NBA teams approve plan to return; ‘formality’ of players’ approval to come Friday

It’s almost official: The NBA is just about back.

After play was indefinitely suspended the evening of March 11 after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19, the league confirmed that the NBA’s Board of Governors on Thursday voted to approve commissioner Adam Silver’s plan to conclude the season.

“The NBA is working to finalize a comprehensive season restart plan with the National Basketball Players Association,” the league said in a statement. “The NBA and the NBPA are working with infectious disease specialists, public health experts and government officials to establish a rigorous program to prevent and mitigate the risk related to COVID-19, including a regular testing protocol and stringent safety practices.”

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that “it’s a formality now” that players will also accept the plan. He later added that the NBPA’s team player representatives will hold a conference call on Friday to officially vote on the proposal. Donovan Mitchell is the Jazz’s player representative.

If so, there will be 22 teams concluding the regular season at the Walt Disney World complex in Orlando, Fla.

Wojnarowski reported that Silver’s proposal passed by a 29-1 margin. Shams Charania of The Athletic reported that the Portland Trail Blazers were the only team to vote against it.

The teams invited to return are the 16 who were in playoff position when the standings were frozen on March 12: The Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets, Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference; the Los Angeles Lakers, L.A. Clippers, Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference, plus the six clubs that were within six games of playoff position — the Washington Wizards, Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs, Phoenix Suns.

The return format will entail each team playing eight regular-season games to establish playoff seeding, with the top seven seeds in each conference definitively set after those games. If, after that time, the eighth-place teams are more than four games ahead of the ninth-place teams, they will earn the eighth seed outright; but if the ninth-place teams are within four or fewer games, a play-in tournament will take place which is double-elimination for the eighth seed and single-elimination for ninth.

After that, the season would conclude with a traditional playoff format including best-of-seven series in the first round, conference semifinals, conference finals and the NBA Finals. The playoffs will operate under the usual conference-based alignments.

“The Board’s approval of the restart format is a necessary step toward resuming the NBA season,” Silver said in a statement. “While the COVID-19 pandemic presents formidable challenges, we are hopeful of finishing the season in a safe and responsible manner based on strict protocols now being finalized with public health officials and medical experts.”

The Athletic reported that the league informed the Board of Governors that training camps will begin June 30 at team sites, followed by reporting to Orlando on July 7.

The league said that the 2019-20 season is “tentatively scheduled” to resume July 31, and the Draft Lottery will take place Aug. 25, while the 2020 NBA draft would be held on Oct. 15.

The 2020-21 NBA regular season would then likely begin on Dec. 1.

The eight teams whose 2019-20 seasons are now over are the Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets, Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons, Golden State Warriors, Minnesota Timberwolves and New York Knicks.

The 14 Lottery teams would be those eight teams plus the six teams that participate in the restart but don’t wind up making the playoffs. They would be assigned odds based on their records through games of March 11.