It is not unexpected that Damian Lillard says he won’t participate if the Trail Blazers are brought back this summer by the NBA to play just a few games without any chance of earning a playoff berth.
I would not expect one of the game’s great competitors to be involved in such a situation. With nothing to play for, why play? Especially after such a long layoff? These would be exhibition games -- and you know how much playing time stars get in exhibition games.
But, of course, even by saying this, I think Lillard plants a seed with the league that they better give the borderline teams a chance for a playoff berth -- either by playing out the full schedule or (more likely) using a play-in tournament.
And I think this may have been Lillard’s motivation for going public with this statement. He wants his team to have a shot at a playoff berth and this may help the cause.
I would expect other talented players to follow Lillard’s lead, by the way. And this isn’t going to be much of a television product without the NBA’s best players taking part.
I would expect, by saying this, Lillard will move the needle toward the most likely course -- play enough “regular season” games to get all teams to 70 total contests, satisfying local television contracts, then go to some sort of mini-tournament.
I do not think all teams will be involved in that. Use common sense and invite the teams that are realistically close to earning a berth and leave the bottom-feeders out. Seed them using the current standings and let them go at it.
The most likely plan would probably be to get Western Conference hopefuls Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento, San Antonio and Memphis together -- perhaps giving the Grizzlies (since they hold the No. 8 spot) a chance to sit out and play the winner of a four-team mini-tourney for that final spot. Maybe make that series vs. Memphis a best-of-three.
Win or go home in the four-teamer. Sudden death.
It would be wild. And fun.