Trail Blazers Rumors

NBA Expected To Approve 22-Team Return-To-Play Format

11:25am: The NBA’s Board of Governors is expected to approve Silver’s plan on Thursday, reports ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

10:00am: When he meets with the NBA’s Board of Governors on Thursday, commissioner Adam Silver intends to propose a return-to-play plan that will see 22 teams resume their seasons, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The NBA reportedly discussed proposals involving 16, 20, 22, or 30 teams last week, with that 22-team format gaining increased support. Although the ownership groups from teams like the Hawks and Bulls expressed a desire to participate, per Charania, the plan will exclude them and the rest of the NBA’s bottom-eight teams in order to limit – to some extent – the number of people the league will have to bring into its “bubble” in Orlando.

As Charania details, the 22-team format would bring back the 16 current playoff teams, along with six additional clubs who are within six games of a postseason spot (the Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Kings, Spurs, Suns, and Wizards).

The plan would see those 22 clubs play eight regular season games apiece, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter link), before a play-in tournament is held for the eighth seed. The play-in format would be as follows, per Charania:

  • If the No. 9 seed is more than four games behind the No. 8 seed, the No. 8 seed would automatically earn the playoff spot.
  • If the No. 9 seed is within four games of the No. 8 seed, those two teams would enter a play-in tournament for the final playoff spot in the conference. Such a tournament would be double-elimination for the No. 8 seed and single-elimination for the No. 9 seed (ie. a best-of-three series, with the No. 8 seed given a 1-0 lead to start).

Currently, the Grizzlies hold a 3.5-game lead on Portland, New Orleans, and Sacramento in the West, with San Antonio four games back, and Phoenix six games back. In the East, the Magic have a 5.5-game lead on the Wizards, so Washington would need to make up some ground to force a play-in tournament.

Besides giving those six current lottery teams a chance to make the postseason, the format will allow all 22 clubs to surpass 70 regular season games, ensuring that many of them meet the requirements for regional TV contracts, which will help out the league financially.

According to Charania, July 31 remains the target date for the resumption of the 2019/20 season, with the draft lottery and combine – which had been postponed indefinitely – now expected to take place in August. Presumably, those events would take different forms than they normally do, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s not clear yet how the 2020 lottery odds may be affected by the play-in tournament format.

[RELATED: Proposed NBA Plan Would Complete Finals By October 12]

The NBA’s proposal for the resumption of the season is also expected to include many medical and safety protocols, Charania notes. Sources tell The Athletic that those protocols will likely include players showering at their hotels rather than in the arena, inactive players sitting in the stands instead of on the bench, and players not being permitted to bring guests into the “bubble” until the postseason begins.

Any proposal from the NBA will require approval from at least three-quarters of the league’s Board of Governors (ie. 23 of 30 team owners). However, even if the plan isn’t every club’s first choice, there’s an expectation that team owners will get behind Silver and vote in favor of his proposal.

The Board of Governors’ Thursday call is scheduled for 12:30pm eastern time, tweets Wojnarowski.

Players Oppose Going Straight To Postseason When Play Resumes

Appearing on ESPN’s SportsCenter on Friday (video link), Ramona Shelburne reported that NBA players she has spoken to are opposed to the idea of advancing directly to the postseason when the league resumes play.

“The one thing that they really don’t want to do is go straight to the playoffs,” Shelburne said. “They might have essentially four months off between March 11 and whenever we get the season resumed, and nobody wants the first meaningful game they play to be a playoff game. They need at least a week – maybe even longer than that – of real games that count for something before they play a playoff game.”

Some of the proposed scenarios for the NBA return would involve just bringing back the 16 playoff teams and advancing directly to the postseason; others would involve only teams at or near the bottom of the playoff picture participating in a play-in tournament. Shelburne suggests that neither of those solutions would be favorable for teams at the top of the postseason picture, who would want some time to shake off the rust and re-establish their chemistry before jumping into the playoffs.

Earlier today, we relayed Shams Charania’s report on the four scenarios the league discussed in its conference call with the Board of Governors call today. We noted in that story that bringing back all 30 teams seems unlikely. Based on Shelburne’s report, it sounds like the NBPA may not be on board with jumping directly to the playoffs with just 16 teams either.

