LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard

The 2019-2020 NBA season will restart at some point in the next two months. There will most likely be no fans and all the games will be played in one location. Commissioner Adam Silver wants it to happen. The NBA teams and players want it to happen. Fans are begging for basketball, and every sport for that matter, to restart in order to establish a sense of normalcy. The question is not if the NBA 2019-2020 will start, but how will it begin again.

Last week, the NBA sent a survey to all 30 general managers concerning the various proposals as to how to restart and finish the season. Competition formats, game locations, and roster issues were at the top of the list. Yesterday, Adam Silver held a conference call with NBA GMs to discuss the results of the survey. Shams Charania of The Athletic broke down the results.

It’s apparent that the biggest issues revolve around the continuation of the NBA’s regular season and the playoff format. It boils down to two questions: Should the regular season continue, and what format should be used for the playoffs?

Let’s start with the first issue, the regular season. This is where ownership and the players seem to be divided the most. Players want to have at least a few regular-season games to get back into “basketball shape” instead of jumping right into the playoffs. Plus, teams a few games out want to have a legitimate chance to make the playoffs. The majority of GMs want to end the regular season and keep the current playoff format.

If the regular season ended today, how would it affect teams on the outside looking in? In the East, it shouldn’t matter at all. The 8 playoff teams are not going to change without a miracle. Washington is 5.5 games behind the current 8 seed, Magic. If the Wizards couldn’t make up that difference during the season, what makes you believe they’ll make up the ground now? Giving the 24-win Wizards the chance to make the playoffs should not be a high priority. In the West, there’s more of an argument. Memphis holds the 8th seed with a record of 32-33. Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento all are 3.5 games back, while San Antonio is 4 games behind. It’s not inconceivable that one of these teams could make a final push for the final spot, which is where a play-in tournament could be beneficial.

The other issue involves the playoff format. Several ideas are floating around as to how the NBA should proceed with their playoffs. They could leave it as is with 8 teams in the East and 8 teams in the West. A proposed World Cup group stage received some positive responses from the GMs. The group stages would replace the regular season and first round. It would be a round-robin type of event where 5 teams (amount of teams is yet to be determined) are placed into 4 groups. Teams play every team in their group twice and the teams with the best two records advance to the second round of the playoffs, where the current format would apply. Problems could arise if the teams are drawn at random like they are in soccer, so a “group of death” could form if the groups are not seeded beforehand.

Now is not the time to belittle creativity. In fact, the NBA should be praised for addressing concerns and creating new formats to serve as solutions. There really are no bad ideas. However, there is a word going around that should scare the NBA and that’s the word, “asterisk.” The NBA is in unprecedented territory, which means all hell could potentially break loose in terms of who wins the championship. Shaq mentioned the NBA should cancel its season because the champion would be labeled with an asterisk. Shaq’s not entirely wrong. If any team other than the Lakers, Clippers, or Bucks win a title because of a new format like a World Cup group stage, no matter how many times Silver says it’s legitimate, it will be difficult for many fans to accept the champion without using an asterisk.

However, if every team plays under the same set of circumstances, there’s no reason to put an asterisk on the season. In fact, one could argue it will be even harder to win this year’s title because of the stoppage and the removal of home-court advantage. Whatever the case may be, the NBA does not need to reinvent the wheel. The best way to ensure the legitimacy of the champion is to keep the playoff format as close to normal as possible. The best teams should advance in the playoffs no matter what. That being said, some minor adjustments could be made in order to give more teams a chance if the regular season is shortened or canceled completely.

If I was the commissioner, this would be my plan.

  • 24 teams restart the season. The teams: top 8 seeds in the East, the top 8 seeds in the West, and the next four teams with the best record in each conference.
  • Teams seeded 9-12 have a play in-game. 9 vs. 12 and 10 vs. 11. So if that happens, here are the matchups – West: 9. Blazers vs. 12. Spurs / 10. Pelicans vs. 11. Kings. East: 9. Wizards vs. 12. Knicks / 10. Hornets vs. 11. Bulls. Winners advance and losers leave town (literally).
  • The two winners then play the 7 and 8 seed in their conference to determine the final two spots in the playoffs. The higher seeded team from the play-in games will play the 8 seed. Potential matchups – West: 7. Mavs vs. lower-seeded team / 8. Grizzlies vs. higher-seeded team. East: 7. Nets vs. lower-seeded team / 8. Magic vs. higher-seeded team. Winners move to the playoffs.
  • While those play-in games occur, every team that’s in the top 8 will play two games that will count towards their record. To keep it random, the games would be against playoff teams from the other conference. To reward the higher seeds, it will be playoff-style seeding. For example, the top-seeded Lakers would play the 8 seed in the East, which is the Magic. The 2 seed, Clippers, would play the 7 seed, Nets, and so on so forth. For game number two, the same rules apply except there are fewer teams. The top-seeded Lakers would then play the 6 seed, 76ers, since teams 7 and 8 will be in the play-in game. 2 seed would play 5 seed and so on and so forth. These games serve as a way for players to get back into basketball shape before the playoff grind begins and in some cases, teams could improve their playoff seeding with wins.
  • Once the dust has settled, start the playoffs under the normal formula with 8 teams in the East and 8 teams in the West. If you need to cut games, make the first round best-of-five. Other than that, the best-of-7 format remains intact throughout.

The plan is not perfect, but no plan will be. Let’s just get the players back on the court and go from there.

How would you continue the NBA season? Leave your thoughts in the comments or tweet us, @unafraidshow.

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