The NBA is considering its various options to complete a season interrupted like no other. If sports marks the paths of our lives, COVID-19’s smeared stain on the 2020 season will never be forgotten.
Not just on basketball, but on … everything.
But it must be dealt with and, with any luck, overcome.
In making that climb, there are separate concerns for the NBA’s powers to consider, some of which do not mix well, foremost among them the safety of everyone involved. As eager as the country seems to be to get going again, as eager as fans are to see competition on the court, as eager as the league is to provide a product and generate the money that product creates, there remains a threat of harm to those who do the getting and the going, and the competing.
Let’s be honest. If health and safety were the only concerns, the season already would have been flushed like a flying Donovan Mitchell tomahawk dunk.
But the NBA, being a business and all, wants whatever cash it can scrounge together in even an imperfectly concluded campaign. Fans — the league’s customers — crave their fill of the game, too. It would do them good to root for something other than the demise of a disease that has weighed so heavily on their minds and souls. Still, no matter what finish is decided upon by the owners and players this week, it will be flawed.
Everybody will go ahead and take flawed. Unless it results in the loss of more lives.
That’s the NBA’s nightmare, to start this thing up again under a controlled environment and then have the coronavirus break out among those playing and producing the games.
It’s a possibility commissioner Adam Silver has taken seriously from the moment the NBA shut down on the March night two Jazz players tested positive for the virus and the season’s brakes were slammed.
The NBA deserves credit for its conscientious and deliberate approach over the past months in listening to and following the advice of health experts as much as accountants as the empty — and financially hurtful — weeks have crawled by.
If the league thinks it can responsibly restart games sometime in July and jumpstart training camps in the weeks before that, then that decision will have been thought out carefully, fully aware that the beast has not been slain, the nightmare scenario has not been eliminated.
But, man, some basketball would be welcome, imperfections happily overlooked.
The options you know about by now: Restart the regular season, hoping to at least get to the 70-game mark for the benefit of reaping millions of dollars from regional television contracts, or forget about that money by bagging the regular season and getting straight to the playoffs, the part of any season that stirs the most interest.
Either scenario would require the players to get back to their team training facilities in their markets — those players are scattered all over the globe — and go through personal conditioning and a team mini-camp. That would require a minimum of three weeks, maybe more. Nobody wants to see a stack of injuries once the games begin.
Some want the entire league to finish out those 70 games — and even though most teams’ game totals are in the mid-60s, that is unlikely. Hauling back outfits such as the Golden State Warriors and the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Cleveland Cavs and the Atlanta Hawks, who have 20 or fewer wins, and nothing competitively to play for, would be a fruitless endeavor.
Some want the eight playoff teams from the East to be in, and the top eight teams in the West, plus four others, including Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento and San Antonio, to play in some format, because those last four teams are all within four games in the standings of eighth-place Memphis. Non-playoff teams in the East are further back.
There are variances to take into consideration from the regular season as scheduled, such as the Grizzlies facing the toughest remaining opponents and the Pelicans facing the easiest.
But there are advocates for a playoff-plus system of one kind or another that would allow for games to be played before the postseason starts, for players to round themselves into form before the playoffs.
The best format, though, is the playoffs-only one.
Some have suggested taking the 16 top teams, as they sit in the standings now, seed them 1-16, and dive straight into the playoffs that collective way. If that were to happen, the No. 7 Jazz would face the No. 10 Rockets in the first round, and nobody around here wants to see that.
And while some say this, of all times, is the best to try a little innovation, on account of everything being somewhat knocked out of the norm, the better course is to follow a traditional path, with the top eight teams from each conference facing off against each other.
In the Jazz’s case, that would pit them against the Thunder in the first round, and off the playoffs go from there.
Either way, the NBA should just go, from this point, playoffs only. Get in shape in camp, work through the kinks, and … go.
Games that don’t count in the preseason have always been a bore and while coaches love them, fans do not. Inconsequential games at the end of the season, games that don’t make much difference, fit in the same category. Even in a playoffs-plus format, once a team near the bottom of qualification lost early, what’s the motivation from there?
Point is, in this most unusual season, when the games begin, they should mean something significant for all involved. If players and coaches and staff and officials and production folks are showing up, living in an Orlando bubble, getting repeatedly tested, then what they’re playing for should carry immediate meaning, hold an immediate reward.
The basketball might be rusty, less than perfect, but if it means something right from the first tip, means something to the players, to the teams, it will mean something to the fans watching from their TV dens.
And it might mark the paths of our lives with something in sports more than the dread of a disease.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.