That would leave two scenarios — a World Cup-esque play-in pool, featuring 20 teams, and a “playoffs-plus” option that may feature 22 teams. Shelburne and Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer provided a few more updates on that second option this afternoon, offering the following details:

  • Teams within six games of a playoff spot would be invited to participate, per Shelburne (Twitter link). That means the Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Kings, Spurs, Suns, and Wizards would join the 16 current playoff teams.
  • All 22 teams would likely play eight regular-season games apiece, then a play-in tournament would be held for the eighth seed in each conference, according to O’Connor (Twitter link).
  • While the proposal isn’t yet finalized, it sounds as if conferences would remain in place for the postseason under this scenario, O’Connor adds.

The solution would check off a few boxes for the NBA. It would give every playoff team a solid ramping-up period before the postseason; it would allow many of those 22 teams to reach the 70-game threshold necessary for regional TV contracts; and it would give every team in Orlando something to play for without the league having to bring back all 30 clubs.

However, as O’Connor observes in another tweet, there are some potential downsides as well. Timing could be an issue if the NBA is aiming to resume play on July 31 and requires two or three weeks of regular season games before beginning the playoffs.

Plus, the particulars of the play-in tournament are unclear — for instance, the Magic are currently 5.5 games up on the Wizards and could increase that gap with eight more regular season games to play. Would Washington still be given a chance to steal the eighth seed in that scenario?

There’s no indication yet that the NBA is leaning toward that 22-team concept, and even if the league goes in that direction, it’s possible some details would be tweaked, so we’ll have to wait for further updates on talks between the league, teams, and players. There’s hope that a vote will happen next week.

And-Ones: Bonuses, Travel, Blazers, TBT

While it’s not at or near the top of the NBA’s list of priorities at this point, one issue the league will have to address is how players bonuses and incentives will be determined for the 2019/20 season. In an Insider-only story, Bobby Marks of ESPN identifies a number of interesting cases that remain up in the air due to the fact that the season has been suspended and may not be completed in full.

For instance, Tyus Jones‘ contract with the Grizzlies calls for him to receive a bonus worth $858K if the team wins 33 or more games. Memphis was at 32 wins when the NBA went on hiatus. Sixers center Joel Embiid, meanwhile, would have his salaries for the next three seasons become fully guaranteed if he logs 1,650 minutes this season — he was 321 minutes short of that mark when the league suspended play.

As Marks explains, the outcome of some of those incentives may have to be negotiated, but in general, the most logical approach would be for the NBA to prorate a player’s stats over a full 82-game season. For instance, if the Sixers finish the season having played just 65 out of 82 games, Embiid’s per-game minutes average for 65 games (20.4 MPG) would be prorated over 82 games. That would work out to 1,677 minutes, so he’d receive his guarantee. The same goes for Jones, since the Grizzlies were on pace to win well over 33 games.

That approach, which the NBA took during the 2011/12 lockout season, wouldn’t help players who have incentives tied to percentages — for instance, a player who needed to make 35.0% of his three-point attempts to earn a bonus and finished at 34.7% wouldn’t receive that extra money.

As we wait to see how the NBA resolves that issue and others, let’s round up a few more basketball odds and ends…

  • NBA players and staff who are outside the country are now permitted to re-enter the United States via a U.S. Department of Homeland Security issue, tweets Shams Charania of The Athletic. That will benefit not only international players like Luka Doncic and Sekou Doumbouya, who returned to their home countries during the hiatus, but also Raptors players and coaches who are currently in Toronto.
  • In a piece that focuses primarily on the Trail Blazers, Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN looks at what it’s been like for players to return to their teams’ practice facilities this month during an ongoing pandemic.
  • The Basketball Tournament (TBT), an annual summer event that features a number of former college standouts and overseas players, isn’t being postponed or canceled, according to organizers. As Myron Medcalf of ESPN details, participants will be tested repeatedly for COVID-19 and a team will be eliminated if one of its players tests positive. The plan is to move forward with the tournament in July.

Notes On Proposed Formats For NBA’s Return

Although a resumption of the 2019/20 season appears likely, there’s still no clarity on what form the NBA will take upon its return. A potential playoff format has been the subject of much discussion and debate this week, with the league still believed to be considering bringing back anywhere from 16 to 30 teams.

