After the NBA owners approved Adam Silver's plan on Thursday to send 22 teams to Disney World in Orlando, on Friday the NBPA (National Basketball Players Association) approved the plan as well. So here we go. It's still seven weeks until games tip off -- the league is aiming for July 31 for the games -- but the anticipation can officially start building.
Here is everything you need to know about what this return to action in Orlando will look like.
Why 22 teams?
Inviting just the current top eight teams in each conference wouldn't have allowed for any games prior to the playoffs, and it would also have been unfair to the teams within striking distance of a playoff berth who lost out on anywhere from 13-16 games to make their stretch run.
To the first point of needing some games to get back in a rhythm, keep in mind, by the time the games actually begin, it will have been almost five months since the season was suspended on March 11. That is a long time to go without any live game action.
There were options to being back 16 teams, or even all 30, but in the league's owners approved the 22-team proposal by a 29-1 vote. The lone holdout? The Portland Trail Blazers, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.
Furthering that report, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski noted that the Blazers voted no because they "believed there were more competitive and innovative formats on the table -- including those that addressed 2020 NBA Draft lottery odds based on regular-season game results in Orlando."
Conclusion of regular season
Each of the 22 teams invited to Orlando (listed below) will play eight "seeding" games that will constitute the conclusion of the 2019-20 season, with each team picking up its schedule where it left off when the league was suspended on March 11. If a game comes up against a team that wasn't one of the 22 invited to Orlando, or against a team that has already concluded its final eight games, you just skip over that opponent and move on to the next.
Four teams -- the Lakers, Heat, Magic and Blazers -- cannot reach eight games by the conclusion of their schedule for one of the two reasons listed above. The league will likely fill in those four teams' final games by pitting them against one another, though that is not official.
Each team's eight-game closing schedule
This is not official, but based on the above criteria, it's a pretty safe bet.
vs. 76ers, Heat, Suns, Magic, Rockets, Kings, Clippers, Lakers
vs. Nets, Pelicans, Mavericks, Nuggets, Suns, Nets, Pacers, Thunder
vs. Rockets, Nuggets, Jazz, Jazz, Raptors, Pacers, Trail Blazers,* Heat or Magic*
vs. Blazers, Jazz, Spurs, Thunder, Bucks, Pelicans, Pelicans, Celtics
vs. Bucks, Pacers, Thunder, Nuggets, Suns, Celtics, Raptors, *Lakers or Trail Blazers*
vs. Celtics, Heat, Grizzlies, Wizards, Rockets, Wizards, Mavericks, Raptors
NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
vs. Kings, Jazz, Clippers, Spurs, Grizzlies, Kings, Grizzlies, Magic
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
vs. Jazz, Wizards, Grizzlies, Nuggets, Heat, Nuggets, Suns, Clippers
vs. Pacers, Kings, Nets, Nets, Pelicans, 76ers, Raptors, Lakers or Trail Blazers*
vs. Pacers, Wizards, Raptors, Blazers, Suns, Rockets, Magic, Spurs
vs. Mavericks, Pacers, Clippers, Mavericks, 76ers, Wizards, Heat, Thunder
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
vs. Grizzlies, Rockets, Mavericks, 76ers, Celtics, Nets, Lakers,* Heat or Magic*
vs. Pelicans, Nets, Mavericks, Rockets, Magic, Pelicans, Pacers, Spurs
SAN ANTONIO SPURS
vs. Nuggets, Grizzlies, Pelicans, Jazz, Jazz, Nuggets, Kings, 76ers
vs. 76ers, Celtics, Nuggets, Lakers, Bucks, Rockets, Heat, Magic
vs. Thunder, Pelicans, Grizzlies, Lakers, Lakers, Spurs, Spurs, Mavericks
vs. Celtics, Thunder, 76ers, Nets, Bucks, Celtics, Suns, Bucks
Once each team has played its remaining eight-game schedule, the Nos. 1-7 seeds in each conference, at least, will be locked in. At that point, if the No. 9 seed is within four games of the No. 8 seed, there will be a play-in series for the final spot in each conference.
