The NBA is apparently mulling two options to kick off its postseason July 31 in Orlando, where the Magic Kingdom will turn into the Magic Bubble, as teams gather to find a resolution to the 2020 season.
The options being explored seem to be a World-Cup style group stage, where several teams play a round-robin in one of several pools before the best two or three in each pool advance to a playoff bracket. Or a simple play-in tournament, where borderline teams -- likely just in the Western Conference -- try to steal the eighth seed from Memphis.
I believe the play-in tournament is the most likely scenario -- it seems to be the option that is fair to the most teams and also the format most likely to get the most votes from league governors.
I believe the idea of pool play, or any other scheme that includes teams that are firmly entrenched among the top eight teams in each conference, is not going to get enough votes to pass.
And it appears in this NBA, while Commissioner Adam Silver has power, he doesn’t have David Stern-like power, where he can simply ramrod whatever proposal he wishes down the throats of the owners.
I just don’t think upper-echelon teams will vote to be thrown into a pool with teams such as New Orleans and Portland that could knock them out of the postseason before it even gets to a bracket.
And it’s not fair.
I don’t believe teams such as Denver, Boston, Toronto, the Clippers and the Jazz, which have had solid seasons and earned the right to enjoy a first-round playoff matchup against a lower-seeded team, should have to jeopardize their season in a pool where one bad game might eliminate them.
For the NBA, any sort of play-in should involve the teams in the Western Conference -- the Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Spurs and Kings -- that were breathing down the neck of eighth-seeded Memphis.
I do not believe the Grizzlies, given their schedule and the way they had been playing, were going to be able to hold onto that seed.
Just let 20 teams play four or five games in Orlando to get ready for the postseason, then throw Nos. 9-12 in the West into a sudden-death tourney -- win or go home -- for the right to meet Memphis in a best-of-three series for that eighth spot.
Fair to all concerned, with a nod to the Grizzlies for holding the eighth seed. And those win-or-go-home games will be must-see television.
It wouldn’t surprise me, though, if some form of tournament will be set up that puts not one but two of the 16 playoff berths up for grabs.
That would give the league’s new darlings, New Orleans and Zion Williamson, not only two chances to make the field but an opportunity to escape a first-round matchup with the league’s other ratings monster, LeBron and the Lakers. This from ESPN's Brian Windhorst:
"One of the things I've been hearing as I've talked to people in the league is, the league is gonna set up this playoff plan to make sure Zion Williamson is involved. ... Paranoia is at the top of the list with anything in the NBA. ... They're always paranoid about everything—'the league is screwing me, and they're helping that guy.' In this case, there's a number of different reasons why the league would want to have 20 or 24 teams, a number of different reasons to get extra games. But most of those scenarios include making sure, having Zion Williamson in the postseason."
And if you think that’s not a factor, you haven’t studied this league very long, The NBA will manipulate matchups, schedules and maybe even games to get what it wants. Don't believe me... well, all I'm going to say is that if you want to defeat New Orleans in a play-in tournament, you better have a pretty big lead going into the fourth quarter.
Certainly, the Trail Blazers should be locked into whatever format is used, simply because they have a one-percentage-point lead over New Orleans. If the Pelicans are in -- and they will be -- Portland has to be there, too.
Whatever happens, the hype machine is going to be running at full speed because the NBA has suffered through a season of ratings declines and this is a chance to salvage something better.
And don’t overlook the fact that the Trail Blazers, with Jusuf Nurkic and Zack Collins presumably healthy, have a great chance to be a much better team than their seeding would be and thus a Cinderella team in the postseason.
We should know the format of this thing next week.