Among other issues, the league must decide whether or not to play any regular season games, whether a play-in pool or play-in tournament makes sense, and whether or not to reseed its playoff teams regardless of conference.

[RELATED: Community Shootaround: Play-In Pool Format]

As the NBA continues to weigh all those questions, a number of notable basketball writers are sharing their input on the potential format of a return to play. Here are some highlights:

  • In a deep dive, ESPN’s Zach Lowe explores various playoff formats for the NBA’s return, suggesting that a seven-team play-in tournament for the final three postseason spots (currently held by the Grizzlies, Nets, and Magic) could be one solution. No Eastern lottery teams would be involved in such a tournament, but the Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Kings, and Spurs would be.
  • John Hollinger of The Athletic contends that most of the experimental postseason proposals are unnecessarily complicated or have dangerous downsides. In Hollinger’s view, the NBA should just keep it simple, bringing back its 16 current playoff teams and play a “normal” postseason. It’s worth noting that Hollinger’s former team, the eighth-seeded Grizzlies, would undoubtedly favor that solution, which forgoes a play-in tournament.
  • In a podcast, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said that some people around the NBA believe the league’s inclination to have more than 16 teams return this summer is directly related to a desire to have Pelicans star Zion Williamson involved in any return to play (hat tip to RealGM). New Orleans currently ranks 10th in the West and 18th overall in the NBA standings.
  • Danny Leroux of The Athletic makes a case for allowing the NBA’s top teams to pick their playoff opponents, regardless of the format the league chooses.
  • If the NBA decides to bring back all 30 teams, the league ought to freeze the draft lottery order based on the current standings in order to avoid a potential tank-fest, says Marc Berman of The New York Post.
  • Chris Mannix of SI.com questions whether the NBA should even be prioritizing crowning a champion in 2020, and whether that champ will be viewed as legitimate.

NBA Hopes To Resume Season In July Or August

The NBA’s current projection has games resuming in late July or early August, sources tell Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link).

The league is working on multi-phase protocols involving medical and safety concerns, Charania adds. Teams are expected to hold training camps in their home cities in July, followed by camps and scrimmages in Orlando.

It’s the latest bit of encouraging news as the league tries to salvage its season following a hiatus that is now up to 11 weeks. Decisions still have to be made on how many teams will be involved and how the playoffs will be handled.

More information is likely to be forthcoming in a remote meeting Friday involving commissioner Adam Silver and the NBA’s Board of Governors. However, we learned this morning that a final plan isn’t expected at that session.

A limited number of family members would be permitted to join players in the bubble environment in Orlando under a plan being negotiated by the league and the National Basketball Players Association, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne.

Issues include when family members can arrive at the Walt Disney Resort, which will probably happen once the first group of teams is eliminated and fewer people are being housed in the bubble, sources tell the authors. Family members will be required to undergo the same safety and testing protocols as players and other team personnel.

Talks are continuing on a playoff format, but teams are becoming “skeptical” that the entire league will be part of a resumption, the story adds. One playoffs-plus idea would involve 20 to 24 teams with more from the West than from the East, sources tell Wojnarowski and Shelburne. Play-in possibilities are also being considered involving the Pelicans, Trail Blazers, Spurs and Kings, who are all within striking distance of the eighth seed in the West.

Lillard Says He Won’t Play This Summer Without Path To Postseason

As the NBA weighs potential formats for the resumption of its 2019/20 season, some pointed comments from Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard may influence the league’s thinking. Speaking to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, Lillard said he has no intention of suiting up for games this summer if Portland has no real chance to make the postseason.

“If we come back and they’re just like, ‘We’re adding a few games to finish the regular season,’ and they’re throwing us out there for meaningless games and we don’t have a true opportunity to get into the playoffs, I’m going to be with my team because I’m a part of the team,” Lillard told Haynes in a phone interview. “But I’m not going to be participating. I’m telling you that right now. And you can put that (expletive) in there.”

The NBA is still determining whether it will bring back all 30 teams, only the 16 current playoff clubs, or something in between. The number of teams that resumes play will be tied to the format the league chooses — if just 16 clubs return, advancing directly to the playoffs is the logical move. If lottery teams are asked to participate, the league may give those clubs a chance to make the postseason via a play-in tournament. In that scenario, Lillard would be eager to participate.

