With the world thrown into uncertainty amid the coronavirus pandemic, there was a period of time when it was unclear if basketball would return this summer. As such, there was no sense in speculating on a possible time frame for it to do so. But as the NBA's plan to finish the season at Disney World takes shape, more and more of the specifics are becoming clear.
According to The Athletic's Shams Charania, the NBA has set July 31 as the target date for its return. The NBA's Board of Governors is expected to vote to approve commissioner Adam Silver's recommendation on a format for resuming the season on Thursday, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. As of right now, 22 teams are expected to be invited to Orlando. Those 22 will include the 16 current playoff teams as well as the New Orleans Pelicans, Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs, Phoenix Suns and Washington Wizards.
Once there, the remaining teams would begin a truncated regular season of eight total games per team, per Wojnarowski. Charania reports that it would include a play-in tournament for the eighth seeds in each conference. Those tournaments would only come in to play if the No. 9 seed finishes the shortened regular season within four games of No. 8. If that is the case, the No. 9 seed would have to beat the No. 8 seed twice in a row in order to earn their conference's final playoff spot. The plan also calls for the NBA Draft Lottery and combine to be held in August.
Among health precautions that are expected to be proposed are:
- No showering at arenas. Players would shower at their hotels.
- Bench players would sit in spread out rows, and inactive players would watch from the stands.
- Players could not bring guests to Orlando until the playoffs.
This plan would give the NBA roughly two more months to finish organizing its Disney proposal and get its players back up to speed physically with both individual workouts and a second training camp at practice facilities. Teams participating in whatever format the concluded regular season and playoffs take would then travel to Orlando and quarantine before basketball could begin again.
Starting games again so late in July poses a potential logistical problem for next season. If the NBA is to maintain a seven-game series format for the postseason, then at least two months will be needed for the playoffs to be held in earnest. As such, the last possible date for Game 7 of the NBA Finals would be Oct. 12, according to Wojnarowski.
If next season were to begin on Christmas Day as many have speculated, that would give players less than three months off before games started again. When training camps and preseason are factored in, their vacation time would be even shorter, posing a potential risk for injury.
However, there is no perfect solution here. Restarting this season too quickly would pose potential injury risks as well, especially given the intensity of playoff games. Jumping from months off directly into the postseason without adequate preparation is just as dangerous, so the NBA is attempting to balance all of those competing factors in setting a timeline. If that potentially means pushing the beginning of next season back further, then that is a pill the NBA will have to consider swallowing.
For now, nothing is finalized. The league and union are still working through the details of a potential return to play, and the focus for the moment is on this season first before next season comes into play. As recently as a few months ago, any conclusion to the 2019-20 season seemed in doubt. If getting one means delaying the 2020-21 campaign, that is a sacrifice fans, players and owners seem more than happy to make.