wash over you—the NBA is back, baby—and then remember: The league is coming back with the COVID-19 pandemic still raging. The number of U.S. cases is nearing two million, per Johns Hopkins. More than 100,000 are dead. States have started to re-open but few, if any, have done so with strict adherence to CDC guidelines on how to safely re-open. Part of America have decided it’s time to get back to business. The NBA has, too.
The league will do everything possible to mitigate the risk. The Orlando bubble, er, campus will be heavily protected. Testing will be frequent. Social distancing protocols will be in place. Players will be allowed to bring a certain number of family members inside the quarantine, sources told SI.com, but movements are expected to be restricted. Players who test positive will be pulled. A full list of procedures is being ironed out, a source told SI.com, and will also require players approval.
Wall said Beal was a catalyst for the players’ statement.
“We got a group chat that we have with our team,” Wall said. “We sent it to the guys. Brad started off with, like, this is what he was going to post, so we all agreed to it. We all agreed to it. We felt like it was a powerful message. We wasn’t going to force the organization or anybody to join us; this is the players coming together, and the organization came and did their thing, and also agreed to what we did … I’m really cool with Stephen Jackson; that’s like one of my OGs of the whole thing that I talk to a lot. To see how he’s standing up and being a leader is amazing. He’s a frontrunner for so much. I knew how much it hit him, and it hit me the same way, because I know what type of environment he comes from and what he’s dealing with.”
Wall has continued to lend his name and efforts to causes in D.C. His “202 Assist” program, launched last month and which will run through June 21, is a month-long fundraising drive to help families in Ward 8, in Southeast D.C. – where the Wizards practice and where the WNBA champion Mystics and G League Go-Go play, at the Entertainment and Sports Arena – who have come into difficulty paying their rents because of job loss and other family problems stemming from the COVID-19 outbreak. More than 30 percent of families in Ward 8 live below the poverty line; as of Thursday, Ward 8 residents had the highest number of coronavirus deaths in the eight wards of the city – 97, or 20 percent of all coronavirus deaths in D.C. – and the third-highest number of positive coronavirus tests.
Wall says the campaign has raised more than $170,000 so far. But he can’t be hands-on with residents in Ward 8 to see how things are going … because of the virus. Even good works in hard-hit communities have to be done remotely these days.
Instead, the Raptors, along with every other team, will play in a mostly empty Disney World complex. It’s not ideal, but for the Raptors, it surely beats the bleakest alternative.
“It’s going to mean a lot,” Pascal Siakam said Wednesday about the chance to return to action. “Obviously you don’t want your season to just go to waste. There’s been a lot of blood, sweat, and tears that go into the whole season, working hard, I think particularly for us with injuries and everything that we’ve been through, trying to get healthy all season, and working really hard as a team, and beating the odds each and every game. Obviously, we don’t want to see it end like that, so we want to be able to play and continue to move forward and hopefully, that can happen. And we’re excited about attacking that other title.”
Now the Raptors will get to complete a season that will likely end with Nick Nurse being named coach of the year for taking a championship team that lost both of its starting swingmen, including arguably the best player in the world, and got better by many metrics. Kyle Lowry will be able to finish a season in which he defied typical aging curves for smaller guards, yet again. Fred VanVleet will get to put the finishing touches on what will be a very compelling case for a big deal in unrestricted free agency. Siakam will be able to get some much-needed reps in tight playoff games. Norman Powell and Serge Ibaka can try to complete career years, while the whole team might finally be, gasp, healthy.
All things being equal, this is not the world that the Raptors would prefer — not them or anyone else. It is a chance to write a conclusion to their story, and that counts for something.
In a statement Thursday night, Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, president of the NBA Coaches Association, said he spoke with Silver, who admitted he might have jumped the gun with his comments.
“The health and safety of our coaches is first and foremost. It’s entirely possible that an NBA coach in his 60s or 70s could be healthier than someone in their 30s or 40s,” Carlisle said. “The conversation should never be solely about a person’s age. Adam assured me that we would work through this together to help determine what is both safe and fair for all of our coaches.”
In addition to Gentry, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich (71), Houston Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni (69), Portland Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts (62) and Carlisle (60) are the head coaches who are 60 or older and slated to participate in the season’s restart. Several others — Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown (59), LA Clippers coach Doc Rivers (58) and Orlando Magic coach Steve Clifford (58) — are just under 60.
“Unless we’re going to line all the coaches up and give them physicals to determine all the underlying conditions, how are we going to determine who is at a high risk?” Gentry asked before Carlisle issued his statement. “At the end of the day, they’re the league. They’re going to make the choice.
“I think it’s unfair if that’s what they’re doing. To base something strictly on age when there’s nothing out there that says I’m more susceptible to catching it than anybody else. I understand the risk that I’m taking if I do get it. But hell, I want to be with my team and do my job. That’s what they hired me for.”