“If we come back and I don’t have an opportunity to make the playoffs, I will show up to work, I’ll be at practice and I’ll be with my team. I’m going to do all that (expletive) and then I’m going to be sitting right on that bench during the games,” the Blazers guard said to Yahoo Sports. “If they come back and say it’s something like a tournament, play-in style, between the No. 7 and No. 12 seeds, if we’re playing for playoff spots, then I think that’s perfect.”

When the NBA went on hiatus on March 11, the Blazers had moved into ninth place in the Western Conference. With a 29-37 record, they were 3.5 games behind the Grizzlies for the eighth seed in the conference, and Lillard feels as if the team was positioned well for a late-season playoff push.

“We had our starting center (Jusuf Nurkic) and starting power forward (Zach Collins) coming back, so we had a lot to look forward to and for a great reason,” Lillard told Haynes. “Now, they’re healthy and have extra time to train and rehab while everybody’s rusty. So now, they won’t be coming back as the only rusty players. And if everybody’s rusty, (expletive), we can come in here and beat everybody. I do feel like if we do come back and our mind is right, we can beat anyone.”

On their own, Lillard’s comments may not significantly impact the NBA’s decision-making process, but it seems like a good bet that stars on other lottery teams share his views on the issue. And even if there are some who want to play regardless of the format, their teams may decide to hold them out of action if there’s no upside. For instance, if the Warriors are asked to resume play without a path to the postseason, I don’t expect we’ll see Stephen Curry participate.

Lillard told Haynes that he’s prepared for any scenario, but would be disappointed if the Blazers don’t get a chance to earn a spot in the postseason.

“Right now, I’m just in a space where I want to come back and play. And if we start playing, I’ll be ready to play. But if the league says it’s only taking playoff teams, then I’m off to a head start in my summer training,” he said. “I’ll be pissed off because I feel like they basically stopped the season and went straight into the playoffs. We’re chasing the team with the toughest schedule in the league and we’re in ninth place. That would be weak, but it is what it is.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Nurkic, Collins Fully Healthy

  • The Trail Blazers frontcourt will be getting some serious reinforcements if the NBA’s regular season returns, The Athletic’s Jason Quick reports. Starting center Jusuf Nurkic, sidelined since breaking his leg on March 25, 2019, and starting power forward Zach Collins, out of commission since undergoing surgery for a dislocated left shoulder three games into his season, are now both fully healthy. Blazers All-NBA guard Damian Lillard expressed excitement for their return to what had been an injury-ravaged Portland roster. “It’s going to be a completely different situation, and we’ll be close to full strength,” Lillard said.

2020/21 Salary Cap Preview: Portland Trail Blazers

Hoops Rumors is looking ahead at the 2020/21 salary cap situations for all 30 NBA teams. Due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the NBA, it’s impossible to know yet where the cap for 2020/21 will land. Given the league’s lost revenue, we’re assuming for now that it will stay the same as the ’19/20 cap, but it’s entirely possible it will end up higher or lower than that.

After arguably overachieving in 2018/29 by winning 53 games and earning a trip to the Western Conference Finals, the Trail Blazers came back to earth in 2019/20. Plagued by some bad injury luck that resulted in Jusuf Nurkic, Rodney Hood, and Zach Collins missing nearly the entire season, Portland was just 29-37 when the NBA went on hiatus.

Fortunately, the team will finally be out from under its ill-advised 2016 spending spree going forward. Although that doesn’t mean that the Blazers will gain any cap room during the 2020 offseason, it does mean that the club probably won’t be flirting with the tax anymore and should have a little extra spending flexibility going forward.

Here’s where things stand for the Trail Blazers financially in 2020/21, as we continue our Salary Cap Preview series:

Guaranteed Salary

Player Options

Team Options

  • None

Non-Guaranteed Salary

  • Trevor Ariza ($11,000,000) 1
  • Total: $11,000,000

Restricted Free Agents

Unrestricted Free Agents / Other Cap Holds

Offseason Cap Outlook

If we add the cap hold for their lottery pick to their guaranteed salaries and assume Hood and Hezonja opt in, the Blazers will be up near $105MM in commitments for 10 roster spots, eliminating the possibility of cap room.

