For the first time since the NBA announced it would postpone the season on March 11 due to the coronavirus pandemic, the league is making real progress toward a resumption of play. Disney Worldfor the remainder of the 2019-20 season, with games potentially starting in late July. Teams are expecting further guidance from the league on how to move going forward, as they are gradually beginning to reopen practice facilities.
There's still no concrete plan on what the rest of the season will look like if it can resume safely, but general managers have been Portland Trail Blazers All-Star Damian Lillard has very strong opinions on exactly how the league should return.. Many players have voiced their support in resuming the season in whatever form that may be, rather than it being canceled. However,
While talking to Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes, Lillard made it clear that he's only down to play regular-season games if it means his team will have a "true opportunity" at making the playoffs.
"If we come back and they're just like, 'We're adding a few games to finish the regular season,' and they're throwing us out there for meaningless games and we don't have a true opportunity to get into the playoffs, I'm going to be with my team because I'm a part of the team. But I'm not going to be participating," Lillard said. "I'm telling you that right now. And you can put that [expletive] in there."
Lillard is referencing a scenario in which all 30 teams would play a set number of regular-season games (70) to satisfy contracts with regional sports networks, so the league doesn't lose further revenue. This option has been discussed, but no decisions have been made about what the season will look like if it returns. If this was the option that was chosen, though, the games wouldn't be meaningless. They would certainly still count toward the standings, and since the Blazers are only 3.5 games out (and 4.0 in the loss column) of the final playoff spot, there could be a legitimate shot -- albeit a small one -- that they could sneak in if only a handful of games were played.
However, Lillard favors another idea entirely that's also on the table for the NBA: a postseason play-in tournament, where a handful of teams fight for the No. 7 and No. 8 seeds in each conference before the playoffs begin.
"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," Lillard said.
Of course Lillard would want the option that best favors his team's situation. With the Blazers on the outside looking in of the playoff picture, having a tournament that would give it a March Madness-type feel where any team could pull off an upset and make the playoffs would give him and Portland the upper hand. The Blazers would be at a significant advantage compared to the other teams also outside of the playoffs, as they were projected to get back Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins before the hiatus began. Nurkic was set to make his season debut in March after recovering from compound fractures he suffered to his left tibia and fibula in 2019, while Collins was also expected to return in March after rehabbing from left shoulder surgery.
"It would suck not to get in the playoffs because our thing was, we had fought ourselves back into position to get a spot," Lillard said. "We had our starting center and starting power forward coming back, so we had a lot to look forward to and for a great reason. Now, they're healthy and have extra time to train and rehab while everybody's rusty. So now, they won't be coming back as the only rusty players. And if everybody's rusty, [expletive], we can come in here and beat everybody. I do feel like if we do come back and our mind is right, we can beat anyone."
If there is a scenario in which the NBA would resume with essentially a schedule where the games wouldn't count, but acted more like a warm-up for the playoffs, taking into account that players like Lillard wouldn't want to participate in that is something the league will need to consider. The NBA is already projected to lose millions of dollars due to COVID-19, but if it returns and star players decide they don't want to play, that could only hurt them more.