The National Basketball Association is set to become the first major North American sports league to resume play after the league’s board of governors approved a 22-team format for restarting the season in late July at the Disney campus near Orlando, Florida.
ESPN reported the vote was 29-1 in favor of the proposal with only the Portland Trail Blazers dissenting.
The format calls for each team playing eight games to determine playoff seeding plus the possible utilization of a play-in tournament for the final spot in the Eastern Conference and Western Conference postseason fields, a person familiar with the situation told the Associated Press on Thursday.
It is the most significant step yet in the process of trying to resume a season that was suspended nearly three months ago because of the coronavirus pandemic. There are numerous other details for the league to continue working through – including finalizing specifics of what the testing plan will be once teams arrive next month at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports complex and the calculating the financial ramifications of playing a shortened regular season.
“The board’s approval of the restart format is a necessary step toward resuming the NBA season,” commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “While the Covid-19 pandemic presents formidable challenges, we are hopeful of finishing the season in a safe and responsible manner based on strict protocols now being finalized with public health officials and medical experts.
“We also recognize that as we prepare to resume play, our society is reeling from recent tragedies of racial violence and injustice, and we will continue to work closely with our teams and players to use our collective resources and influence to address these issues in very real and concrete ways.”
Another person, also speaking to AP on condition of anonymity because the details of the ongoing talks have not been publicly released, said the National Basketball Players Association and the NBA are continuing to work on a “lengthy” medical protocols document. The details of that document will be shared with teams once those discussions are completed, said the person, who added that teams should receive them in plenty of time for them to prepare for their arrivals at the Disney-ESPN complex.
If all 22 teams that are going to Disney play their allotted eight games before the postseason begins, the NBA would play 1,059 games in this regular season. That means 171 regular season games would be canceled, which could cost players around $600m in salary.
Those 22 clubs would play somewhere between 71 and 75 regular-season games if the Disney portion of the schedule is completed, down from the customary 82-game slate. The teams who didn’t qualify for the restart will see their seasons end after having played somewhere between 64 and 67 games.
But one of the biggest hurdles is now cleared, and if things go according to plan an NBA champion for a season unlike any other will be crowned in October. The season could go into that month if the league goes ahead with its plan for the same playoff rules as usual, that being every round utilizing a best-of-seven format.
Teams are likely to be allowed to open training camps in late June before arriving at the Disney complex around 7 July. Once there, camps will continue and teams will likely have the chance to have some scrimmages or “preseason” games against other clubs before the regular season resumes.
Thursday’s move by the board of governors – one that came, coincidentally, on the same day this season’s NBA finals would have started if these were normal times – was largely a formality. The NBA considered countless restart options after suspending the season on 11 March, whittled that list down to four possibilities last week and from there the 22-team plan quickly began gaining momentum.
The 22-team plan includes all teams that were holding playoff spots when the season was stopped, plus all other clubs within six games of a postseason berth.
Milwaukee, the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston and reigning NBA champions Toronto had already clinched playoff berths. Now with only eight games remaining for each team, it means that eight other clubs – Miami, Indiana, Philadelphia, the Los Angeles Clippers, Denver, Utah, Oklahoma City and Houston – have postseason spots secured, and Dallas virtually has one as well.
That leaves nine teams vying for three remaining playoff berths. In the East, Brooklyn, Orlando and Washington are in the race for two spots. In the West, Memphis, Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento, San Antonio and Phoenix will jostle for one spot.
If the gap between eighth place and ninth place in either conference is four games or less when the shortened regular season ends, those teams will go head-to-head for the No 8 seed. The team in ninth place would have to sweep both games of a two-game series to win the berth; otherwise, the No 8 seed would advance to the postseason.
Thursday’s decision also means that the seasons for Atlanta, Cleveland, New York, Golden State, Minnesota, Detroit, Chicago and Charlotte are over. The Knicks will miss the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season, the third-longest current drought in the league behind Sacramento and Phoenix – who still have chances of getting into the playoffs this season.
And with the Hawks not moving on, it also means Vince Carter has almost certainly played the final game of his 22-year NBA career – the longest in league history.
Carter, the first player in NBA history to appear in four different decades, has steadfastly insisted that he is retiring after this season. He appeared in 1,541 NBA games, behind only Robert Parish (1,611) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1,560) on the league’s all-time list.