Just a few years ago, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver would have been in an even more tenuous position due to the coronavirus outbreak than he is today.
But because of his own evolution about NBA scheduling possibilities — and a recent idea floated by one of the league’s top executives — the league has some real options to finish a 2019-2020 season without truncating the following one.
League officials have talked in years past about a massive shakeup of how the league’s draft order is chosen — a reaction to the fact that franchise players are so inordinately valuable that teams find it worth their while to deliberately “tank” multiple seasons to get those blue chips.
While that process has yet to gain favor, it may have led Silver, who has worked for the NBA since 1992, to be more willing to embrace all sorts of unusual concepts. He spoke last year about his fondness for the idea of some sort of an “in-season tournament” as one finds with European soccer.
Silver also has talked about possible “play-in tournaments” that expand the field of teams in the postseason, giving more fan bases something to root for down the stretch.
While that talk so far has been just that — the philosophy of “creating new traditions,” as Silver calls it — it at least seems to put on the table a radically new playoff system for this summer, assuming the world health crisis has been controlled enough by then for sports to resume.
Sources: The ex-US surgeon general Vivek Murthy delivered NBA Board of Governors call a message consistent with other credible health organizations on grim potential impact of coronavirus pandemic in U.S., but left owners with hope of re-starting season/playoffs before July.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) March 17, 2020
Can playoff spots be added?
As the season reached hiatus status last week, the standings showed significant gaps between the eighth- and ninth-place teams in each conference. But in part to make it worthwhile for all players to resume in “fighting shape,” Silver could still have the league’s bottom teams compete to advance to a main bracket against the more established teams. Anything is on the table right now — and keep in mind that in 2018, NBA officials already seriously discussed having the 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th teams duke it out for the last two playoff slots.
Even six months ago, all these ideas would have seemed to be robbing 2020-21 Peter to pay 2019-2020 Paul. Is that even worth it?
Well, less than two weeks ago, Atlanta Hawks CEO Steve Koonin made a presentation at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston that might prove more prescient than he dreamed.
Why not kick off the annual regular-season schedule in mid-December, he asked, rather than late October?
Koonin’s mantra there is “relevance equals revenue.” The point, he said, is to avoid as much competition with college football and the NFL as possible. The playoffs would end in August, with a summer’s worth of escalating interest in the postseason and only midseason MLB as competition.
The ESPN article covering the Sloan conference noted what at the time seemed like roadblocks: “For Koonin’s proposal — or any significant change to the schedule — to take effect, it would require buy-in from all sides impacted by it, including the league’s teams, its players and its broadcast partners.”
Those roadblocks may no longer exist. In fact, NBA corporate officials signaled a willingness to study the idea even before any of us ever imagined the chaos of the past few days.
Former New Jersey Nets executive Bobby Marks, who now works for ESPN, is starting to get his head around it. Marks tweeted on Sunday:
Interesting when you lay it out:
Mid-June- start of the NBA playoffs
Early August- NBA Finals
End of August- Draft
Sept. 1- Start of FA
Sept. 10- Summer/fall league
Dec. 10- training camp opens
Dec. 25- regular season opens (82 games)
Mid-June- NBA season ends
— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) March 16, 2020
If even the draft lottery isn’t sacred …
If all of this sounds radical, this is a league that in 2013 kicked around an even more radical idea: Eliminate the draft lottery altogether.
As Grantland’s Zach Lowe wrote after obtaining a copy of the proposal: “Each of the 30 teams would pick in a specific first-round draft slot once — and exactly once — every 30 years. Each team would simply cycle through the 30 draft slots, year by year, in a predetermined order designed so that teams pick in different areas of the draft each year.
“Teams would know with 100 percent certainty in which draft slots they would pick every year, up to 30 years out from the start of every 30-year cycle.”
Any league that would even consider such a fundamental change clearly is willing to consider all sorts of options to get though the end of this season and the beginning of the next.
So don’t count out the NBA — and betting on the NBA — for the season just yet.
Photo by Chris Nicoll / USA Today Sports