Earlier Thursday, Silver and the NBA’s board of governors passed the league’s proposed plan to return to play in Orlando, Florida. The plan will include 22 teams — all of which will play eight “seeding games” — before the league proceeds to a typical 16-team playoff with four rounds of best-of-seven series. There also is the possibility for a play-in tournament if the ninth seed in either conference is within four games of eighth place when those games have been completed.
Paul, the president of the National Basketball Players Association, and Iger, the executive chairman of the Walt Disney Company, the parent company of ESPN and owner of the complex that will house the 22 teams restarting the 2019-20 season, are close friends who have known each other for years.
“Chris and I probably text one another about seven times a week, and talk four times a week,” Iger said. “I consider him a very good friend.”
So it wasn’t out of the ordinary for Paul to consult Iger before making big decisions — in this case, decisions that will affect the health, safety and financial futures of the 450 NBA players he represents.
“When Chris was traded [to the LA Clippers in 2011] — as Chris tends to do, he’s very curious — he asked people, ‘Who should I meet?'” Iger said. “I don’t remember who put us together, but he reached out looking for business advice and mentorship, and it just so happened I was not only a huge basketball fan, but a Clipper fan, and we bonded.
“He gave me this ‘I’m looking for a mentor’ speech. And I said, ‘Get in line. There are a lot of people. If you’re interested in taking it seriously, we’ll give it a shot, but it takes two to tango. I’m not going to just waste my time.’
“But it became very clear, very quickly that he was genuine. I gave him things to read, we talked a lot, and we ended up creating a nice relationship.”
So last week, as Paul wrestled with details of the NBA’s plans — which were ratified in a vote of the board of governors Thursday afternoon, contingent on an agreement with the Walt Disney Company to use Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Florida, as a single site for a campus for all games, practices and housing for the remainder of the season — he and Iger decided to go on a socially distant walk near Paul’s house in Encino, California.
It was a glorious mid-spring day in Los Angeles, but this was no easy stroll.
“Every time we went up and down one hill, he would find another hill to climb,” Iger joked. “I work out every day. But I’m 69 with a prosthetic knee, and he’s a professional athlete.”
Where does that leave the Raptors?
The defending champions have the sixth-best odds on multiple betting sites to repeat, with an implied win probability of roughly five per cent.
Sportsbooks have likely MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Bucks listed as favourites, followed by LeBron James’ Lakers and Kawhi Leonard’s Clippers. The Rockets and Celtics are also ahead of the Raptors. Sports betting site The Action Network has updated odds listed here.
Still, the Raptors have a few things going for them. Their combination of youth (Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam) and experience (Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol) should help weather some lingering concerns from the four-month layoff. Nick Nurse has proven his ability to creatively adapt gameplans — remember the Raptors’ infamous box-and-one defence against Steph Curry? And the Raptors’ core has spent enough time together that on-court chemistry should quickly return.
Conversely, the Raptors will likely lose two rounds of guaranteed home-court advantage. Their current first-round opponent is Brooklyn, who could have Kyrie Irving, but probably not Kevin Durant, back from injury. The Magic, last year’s first-round matchup, linger just behind the Nets.
What about the pandemic?
Twenty-two teams means about 330 players — not to mention coaches and management, plus the reported option to bring family. Bottom line: it’s a lot of risk to bring into Disney World, and it’s a lot of people to keep contained beyond that.
The decision to bring Washington and Phoenix — teams with minuscule chances of making the playoffs in just eight games — has already come under some scrutiny due to the relative risk of inviting more people into the quarantine versus maintaining the integrity of the season.
Florida also experienced its highest total of daily new COVID-19 cases on Thursday since reporting began at 1,419. As with the NHL, there is no guarantee the return happens. The league is reportedly still working on a “lengthy” medical protocol for dealing with the virus.
Who would the Raptors target at the draft?
With likely a bottom three or four pick in both rounds this year, the Raptors won’t have the kind of so-called “can’t miss” high-ceiling talents available to them such as Anthony Edwards, James Wiseman or LaMelo Ball.
Instead, they’ll have good players to choose from who are probably viewed as either too raw right now or lacking enough potential to tap into at the next level (usually because they aren’t deemed athletic enough).
Names that fit those bills are guys like Arizona guard Nico Mannion and raw European talents Aleksej Pokusevski and Leandro Bolmaro. Then there’s San Diego State guard Malachi Flynn, a well-respected senior guard who makes sound decisions with the ball and whose rugged brand of basketball, combined with an innate scoring ability, makes him a highly-desirable NBA backup point guard.
The key dates for the 22 returning teams:
Teams can begin training camps at their own sites on June 30, then head to the centralized Disney/ESPN location in the first week of July.
