As NBA teams around the country, including the Clippers and their L.A. neighbors, the Lakers, have re-opened their practice facilities and welcomed players back for individual, socially-distanced workouts, it’s become clear that the league is gearing up for a return to play this summer. While the risks posed to the health of players, staff, and their families are real, the league believes it can mitigate those risks through a variety of logistical measures, including daily testing for players. Perhaps more importantly, none of the parties involved seem ready to accept losing the opportunity to crown a 2020 NBA Champion–and losing over a billion dollars in television revenue losses.
While the momentum has been slowly building over recent weeks, we haven’t come close to hearing concrete plans from the league, largely because they haven’t decided yet. Throughout this crisis, commissioner Adam Silver has consistently said that the league is considering contingencies for every possible situation, so while a likely plan may be beginning to take shape, officials are hesitant to commit to a schedule while conditions surrounding the virus and testing availability are in flux.
Still, for NBA fans eager to see play resume, the most exciting tidbit yet came in a tweet from Brooklyn Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie yesterday, who said he had heard that “bubble” regular season games could begin July 15th.
The “last 5 games” that Dinwiddie refers to are likely the conclusion to a shortened regular season. Most teams need to reach 70 games in order to receive the full amount of their local television deal with their respective regional sports networks. So, while many hypothetical proposals have simply cut off the regular season in early March and moved directly into the playoffs, it seems likely at this point that all thirty NBA franchise will return for a handful of regular season games to fulfill their local TV deals and maximize revenue. These games would likely occur at “bubble sites” in Orlando and/or Las Vegas, where all teams would play in empty stadiums in the same city to minimize travel and exposure.
What remains to be seen is how the league would handle the standings. For the most part, the playoff picture in each conference is relatively set, but in situations where there are close margins or ties, it will be tricky to balance strength of schedule and tiebreakers. In the West, from 3rd to 6th, Denver, Utah, Oklahoma City, and Houston are only separated by 2 losses. It will be up to schedulers to determine how to ensure that these teams have relatively even schedules that are consistent with their remaining strength of schedule during the full season, and to decide in what instances to keep, add, or remove head-to-head match-ups between teams close to each other in the standings. These games, without any warm-up games or exhibitions preceding them, also leave room for complaint from a team that is rusty.
There are still a lot of details for the league to sort out between now and an eventual return to play–teams haven’t even progressed to group workouts or practices yet. But, for now, we can look forward to seeing NBA action on July 15th.