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Report: NBA could hold play-in tournament, shortened playoffs in Las Vegas

NBA in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JANUARY 29: Purple and gold lights flicker around the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign as a tribute to nine victims killed in a helicopter crash on Sunday in Southern California, including Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna Bryant, on January 29, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Clark County officials switched the lightbulbs to Los Angeles Lakers colors in honor of Kobe Bryant, who played in preseason NBA games in Las Vegas as well as practiced with the USA Basketball Men’s National Team in the city ahead of the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

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The NBA is reportedly committed to finishing this season, which is currently paused due to the coronavirus pandemic.

What structure will the rest of the season take? That’s a difficult question.

But apparently momentum is building for centralizing play in Las Vegas.

Jabari Young of CNBC:
Las Vegas has emerged as the best location to resume the season, according to league executives.

The NBA could decide to cancel the remainder of its regular season and create a play-in tournament for lower-seeded teams to enter the postseason. The league could then set up a best-of-five series for the first round, before moving to a one-and-done tournament to determine the two teams that will play in the NBA Finals, which would also be a best-of-five, people familiar with the planning said.

The tournament and NBA Finals would be held in Las Vegas at the Thomas & Mack Center and Cox Pavilion, where the league hosts its annual Summer League events.

This leads to several questions:

  • Can the NBA keep players and everyone else involved from contracting coronavirus? If COVID-19 infiltrates this operation, it’d undermine everything.
  • Could fans attend these games? Significant gate revenue is being left on the table. Fans could theoretically have their temperature checked as they enter. However, presumably, these games would be held in smaller arenas only because fans wouldn’t be present.
  • How would fans feel about, not only an abridged postseason, but a strangely structured one? The series going best-of-five, best-of-one, best-of-one, best-of-five is not a natural progression. Making the Finals – the most meaningful series – longer is logical. Presumably, the first round would be longer because that’s the round with the most series. It’d be a way to increase revenue.
  • What type of shape would players be in? LeBron James warned against jumping straight into the playoffs without a regular season to tune up.
  • What would happen with local-TV contracts? Those are a big reason to finish the regular season.
  • How would a play-in tournament affect the draft order? At least the league, pushing for a permanent play-in tournament, has already considered that. But this situation would come with the added wrinkle of a canceled finish to the regular season, teams playing a varying number of games.
  • How would owners and players split revenue of the entire season? Canceling the rest of the regular season would seemingly allow the league to invoke force majeure and reduce salaries. But this new structure – along with everything else – would have to be negotiated by owners and players.

That’s a lot to answer. Still, this might be the best option.

There’s an obvious appeal to finishing the season in a centralized location. It’s probably the fastest way to resume play – and generate quick cash.

Extending the season longer could interrupt future seasons. It might be better to milk whatever revenue is possible from this cursed season and just move on.

An abbreviated postseason at a neutral site is nobody’s ideal. But that it’s even a possibility shows how dire this situation has gotten.