Now that the NBA has confirmed they are in discussion with Walt Disney World in Orlando to host the remainder of the 2019-20 season, and specific dates have started to leak out about their proposed schedule, all signs are pointing toward basketball returning this summer. But now that everyone seems on board with playing again, the big question is figuring out a format that makes sense for everyone, both from a health perspective, and a financial one.
On one hand, it's a huge logistical and health issue to get all 30 teams down to Orlando, and teams without a chance at competing for a title will have little motivation to play. As we've already seen, Damian Lillard announced that if the Blazers don't have a shot at the postseason, . At the same time, team owners will be eager to get in as many games as possible in order to fulfill the contracts with their regional TV providers, most of which require them to play at least 70 games.
In an attempt to try and please everyone, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has suggested a plan that would require all 30 teams to return to play, but would create a play-in tournament for the final two playoff spots in each conference, thereby giving more teams a chance at the postseason. Here's what he said on CBS Sports Network's "Tiki and Tierney" on Tuesday:
"What I propose is very simple. We play five-to-seven more regular season games because you can't just throw guys into the playoffs. That's just physically too tough. You've gotta get them into the groove of playing the games.
"Once you set the number of games you're going to play, then what I propose is that we take the top-10 seeds in each conference, and with five-to-seven more games, that means every team in the Eastern Conference, even the lowest-seeded team right now has the chance to make the playoffs because they're fewer than five games behind the 10th spot. And then the same in the Western Conference -- now, the lowest two teams couldn't make it more than five or seven games out, but that means all but two teams have a chance to make the playoffs.
"Once you have the two top 10s from the two conferences, you combine them together, seed one through 20, then you have a one-time playoff game like you do in the NCAA where 20 plays 17, 19 plays 18. The winners of those play a series against the 15th and 16th seeded teams and the first two teams get a bye and then you play it out.
"And the reason I'd do it that way is that you want for these remaining games, and this has been written before, the economics of the NBA is that there's a lot of local TV money, and we've got to get up to a certain number of games for all teams to be able to do that with their local broadcast partner. So we want to have some interest from all those teams, or at least as many as possible. So having 20 out of 30 teams either in the playoffs or in a good chance to make it creates that interest. And then you have the one-game playoff which creates more interest, and then you get into the playoffs and who knows what will happen."
Other ideas along these lines have been floated,. While nothing is going to be perfect, some sort of format that gives more teams a chance at the playoffs makes sense from a bunch of different angles.
For one, it gives the teams just on the outside of the playoff picture a fair chance at continuing their season. The Blazers, Pelicans and Kings, for example, are 3 1/2 games out of the eighth and final spot in the West, as things stand. While they would have needed to make a real surge down the stretch to get in, it would be somewhat unfair to them to simply end the regular season and go straight to the playoffs.
Then from a financial aspect, playing some number of regular season games, including the play-in tournament, would allow owners to cash in on the TV contracts. That, in turn, would help protect a lot of money for the players.
And finally, in terms of the actual basketball, these guys are going to need some time to get back up to speed. Even with some sort of training camp, and the strength and conditioning they've been doing on their own during quarantine, there's nothing that can prepare you for full-speed NBA basketball other than playing the game itself. Jumping right into playoff intensity games would not be good from a quality of play perspective, and could also lead to an increased risk of injury.
All things considered, expanding the playoff bracket, or altering the format in some shape of form seems pretty likely, but of course, it remains to be seen just which proposal the league will decide to move forward with.