Worried about what a 90-day push back in the NBA schedule may look like? How about what it would mean for the 2020 NBA Draft and free agency? Everything is still up in the air, and it’s an extremely complicated situation.
On Tuesday, the league’s board of governors spoke with Dr. Vivek Murthy, the former U.S. Surgeon General, according to both The Athletic’s Shams Charania and ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Sources: Dr. Vivek Murthy, former US Surgeon general, told NBA owners today about coronavirus: If the United States had not hardened its stance across country, millions were at risk to die — and cases will likely only increase, like they did in Italy, over the next 2-to-3 months. https://t.co/KcTyYqVxtk— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 17, 2020
Sources: The ex-US surgeon general Vivek Murthy delivered NBA Board of Governors call a message consistent with other credible health organizations on grim potential impact of coronavirus pandemic in U.S., but left owners with hope of re-starting season/playoffs before July.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) March 17, 2020
If the league decides to return some time this summer, which it appears the NBA will try with or without fans in attendance, they have a couple issues to deal with. First up, how will they handle every team's remaining 16-to-19 games?
Would the league end at 66-ish games and just allow a team like the Memphis Grizzlies into the postseason because they currently lead a five-team race to the finish line? Could they run out a modified slate that balances the remaining strength of schedule?
It's hard to imagine the league finding enough dates to fill out the entirety of the season, but they need to come up with a better solution than just eliminating a handful games or giving the Grizzlies a free pass into the playoffs.
The league could test out some sort of play-in for the postseason, but it hasn't been done before. They could take a group of teams vying for position, say teams sitting ninth through 12th in each conference. They could have the winners of those games -- or short series -- play the seventh and eighth seeds from each conference and then start the playoffs from there.
With the NBA kicking around the idea of a mid-season tournament, this also might be a chance to try it out. Seeding the teams and letting them battle it out for postseason position and the final playoff spots would engage the entire league and give fans a reason to tune in.
We are in uncharted waters, but the league will need to get creative if they want to retain competitive fairness.
Once the NBA's plan is in place for the rest of the season, how will the playoffs work? Will they condense the schedule and force teams to play back-to-backs or three games in four nights? Will they play it out like a normal schedule and allow the season to push an additional three months into the offseason?
If there's a very limited schedule of available dates, the priority should go to the final two rounds. The NBA could swap back to a best-of-five series to save some time in the first round. They could also continue that through the second round to expedite the first half of the postseason and then play out best-of-seven series in the Conference finals and The Finals.
After all of this is determined, how will the league deal with the draft? Will they shorten the window before it? Will they go without in person meetings and cut down on the structure building up to the draft, like the NFL has?
The Kings brought in 101 draft prospects last year. They likely won’t have that luxury this time, when they have a first-round selection and an additional three picks in the second round.
Expect teams to crank up their scouting now with the season on hold, even if the only options are to study film and conduct background on the 2020 draft class. There will still need to be some sort of combine where teams can get face-to-face time with prospects, but everything has to be shrunk down.
Once selected on draft night, don't expect a standard summer league, either in Sacramento or Las Vegas, for the new crop of prospects. The league should understand this issue and perhaps give roster excemptions, at least in the short term, so teams have time to assess their incoming players.
Free agency likely will be shortened, but that is something the NBA has dealt with in the past. The NBA played just 50 games during the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, ratifying a new collective bargaining agreement on Jan. 20, just two days after reaching an agreement. Two weeks later, the NBA opened the season on Feb. 5 after working through free agency and training camps.
Kings general manager Vlade Divac took part in the abbreviated free agency period. He left the Charlotte Hornets on Jan. 22 and signed a massive six-year, $60 million contract with the Kings.
Most of the major free-agent moves happened over a two-day period beginning on Jan. 21, but rosters were still in flux until Feb. 19. That's when clubs had to make their final roster moves some seven games into the season.
The window for signing offer sheets will have to get cut down again. Teams might have a slightly longer period than the one in 1999, but it's possible the season will end and another will begin weeks later. Building rosters on the fly won't be easy.
None of this is ideal, but a June or July start might be the NBA's best-case scenario in its new reality. When given clearance, the league will likely have a brief window for a modified training camp, followed by some sort of compressed schedule. If they can get to the postseason by July, as they hope for, they might be able to finish the season by mid-August.
The NBA could push back the 2020-21 season by a month or two. Some have even suggested waiting until Christmas day to kick off the campaign. That would spread this ordeal over two seasons instead of one, although nothing should be off the table.
Can the league start, stop, start again and then rebound for a standard 2020-21 season? It’s a tall task, but they have managed to get through difficult situations in the past. There are so many questions facing the NBA, and we aren't even close to having a clear date for a return.