1. The NBA Is On It's Way Back
2. The NBA is going to Disney World
Like a Super Bowl-winning quarterback, the NBA is going to Disney World!
The only difference being instead for one day with a celebratory parade, this will be for three months playing inside empty gyms without anyone cheering as 22 teams complete the rest of the 2019-20 season while hoping they don’t catch the novel coronavirus in the process.
Look, a return-to-play plan is exciting news and should provide hope that we can return to normalcy sooner than later. On the flip side, are the many valid health and safety concerns that are involved in trying to restart a professional sports league amid a pandemic.
So while you can look at the NBA’s announcement Thursday afternoon as a positive, know that everything isn’t peachy keen just yet and there are still problems that need to be worked out.
As such, here’s a rundown of the biggest winners and losers from the NBA’s approved return-to-play plan.
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 games — 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 while we’re all having a blast again tuning back in for the NBA come July 31 do keep in mind that the only reason why it’s 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.
Ideas such as a World Cup-style group stage or a No. 1-through-16 bracket got people talking and thinking about fun hypotheticals where Eastern Conference teams square off against Western Conference teams during the entire post-season, instead of just in the Finals.
Given the extreme nature of the times we’re living in, the NBA could’ve tried out new formats relatively risk-free because anything that happens during this “COVID Cup” season will likely come associated with the dreaded asterisk due to how weird everything is.
Instead, the NBA went conservative in its approach, opting for the traditional conference-based brackets with four best-of-seven rounds.
Boring this may be, but if you’re the Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics or Bucks, or any other Eastern Conference team that believes themselves a legitimate contender, then going with the old favourite here must have you ecstatic.
No doubt there are tough battles to be had in the Eastern Conference, but compared to the wolves out West even outside of the playoff picture right now — like the Portland Trail Blazers or New Orleans Pelicans, let alone the Memphis Grizzlies or Dallas Mavericks in the Nos. 7 and 8 at the moment — the likes of the Washington Wizards, Orlando Magic and Brooklyn Nets look like lost puppies by comparison.
In general, the quality of competition is just a notch or two higher in the Western Conference, and for Eastern Conference teams to avoid that, if even a little, is a big advantage as it opens up a slightly easier path to the Conference Finals for some teams, and certainly for the Nos. 1 and 2 Bucks and Raptors.
4. The NBA Returns
5. The Golden State Warriors and the rest of the league’s scrubs
Congratulations to the Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks, Minnesota Timberwolves and the rest of the NBA’s also-ran group. You did it!
You didn’t get into the bubble!
Not only does that mean you don’t have to take any unnecessary risks by attempting to play pro basketball in the midst of a global pandemic, you also get to preserve those sweet, sweet lottery odds.
If you’re among the true scrubs of the league – such as the basement-dwelling Warriors and Cavaliers – knowing you didn’t make it in has to have you breathing a sigh of relief as this means you can dedicate more time toward the dates that actually matter to you: Aug. 25 and Oct. 15, when the NBA draft lottery and NBA draft, respectively, have been rescheduled.
There’s lots of elite talent at the top of the board to be had, such as Georgia guard Anthony Edwards, centre James Wiseman — who was suspended by the NCAA while at Memphis but left and declared for the draft — and LaMelo Ball, who took over in Australia’s NBL for the Illawarra Hawks.
Those are the prizes available for the NBA’s bottom-feeders, and the fact they don’t have to play anymore and can still keep their strong odds while others can weaken theirs further is just icing on the cake.
6. Golden State Warriors Logo
7. The Washington Wizards
And on the topic of bad NBA teams, the Washington Wizards and their sterling 24-40 record were invited into the bubble.
Why were they invited, you might be asking? Well, according to the NBA’s format, teams within at least 6.0 games back of the No. 8 seed qualify. And the Wizards are 5.5 games back of the 30-35, No. 8-seeded Orlando Magic.
OK, that’s cool.
Still doesn’t take away the fact the Wizards are among the worst teams in the league, with the 24th-ranked net rating as of the time of the suspension and the worst defence.
The Wizards shouldn’t have been included in this, but perhaps because Bradley Beal is a great player and John Wall is likely to make his return in this resumption that was reason enough to let them in?
So way to go Washington. We’ll be on the lookout for that participation banner hanging in the rafters at some point.
8. Washington Wizards Logo
No matter how much you test, no matter how often you wear a mask, no matter how much you attempt to social distance, everyone within this NBA bubble is at risk – and that includes Mickey Mouse.
So, to everyone that will have to go to this bubble to finish off the season – including players, coaches, general managers, front office executives, public relations staff, janitorial staff, security, medical staff, media and broadcasters, service staff within Disney World that manage and maintain hotels and restaurants, etc. – here’s hoping everything stays safe and there are no cases to be found of COVID-19.
But with over 60,000 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the state – and over 58,000 being Florida residents – it’s hard not to think of the worst-case scenario coming to pass.
Ultimately, the NBA weighed the risk/reward in favour of returning, but it’s worth considering what would happen if/when someone tests positive in the bubble.
10. NBA News
11. The Memphis Grizzlies
Before the NBA suspended its season, the Memphis Grizzlies were rolling.
Winners of four of their last six games with a 3.5 game cushion over their next closest rivals for the No. 8 spot in the West and with a rookie phenom in Ja Morant growing ever more comfortable and confident in his abilities, the Grizzlies were looking to finish their final 17-game stretch with a flourish and carry all that momentum into the post-season.
Now, though, after what will be a nearly five-month hiatus before play resumes, you have to wonder if a team that young will be able to just turn it on again?
In particular, with youngsters Morant, Brandon Clarke and Jaren Jackson Jr., it’s hard not to think of all the daily learnings that were halted for these three who look to make up Memphis’ core moving forward.
Youth can be a gift, but being able to ramp up again after a months-long hiatus may be something veterans with more experience would be able to handle better.
12. Memphis Grizzlies Logo
13. The Portland Trail Blazers
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Board of Governors meeting saw the league vote 29-1 in favour of passing the 22-team return-to-play plan with the lone dissenting voice coming from the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Blazers, according to Wojnarowski, chose to vote “No” as they were hoping for more innovative competition formats as reflected by feedback from some of the team’s players.
14. CJ McCollum Of The Portland Trail Blazers Weighs In On The NBA's Return
15. Portland Trail Blazers Logo
16. Memphis And Portland
Sitting 3.5 games back of No. 8 Memphis, the Blazers do appear to be in a good situation to make the playoffs, especially as they figure to be healthier than before with the return of key centre Jusuf Nurkic.
But maybe getting into a situation where you participate in a play-in tournament just for the eighth seed is very different than a more even format, such as a group stage.
What’s done is done now, and though it may seem harmless to back your players on a vote that you knew wasn’t going to go your way, not standing united with the commissioner and the rest of league will always have the potential to come around to bite you.