The NBA’s return to play plan is in the works. The league is in active discussions with their players, owners and potential host sites preparing to resume the 2019-2020 season. The league shuttered on March 11th in the wake of Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert testing positive for the coronavirus. Soon thereafter, much of the country shuttered as well.
In recent weeks, the United States has slowly started to reopen, with some areas opening wider than others. NBA teams began opening facilities for voluntary player workouts earlier this month, although coaches couldn’t attend.
NBA Return to Play Plan
Now, the league seems poised on pitching a plan that would resume the season at Disney World. League spokesman Mike Bass confirmed the NBA is negotiating with the Walt Disney Company for the use of their ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando. It’s a 255-acre campus with multiple arenas and can house players, families as well as NBA team staff, officials and event staff in an isolated bubble. In recent years, Wide World of Sports hosted the Jr. NBA World Championship.
“The NBA, in conjunction with the National Basketball Players Association, is engaged in exploratory conversations with The Walt Disney Company about restarting the 2019-20 NBA season in late July at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Florida as a single site for an NBA campus for games, practices and housing,” Bass said.
“Our priority continues to be the health and safety of all involved, and we are working with public health experts and government officials on a comprehensive set of guidelines to ensure that appropriate medical protocols and protections are in place.”
The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported recently that the league surveyed GMs regarding the different the formats. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski claimed the Players Association and teams are discussing how to incorporate the “three most serious plans” for the NBA’s return to play this season.
NBA’s Return to Play: Formats
The first and most likely is for only the current 16 teams that qualified for the playoffs return. This determination would be made using the March 12th standings of the league. It remains the simplest solution in the NBA’s Return to Play problem. Teams like the Portland Trailblazers, New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings and San Antonio Spurs would have a legitimate gripe, considering Memphis only held a 3.5 game lead on some of them. The Grizzlies were entering their toughest stretch of the schedule prior to the NBA’s shutdown.
The next format would be for only 16 teams to return, but the top 16 teams, regardless of conference. This novel approach would result in unique first round playoff matchups. However, it wouldn’t allow for any of the other Western Conference teams to qualify. Although, it may force Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Milwaukee Bucks to defeat the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers in consecutive rounds to win the NBA title.
There’s also talk of a play-in tournament for either just the eighth seed or both the seventh and eighth seeds in each conference. This format would would bring back 20 teams, instead of 16. It’d allow for the likes of the Pelicans, Kings, Spurs and Blazers to vie for a spot in the bracket. This would still eliminate other Eastern Conference teams like the Washington Wizards and Charlotte Hornets because they’re still too far out of the final playoff spot according to their record.
Group Stage Intrigue
The most interesting format being bandied about is a Group Stage, ala FIFA’s World Cup. This format would see the 16 current playoff teams, plus the next four (Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Kings, and Spurs) sorted into four five-team groups.
The teams would be placed into “tiers.” Only one team from each tier would land in any given group in order to ensure some competitive balance. There could be further restrictions, like limiting the number of Western Conference teams in a group.
Teams would play opponents within their group twice, meaning every team would play eight games. The two teams in each group with the best record would move on.
NBA’s Return to Play: Bottom Line
Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe reported teams were anticipating those guidelines by June 1. That date would serve as a “formal ramp-up” to resume this season.
There’s also been talk regarding coronavirus testing for all those involved in the NBA’s Return to Play plans.
The NBA made other proposals to GMs, including one that would have all 30 teams finish the regular season with 72 or 76 games. League sources have consistently said during the past few weeks that games will likely resume with the playoffs.