An eight-game mini-season begins July 31, followed by four rounds of playoffs that could run until the second week of October. Each team’s regular-season matchups will be selected from the remainder of its original schedule.
The draft lottery for non-playoff teams will be Aug. 25.
The draft will be Oct. 15.
Free agency begins Oct. 18.
Training camps for the 2020-21 season will begin Nov. 10, and it’s hoped the season can start in early December.
It doesn’t take much to understand the No. 1 driving factor behind the NBA’s desperate attempt to return.
As Sam Amick of The Athletic reported about a month ago, the NBA would stand to lose about $900 million in television revenue if there is no 2020 post-season.
That’s a problem that would appear to have disappeared, and now with the added bonus of possible play-in games for the No. 8 seed thrown into the mix, that’s even more games that could be marketed as playoff contests.
Like the “First Four” in the NCAA Tournament, the NBA could promote these play-in game — giving clubs the privilege of being destroyed by the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers — as the new first round of the playoffs and charge networks premium prices for broadcast rights.
So when we all tune back in for the NBA while we’re having a blast again, do keep in mind that the only reason why this is happening is because the NBA needed to find a way to stop hemorrhaging money.
The Toronto Raptors and other East contenders
One of the most interesting things around the talk about the NBA’s return-to-play plan was rumblings of drastic format changes.
The NBA Board of Governors today approved a competitive format to restart the 2019-20 season with 22 teams returning to play and a tentative start date of Friday, July 31. The Board’s approval is the first formal step among many required to resume the season.
The NBA is working to finalize a comprehensive season restart plan with the National Basketball Players Association. The NBA and the NBPA are working with infectious disease specialists, public health experts and government officials to establish a rigorous program to prevent and mitigate the risk related to COVID-19, including a regular testing protocol and stringent safety practices. The season restart is also contingent on an agreement with The Walt Disney Company to use Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Florida, as a single site for a campus for all games, practices and housing for the remainder of the season.
Based on the competitive format that the NBA Board of Governors approved today, the 22 returning teams would be the 16 teams (eight per conference) in current playoff positions and the six teams that are currently six games or fewer behind the eighth seed in their respective conferences. Those two groups comprise teams with the NBA’s 22 best records.
“The Board’s approval of the restart format is a necessary step toward resuming the NBA season,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. “While the COVID-19 pandemic presents formidable challenges, we are hopeful of finishing the season in a safe and responsible manner based on strict protocols now being finalized with public health officials and medical experts. We also recognize that as we prepare to resume play, our society is reeling from recent tragedies of racial violence and injustice, and we will continue to work closely with our teams and players to use our collective resources and influence to address these issues in very real and concrete ways.”
The season restart would begin with eight “seeding games” for each returning team and include the possibility of a play-in tournament for the eighth and final playoff seed in each conference depending on combined records across regular-season games and seeding games. Once the 16-team playoff field is set, the NBA Playoffs would proceed in a traditional conference-based format with four rounds and best-of-seven series in each round. The NBA Finals would end no later than Oct. 12. (See below for the list of returning teams and additional details.)
If, as tentatively scheduled, the season resumes on July 31, then the 2020 NBA Draft Lottery would be rescheduled for Aug. 25, the 2020 NBA Draft would be held on Oct. 15 and the 2020-21 NBA regular season would likely begin on Dec. 1, 2020.
The 14 NBA Lottery teams would be the eight teams that do not participate in the restart and the six teams that participate in the restart but do not qualify for the playoffs. These teams would be seeded in the lottery and assigned odds based on their records through games of March 11. The 16 playoff teams would draft in inverse order of their combined records across regular-season games and seeding games.
NBA Season Restart: Competitive Format Plan
The 22 returning teams for the season restart would be the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets, Orlando Magic and Washington Wizards from the Eastern Conference and the Los Angeles Lakers, LA Clippers, Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies, Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix Suns from the Western Conference.
Each returning team would play eight seeding games, as selected from its remaining regular-season matchups. At the conclusion of the seeding games, the seven teams in each conference with the best combined records across regular-season games and seeding games would qualify for the playoffs.
If the team with the eighth-best combined record in its conference is more than four games ahead of the team with the ninth-best combined record in the same conference, then the team with the eighth-best record would earn the eighth playoff seed.
If the team with the eighth-best combined record in its conference (Team A) is four games or fewer ahead of the team with the ninth-best combined record in the same conference (Team B), then Teams A and B would compete in a play-in tournament to determine the eighth playoff seed. To earn the eighth playoff seed, Team A would need to defeat Team B once and Team B would need to defeat Team A two games in a row.
The 2019-20 season would conclude with a traditional playoff format with best-of-seven series in the first round, conference semifinals, conference finals and the NBA Finals.