Same as always. Once the eight seeds in each conference are determined via the mechanisms above, seven-game series will commence with traditional formatting. This means no group-stage format or 1-16 inter-conference seeding. Yes, I find thisand wildly disappointing given the opportunity the league had to try something new and fun.
These are based on reporting from Shams Charania of The Athletic and ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, and they are not set in stone. But this is a ballpark of the timeline the league is aiming toward.
- June 15: International players return to markets
- June 21: All players report
- June 22: Coronavirus testing begins
- June 30: Beginning of training camps
- July 7: Travel to Orlando
- July 31: Beginning of restarted 2019-20 season
- Aug 25: NBA Draft Lottery
- Oct. 12: Game 7 of the NBA Finals (if necessary)
- Oct. 15: NBA Draft
- Oct. 18: Start of free agency
- Nov. 10: Training camps for 2020-21 season begin
- Dec. 1: Opening night for 2020-21 season
How will the NBA Draft order be set?
As normal, the 14 teams that don't make the playoffs will enter the draft's lottery, but here's the important note: The lottery order will be based off the standings as of March 11, when the season was suspended, meaning a team that was invited to Orlando cannot fall below a team that wasn't in terms of lottery odds.
In other words, the only thing the Orlando results will impact is whether you end up in the playoffs or the lottery, but once you're in the lottery, your draft position can't be "improved" by losing in Orlando.
For instance, if the Blazers, who have the best record of the non-playoff teams as of now and thus the 14th-best lottery odds, were to lose every game in Orlando, they would still only have the 14th-best lottery odds based on their March 11th record.
On the other end of that spectrum, the Wizards have the worst record of all the teams invited to Orlando. As long as they don't make the playoffs, they cannot fall below where they sat on March 11. It would be making the playoffs that could hurt their draft position, which is a concern we'll discuss below.
- Positive test(s): Obviously, someone within the Disney World bubble testing positive for COVID-19 -- whether that's a player, coach, exec, anyone -- is a major concern. If that does happen, the league is not expected to stop play. Instead, the person who has tested positive will be quarantined while everyone who came into contact with that person will continue to be monitored. An outbreak within a single team -- if several players or staff members end up testing positive -- could obviously force a reevaluation of the plan in place. The NBA will have daily coronavirus testing for everyone within the bubble, per ESPN's Ramona Shelburne.
- Injuries/sloppy play: As stated above, when the NBA finally returns at the end of July, it will have been almost five months since the season was suspended. Players are not going to be in optimal shape, and their rhythm is going to be off to a degree, even with the month-long "training camps" serving as an opportunity to ramp back up physically. Even if no one gets significantly injured, the level of play will almost certainly take a hit from all the time off, not to mention the foreign conditions of playing in an empty arena.
- Tanking: As mentioned above, teams invited to Orlando cannot fall below the eight teams who are staying home in terms of lottery odds, but they can maneuver among the six teams playing in Orlando who ultimately won't make the playoffs. If the Wizards end up in a play-in series for the final spot in the East, will they really be trying to win that and compromise a potential top-10 pick just for the right to make the first round and get pounded by the Bucks?
- No home-court advantage: Obviously at a neutral site, the home-court advantage teams like the Lakers and Bucks worked all season for goes out the window. Per ESPN, the higher-seeded teams are looking for some kind of compensation for their regular-season work, including, potentially, extra possessions by getting the ball at the beginning of the second, third and fourth quarters, one extra foul for one designated player and/or one extra coach's challenge. We'll see if any of those ideas pass through.
- Start of 2020-21 season: If the 2019-20 season goes all the way until October 12, and the NBA plans on starting the 2020-21 season on December 1, that leaves literally less than one month off for the Finals teams before training camp starts right back up again. Fatigue is going to catch up with these teams somewhere down the line next season. On the flip side, teams that aren't playing in Orlando will not have played a live NBA game in nine months. Injuries. Individual rhythm. Team chemistry. All these things are going to be squeezed, but there are no perfect solutions in this situation.