When the NBA finally figures out what the end of the 2020 season will look like when it gets together, likely in Florida's version of the Magic Kingdom, rest assured the Trail Blazers will have some way, some path, to competing in the playoffs.
It will happen.
This league is smart enough to know that as many of its superstars and their fan bases as possible need to be a part of the NBA’s grand reopening. This is going to be happening in the middle of the summer in an unprecedented time of other sports also launching at approximately the same time -- with no fans present at any of the games. And at least in the NBA, no home games for any team.
Television ratings will be everything. And that’s going to be a dogfight between MLB, the NHL and NBA -- with the NFL looming. Anything that can be done to bring eyeballs to games should and will be done by all the leagues.
That means compelling players and matchups. Storylines. Proven ratings-getters. It also means games that count. Real games. And if teams not currently in the top 16 in the league standings aren't given a chance to somehow play their way into the postseason, they won't be playing meaningful games.
They shouldn't even be there.
The NBA is not shy about attempting to make its product as relevant as possible. It has always done everything possible -- above board and maybe sometimes not above board -- to bring fans the matchups the league thinks people want.
Damian Lillard drew a line in the sand Tuesday, telling the league that if his team doesn’t have a chance to play its way into the playoffs, you won’t see him on the court.
And you can bet the league office listened. But I would also wager that the NBA already knew that not only Lillard, but many of the league’s best and most important players feel the same way. I do not believe the NBA wants any part of a situation that leaves Lillard, or other great players, on the sidelines.
If teams aren’t competing for a playoff berth at some point, they’re just playing exhibition games -- and the best players don’t bother much with non-counting games.
So there will be a mechanism for several teams -- not just the Trail Blazers, who should be rejuvenated by the presence of Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins -- but several other teams on the fringes of a playoff berth to have a shot at the playoffs.
The league wants Damian Lillard to play meaningful games. That translates into TV ratings.
Something else does, too -- and it plays into Portland’s playoff chances. Obviously, LeBron James is a ratings monster and the NBA was hurt all season by James playing on the west coast, making his games difficult to watch in the east. Ratings suffered.
And the league’s new ratings monster is Zion Williamson. Everyone knows this and you can’t talk to many people around the league who don’t believe that Zion makes a playoff/play-in scenario a necessity.
And guess what? The Trail Blazers have one more loss than Williamson’s New Orleans Pelicans but also one more win and thus, if league standings are frozen now and used to determine playoff eligibility, Portland is one single, scant percentage point ahead of the Pels in the standings.
I don’t see any way the entire remainder of the schedule will be played -- there isn’t enough time. Something will be done based on the standings as they sit now.
So if Zion is in, the Trail Blazers are in. It’s that simple. You can’t put New Orleans in without putting Portland in.
The league needs Zion and Dame -- and I just can’t see any way they will be left out.
It won’t happen. They will get their chance. Maybe not a great chance, but a chance.