As we outlined this morning, NBA commissioner Adam Silver is expected to recommend a 22-team return-to-play format when he meets with the league’s Board of Governors on Thursday, and there’s an expectation that the plan will be approved.
Our earlier story has a number of details on exactly which teams will be involved and how the plan will work, so be sure to check it out for more info. With those details in mind, we want to take a look at what the plan means for the teams involved and those left out, as well as some of the questions that still remain. Let’s dive in…
Playoff seeding remains in flux:
For the last several weeks, we’ve speculated about potential playoff matchups based on teams’ current records. However, with each club expected to play eight more regular season games, the seeding in both the Eastern and Western Conference will likely change before we reach the postseason.
In the East, for instance, the Pacers and Sixers are currently tied for the No. 5 spot. The Nets are only a half-game ahead of the Magic for the No. 7 seed, which is especially important, since the No. 8 seed could be up for grabs in a play-in tournament, whereas the No. 7 team will be safe.
In the West, things are even more bunched together — the second-place Clippers and seventh-place Mavericks are only separated by 5.5 games, with the Nuggets, Jazz, Thunder, and Rockets all in between. A slump in those final eight regular season games could result in a team like Denver dropping two or three spots in the standings.
There’s no guarantee any play-in tournaments will actually happen:
According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, any play-in tournament would only involve two teams in each conference — the Nos. 8 and 9 seeds. And it would only occur if the No. 9 seed is within four games of the No. 8 seed. In that case, the two teams would play one another, with the No. 9 team requiring two wins to advance, with the No. 8 team only needing to win once. In other words, the two teams would play a best-of-three series with the No. 8 seed holding a 1-0 advantage to start.
What does this mean for the six current lottery teams that will be involved in the NBA’s restart? Let’s start in the East, where the Wizards are the only non-playoff team being invited. Currently, Washington is 5.5 games back of the Magic and six games back of the Nets. That means that in order to force a qualifying tournament, the Wizards will need to gain two games on at least one of those two teams within an eight-game stretch.
While that’s possible, it won’t be easy. In a 22-team field, none of the Wizards’ eight regular season games will be against tanking teams — or against teams with a worse record than their 24-40 mark. They’ll likely be an underdog in every game they play, and forcing a play-in tournament may be a long shot.
In the West, it seems more plausible. The Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Kings, and Spurs are all currently within four games of the Grizzlies. Barring a major hot streak from Memphis, it seems likely that at least one of those teams will keep pace with the Grizzlies and force a play-in tournament, but it will be fascinating to see which one can do it (the Suns, at six game back, are a long shot).
Additionally, as ESPN’s Zach Lowe observes (via Twitter), it will be interesting to see how the NBA would handle what is essentially a tie between teams that have played an uneven number of games. For instance, if the Grizzlies finish a half-game ahead of the Pelicans for the No. 8 seed, will New Orleans still need to win two games before Memphis wins one to claim that final playoff spot? I’d assume the answer is yes, but that’d be a tough break for the No. 9 team.
What’s next for the bottom eight teams?
The Hornets, Bulls, Knicks, Pistons, Hawks, Cavaliers, Timberwolves, and Warriors won’t be part of the NBA’s restart. For each franchise, there are some subplots to watch as a result of their season ending early — for example, we’ve likely seen Atlanta forward Vince Carter play his last game, somewhat unceremoniously.
More broadly, it will be interesting to see what steps the NBA takes with its teams that will now likely remain off the court for nine months or more. We heard earlier this week that some of those clubs have expressed interest in holding mandatory summer training camps or even participating in regional fall leagues to help bridge the gap between seasons. Any plan along those lines would require NBPA approval, however.
There are major financial questions to answer regarding these eight teams as well. Many of the 22 teams that resume play will get a chance to fulfill their regional TV contracts by surpassing the 70-game threshold. Additionally, players on those 22 teams should earn a greater portion of their 2019/20 salaries as a result of playing eight more regular season games and potentially participating in the postseason. How will the NBA make things fair financially to the teams and players that aren’t getting the chance to play any more games?
How will the 2020 draft lottery be impacted?
There has been no confirmation yet, but it seems reasonable to assume that the eight teams whose seasons are coming to an end now will be the top eight teams in the draft lottery. Still, even among those clubs, there’s some uncertainty about how the lottery odds will be calculated.
As Rod Beard of The Detroit News notes (via Twitter), a team like the Hawks (20-47) has played 67 games, while the Timberwolves (19-45) have played just 64. Technically, Atlanta is a half-game back of Minnesota in the overall standings as a result of those two extra losses, but the Hawks have a better winning percentage. Does that mean the Wolves will receive the better lottery odds?
Beyond those bottom-eight teams, it remains to be seen how the rest of the lottery will be handled. If a team like the Wizards – currently ninth in the lottery standings – improbably earns the eighth seed in the East via a play-in tournament, will they be excluded from the lottery? Will the lottery odds for the Nos. 9-14 teams in the lottery be based on current records, or will they be based on the standings after eight more regular season games? Should those teams be included in the lottery at all, considering they’ve now been given a chance to earn a postseason spot?
The draft lottery, which is now expected to happen in August, may not be the NBA’s top concern at the moment, but it will certainly be a priority for many of the league’s franchises, especially those whose seasons are about to be over.