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The good and the bad about the NBA’s return to play plan

The league voted to continue the season with a new format and in a single city. The PtR staff offer their thoughts and concerns about the approved proposal.

NBA: All Star-Saturday Night Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA seems committed to finish the current season. The teams currently in the top 16 in the standings, plus six other teams — including the Spurs — would gather in Orlando to play eight regular season games, then have a play-in stage between the eighth and ninth seed before finally getting to the actual playoffs, according the plan approved by the board of governors.

Is this new format the league is proposing an adequate way to finish the season and crown a champion, in your eyes?

Marilyn Dubinski: I will start off by giving the NBA its fair share of credit for diligently doing its research, how they remained open and honest about their intentions, and have kept players in the loop. Even if you disagree with the season resuming, just take a glance over at the friction occurring between the MLB and their players, and you’ll see what the NBA is doing right. Beyond that, if the season must go on (mostly for monetary sake, and everyone knows the next CBA is already going to hurt), it does seem like the NBA is doing it in the safest environment possible and in an overall fair way for the remaining teams. This is not to say that they haven’t taken a single misstep or that the plan is perfect (there’s still plenty of health and safety concerns in returning at all), but considering they are one of the leagues most impacted by the pandemic’s timing, they could have done much worse.

Mark Barrington: I think this is a bad idea, because it’s too risky, and it will be a very oppressive atmosphere for the players, staff and their families to be cooped up like this for the extended period that it will take for all of this to play out. And the chances that no one gets infected even with all of these precautions is effectively zero. Having said all of that, I’ll be watching the games. It will be interesting to see which players show up. My guess is that many star players will find a reason not to go. I personally hope that Pop will stay home, but knowing his commitment to the team, I suspect that he will be there with them.

If the spectre of death weren’t looming over the whole thing, I’d be pretty excited about the format. I think the league is doing a good job of recapturing what remains of the season and giving all of the teams with a chance of making the playoffs a reason to go. I kind of wonder how this will affect draft positions, because I think the Spurs would be much better off with a mid-level lottery pick than a 15th or lower pick. It’s going to be a mixed bag for the Silver and Black, but it’s going to be fun to see basketball again. I’m really looking forward to see Lonnie Walker IV show his stuff again.

And finally, I’m going to share a bit of personal news, which affects my attitude on this issue. My 84 year old mother had to go to the hospital last week for an infection (not COVID). She was successfully treated, and moved to a nursing facility for a week of rehabilitation. This facility has very strict COVID protocols, we can’t even visit her, and when we brought her some items from home, they had to be stored for 24 hours and cleaned before she was allowed to receive them. She’s doing pretty well, but I got a call yesterday from the facility that someone at the facility had contracted COVID. I think my mom is going to be OK, and hopefully she’ll be home next week, but the fact is if they can’t keep COVID out of a secure nursing facility with controlled access, even with extreme precautions, they won’t be able to keep it out of a much larger event with thousands of people and a massive support operation. Sorry that this paragraph wasn’t about basketball, but the people that tell you COVID is over are not telling you the truth. Texas has more cases than ever, and it’s not going away until there is a vaccine or effective treatment.

Bruno Passos: It would seem like the league’s return to play would have to reconcile, in varying weights, the following factors:

  • Providing and clearly communicating an emphasis on safety;
  • Approximating as much as possible a caliber of competition that legitimizes the 2019-20 title and, really, the season as a whole;
  • Creating a return-to-play format that is palatable to all owners and offers owners of teams that had either already made the playoffs or were still in contention an equitable transition to postseason play;
  • Making sure that return-to-play format is one that fans can understand, get behind and get excited about;
  • Recouping as much revenue as possible through a combination of a compelling product and as many games as possible;

It’s not an enviable position to be in, and it makes you wonder if a lack of a perfect solution, one that ticked all those boxes, should’ve just led the decision-makers to lean completely into safety and simplicity. Instead, they opted for bringing in 6 more teams than the minimum (not that the Spurs are complaining) and for a format that requires some creative scheduling and some kind of flow chart to explain how the 8 seed may be decided. It’s probably not how I would’ve gone about it.

Jesus Gomez: It’s understandable for the league and, in all likelihood, the players’ association want to finish the season. Teams put months into preparing for it and there’s a lot of money on the line, so it would have been naive to assume they were not going to try to salvage it. But it still doesn't feel like the best idea.

The safety concerns are just too many. The bubble aspect of the plan is designed to assuage them, but no one that understands just how many people it would take to create anything close to ideal conditions for 22 NBA teams to play televised games for a couple of months can be convinced that it will work as intended. Even the NBA seems to get that, since it’s been reported that the league has talked about how teams need to be ready to push through even if there is a positive result to a COVID-19 test. If feels inevitable that something will go wrong.

Alas, this plan is likely to go though and while a little convoluted, it’s designed to give the teams that were in the playoff bubble something to fight for while not hurting those with a better record too much. If there’s a plan in place to share revenue to keep the teams that didn’t make the cut afloat until next season, there’s not too much to criticize about it.

J.R. Wilco: I understand why the league is compelled to finish the season; it’s a business, with commitments that it must live up to the best it can. Every business has been forced to make tough choices, a growing number have declared bankruptcy, and many more will not survive. I’d prefer the NBA not to join those ranks, so any plan that all involved can agree on that will keep basketball and the franchises as healthy as possible, I’m all for.

That said, I have serious doubts about the ability of the teams and officials to make it through the coming months unscathed by Covid infections. But I guess that’ll just be 2020s version of the spate of injuries we saw that hit just before (and at the beginning of) the playoffs a couple of years back.