Portland’s spending ability from there will depend in large part on what the club does with Ariza and Whiteside. Both veterans played well for the Blazers, but it may not make sense to guarantee Ariza’s $12.8MM salary or to pay market value to re-sign Whiteside with Nurkic due back. If neither player returns, the team would be able to comfortably use its full mid-level exception and bi-annual exception without nearing the tax line. If even one is retained, using those exceptions in full would be more challenging.

Cap Exceptions Available

  • Mid-level exception: $9,258,000 5
  • Bi-annual exception: $3,623,000 5
  • Trade exception: $7,069,662 (expires 1/21/21)
  • Trade exception: $2,338,847 (expires 2/8/21)
  • Trade exception: $1,790,993 (expires 7/8/20)

Footnotes

  1. Ariza’s salary becomes fully guaranteed after June 30.
  2. Whiteside’s cap hold will be equivalent to 30% of the 2020/21 salary cap.
  3. The Trail Blazers can’t offer Swanigan a starting salary worth more than his cap hold, since his rookie scale team option for 2020/21 was declined.
  4. The cap hold for this pick will depend on where it ultimately falls in the lottery. Currently, the Trail Blazers rank 14th in the lottery standings.
  5. These are projected values. If team salary gets high enough, it’s possible the Trail Blazers would instead be limited to the taxpayer mid-level exception ($5,718,000).

Note: Minimum-salary and rookie-scale cap holds are based on the salary cap and could increase or decrease depending on where the cap lands.

Salary information from Basketball Insiders and Early Bird Rights was used in the creation of this post. Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

How Portland Can Improve

  • A year removed from a Western Conference Finals berth, a reconfigured Trail Blazers roster struggled to stay afloat at the bottom of the West’s playoff picture in 2019/20. Though Portland’s front office is confident in key players Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins and Rodney Hood, The Athletic’s Jason Quick and John Hollinger examine where the team can improve moving forward. Portland’s 29-37 record positioned the team 3.5 games behind the West’s No. 8 seed, the 32-33 Grizzlies, when league play paused in March.

Northwest Notes: Collins, Millsap, Hernangomez, Jazz

Trail Blazers big man Zach Collins is optimistic about finishing the season after participating in Friday’s conference call with commissioner Adam Silver, writes Jason Quick of The Athletic.

“I feel confident after hearing him talk that we will play again — it just might not be for a while,” Collins said. “The way he was talking, there will be some kind of regular season — whether it’s a tournament or not as many games — there’s going to be something. There’s too many teams, especially in the West, that can make (the playoffs). And he was speaking like there is a lot of time to finish everything, so that was encouraging to hear.”

Collins, who was among the players that worked out at the Blazers’ facility when it reopened yesterday, was left in a unique situation by the hiatus. He had shoulder surgery in November and hoped to return to action by the end of March, but the ban on competition leaves his status uncertain until full practices resume.

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • The Nuggets will face a difficult decision when Paul Millsap becomes a free agent this offseason, notes Nick Kosmider of The Athletic. They picked up a team option on Millsap last summer, but that was before they were able to acquire Jerami Grant from the Thunder. Grant is expected to opt out of a $9MM salary for next season and seek a multi-year deal. Millsap is Denver’s oldest player by far at age 35, and the Nuggets will have to determine if they can afford to keep both him and Grant.
  • The Timberwolves have resources available to upgrade at power forward, but they may decide they don’t need to now that they have Juan Hernangomez, suggests Chris Hine of The Star-Tribune. Minnesota acquired Hernangomez in a four-team deal in February and he was productive in 14 games, improving his 3-point shooting to 42% after hitting 25% in Denver. Minnesota expects to have two first-round picks this year and could be in position to target Aaron Gordon if the Magic decide to shake up their roster.
  • The Jazz will be affected by furloughs announced Friday by the Larry H. Miller Sports and Entertainment group, writes Art Raymond of The Deseret News. There will be a 40% reduction in staff throughout the organization, but a spokesman said all employees are expected to return to work when coronavirus restrictions are lifted.