Over the last few days, ideas have floated around about the NBA resuming their season. It is a complicated process for the league to manage. Basketball must be started safely and without compromise to competitive integrity.
Adam Silver has done an excellent job so far in getting every party to agree to the resumption of the league and identifying a location where basketball can be played without spreading infection. However, I feel that the association is over-thinking the resuming of the game too much.
There have been a ton of concepts in the last few days, but none of these ideas feel filled out. The World Cup plays a group stage, and reseeding ideas feel a little bit half-baked. There will be issues getting teams to buy into this idea. The Lakers and Bucks will not want to enter a group stage where a bad run of games will mean elimination. This would disregard the hard work that the players have put in during the regular season.
Reseeding makes sense in theory, but teams in the Eastern Conference will be reticent to agree to this idea. Reseeding could be a hugely successful innovation for the NBA, and it could lead to tremendously exciting first-round matchups between teams. It might even be something that the league will want to carry forward into the future.
Teams like the Orlando Magic fear to reseed as it will take away the playoff berths that the group earns every season despite having significantly worse records than a comparable team in the Western Conference. Playoff basketball generates a lot of revenue for small market teams. Teams will not want to shoot themselves in the foot and miss out on the money.
The NBA has proposed the idea of all teams playing until 70 games, and this mark would be the completion of the regular season. Completing the regular season would allow the NBA to proceed with the traditional playoff format. There would be no scope for debate over the eighth seed in the Western Conference.
Choosing to complete the regular season does have flaws. It will mean that all 30 teams are invited to Orlando, which increases the number of people who could catch COVID-19.
Oklahoma City has six games to play, and each game played will increase the risk of the infection spreading. From a safety stand-point, completing the regular season feels like an unnecessary risk. I am not wild about the idea of inviting all thirty teams to Orlando; ideally, the number of teams should be limited and controlled.
The idea of a play-in tournament has been discussed in great detail by the NBA, and it is not an innovation. The NCAA uses a play-in competition to decide the final few seedings of March Madness. It is the perfect way to start the tournament off as the games are usually exhilarating and set the tone for the next few weeks of basketball.
There have been different formats and permutations that have been debated since the start of the coronavirus outbreak. A lot of these ideas propose bringing more teams than necessary or having a convoluted play-in system that will end up confusing viewers.
My proposal is the same proposal that I made two months ago, the four teams in the Western Conference who are within a reasonable distance of the eighth seed will play for the final berth. In this case, reasonable distance is less than four games back from the current eighth seed. This would mean that the San Antonio Spurs would miss out on the play-in tournament.
It does seem a little cruel to curtail San Antonio’s opportunity to make the playoffs, but I would make the argument that the Spurs are just too far behind from Memphis for this to make sense. San Antonio is four games back, and if the seventy games regular season were adopted, the Spurs would have to win all four games. The Spurs would have to hope the Grizzlies would lose their remaining fixtures.
That possibility is highly unlikely, the Grizzlies have been very good throughout the season and have not had extended losing streaks. San Antonio would not be allowed into the play-in tournament. The four teams who would compete for the eighth seed would be the Memphis Grizzlies, the Portland Trailblazers, the New Orleans Pelicans, and the Sacramento Kings.
The Grizzlies currently sit in the eighth seed, with the remaining three teams being three and a half games back from Memphis. Portland has played 66 games while the Pelicans and Kings have played 64 games.
It would be a simple tournament bracket, two semi-finals, and then a final to decide which team advances to the playoffs. The teams would be seeded according to record. The eighth seed would play the eleventh seed while the ninth seed would play the tenth seed.
This feels like a fair way of conducting the tournament. The Grizzlies’ hard work during the regular season is respected as they play the weakest team in the competition and have the most natural path to a playoff berth.
This proposal would not generate as much revenue as the other ideas that have been suggested. There would only be three games played before the start of the playoffs, a small number compared to the other proposals.
I would argue the three games have much more meaning than teams completing the regular season for the sake of completion. Single elimination is exciting, tension-filled contests. Finishing the regular season is anything but entertaining if all thirty teams are involved.
There will be teams such as the New York Knicks, who will field weakened teams to improve their position in the Draft Lottery. The tanking will ruin any sense of competitive balance and make the end of the regular season pretty dreary as teams start planning for the off-season.
A four-team play-in tournament is the safest option for the league. It limits the number of teams that need to be in Orlando while reducing the overall chance of the coronavirus spreading among groups.
Minimizing the risk of infection spreading will be tantamount to ensuring that the Wide World of Sports campus is safe. If a single player catches COVID and testing does not identify this player, the virus will spread like wildfire. It makes sense to control the number of occasions where coronavirus can infect others.
I genuinely believe that a four-team play-in tournament for the eighth seed is the best resolution for the issue of resuming basketball. It is a simple idea that does not have any unnecessary complications like a group stage would bring.
It is fair to the teams who are competing for the final playoff berth in the Western Conference, and those four teams are allowed to play for the spot. If the organization does not win, the berth will belong to someone else.
Finally, I feel like a play-in tournament will produce entertaining games of basketball and start the sport’s return with a bang. In the first round of the competition, the Kings and Grizzlies will go all out to advance.
In the other game, it would be Damian Lillard vs. Zion Williamson, one of the most exciting young players in the league. There is no way that the association can go wrong with these fixtures; both games are certified bangers. The play-in tournament would start the postseason off right.