I’ll be honest, a month or two ago, I thought there was a zero percent chance the NBA season would resume. But, here we are, with less than a month until 22 teams report to Walt Disney World in Orlando for the “bubble playoffs” — and you will not see me complaining.
Still, as a Charlotte Hornets fan and writer, it’s hard not to feel somewhat slighted by the NBA’s plan. The eight teams that are left out of Orlando will go from March 11 to at least December 25 without playing a game. Considering all but the Golden State Warriors are rebuilding and developing young players, there could be some significant consequences for being away from the team for that long, especially during times like these where workouts at team facilities are (rightfully) so individualized. Teams like Atlanta, Charlotte, Cleveland, etc. could’ve used the remaining 17 games to continue evaluating their assets and giving young players the opportunity to learn through their mistakes in-game. A player working out on his own all the time is great; but every single player in the NBA does that. The workouts at team training centers that consist of two or three-person drills and scrimmages are equally important, and being able to apply the lessons learned in said drills in an actual game is of the utmost importance.
It may seem hard to believe, player simply cannot get better at basketball without playing basketball.
For that reason, it’s necessary that the NBA input some sort of off-season training camp or tournament for the eight teams that were not invited to Orlando (for “player safety” reasons, despite only needing 16 teams for a playoff. Makes you wonder how much this is about “player safety”). Even if one is not a fan or follower of these eight teams, it is objectively bad for an NBA team to not play a game for over nine months — and that’s without even touching on the financial and business ramifications. Perhaps, the NBA could find another “bubble” site, or bring the eight uninvited teams to Disney World for a round-robin tournament after the playoffs have ended and the whole area has been sanitized.
Another question that has to be raised; what happens with the draft lottery? As things currently stand, Minnesota has played 64 games this season. Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland and Golden State have played 65 games. New York and Detroit have played 66 games, and Atlanta has played 67 games, the most of any uninvited team. Mathematically speaking, it’s impossible to hold a legitimate draft lottery unless every team has played an equal number of games, which is where the idea about a round-robin tournament or training camp comes in. Who knows what the result would be of the three games Minnesota needs to play to match Atlanta? Considering slots two through seven are all within three games of each other, the lottery odds could look quite different if all of the teams were able to catch up to the Hawks and play 67 games.
On top of that, are the teams who get invited to the play-in tournament in Orlando, but don’t make the playoffs, eligible for the lottery? It would be rather infuriating if the Phoenix Suns had a chance to play for the championship while also leapfrogging the uninvited teams to the No. 2 overall pick. The teams who go to Orlando but don’t make the playoffs should be barred from moving up in the draft lottery, especially if the eight teams ahead of them play zero games between now and opening night of the 2020-2021 season. The first eight picks can be shuffled around as they normally would be, but picks nine through 14 could be ordered however those teams finish in Disney World.
As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, you will not see any complaints about live basketball being on TV again. It has been far too long since our favorite sport has been in action, even if for good reason. But, there are clearly some logistical issues with the NBA’s return-to-action plan. If the issue was about “player safety,” they would’ve had a 16-team playoff, and if it was about money, they would’ve invited all 30 teams. They tried to straddle the middle, and I don’t blame them at all because this is an unprecedented situation. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see how the NBA deals with the eight teams uninvited to Orlando that are facing a potential nine months without seeing the court.