Perspective: Fridays with Doug

NBA to resume but questions remain

Doug Brenneman
Doug Brenneman

The NBA is back.

Or so it says, but not everyone agrees on how it should be back.

The NBA suspended its season on March 11 after Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz became the first player in the league to test positive for the coronavirus.

League owners and the National Basketball Players Association are expected to approve a season restart plan that would invite 22 teams to Orlando, Fla., according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

All 22 teams coming to the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex on the Disney campus near Orlando would play eight games to determine playoff seeding before the playoffs begins. The ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex is a 255-acre campus with multiple arenas that could host games simultaneously and has been home to, among other things, the Junior NBA World Championship in recent years. ESPN, one of the NBA’s broadcast partners, is primarily owned by Disney. Games will most likely resume on July 31, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania.

The Western Conference will have 13 teams going to Disney, and the Eastern Conference will have nine. The NBA playoffs usually include the top 16 teams, eight from each conference. For this abbreviated season, it will include the top 22. That means the following six teams will make the playoffs: Memphis, Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento, San Antonio, Phoenix and Washington, according to ESPN.

The eight regular season games seem hokey to me. Just start the playoffs on a bracket format with play-in games for the nine through 12 seeds, thus inviting 24 teams to Orlando. Or bring all 30 teams in. Have a pool system like the World Cup does. Do something novel since it was the coronavirus that caused it.

Adding a few games to finish the regular season seems to me to be throwing the players out there for meaningless games. There isn’t a true opportunity to get into the playoffs. So just have everyone in the playoffs.

The NBA must weigh safety concerns after suspending operations. It must also calculate the best format to give teams the fairest shot to win an NBA championship.

Competing ideas and sentiments capture the challenge the NBA faces in figuring out the perfect format to resume the season. By just inviting 22 teams instead of all the teams, I think it is a huge missed opportunity for the NBA to make this postseason even more exciting than a normal postseason.

Either pool play or an NCAA-type bracket, regardless of a team being in the East or West Division, would have generated massive interest and social media buzz.

There has been speculation that having a changed playoff system gives the future champions an asterisk. Really? There is going to be an asterisk no matter what on this season, a huge asterisk regardless of the system to determine the champ.

Why not use this as a test to see if there are other ways to handle postseasons, and generate more ratings, than what the NBA has always done?

There are still some elements of the restart plan that could be changed, and other matters are being negotiated (read money) — such as how much of a percentage of their contracts that players will lose because some regular season games will be canceled.

While there has been no official announcements about the presence of fans, most reporting on the resumption of sports indicates fans will not be present.

I am of two minds about no fans. The last time I attended an NBA game was in the late 1980s in Phoenix, Arizona. So while it seems irrelevant to me, the fans in the NBA cities may feel different. I would hope the NBA will provide each team’s game broadcast to the city it is from

No fans will detract from the broadcast when we don’t hear the cheering and/or booing. Crowds can help sway momentum in a game.

However, having played sports myself, but only in high school, I can’t remember wanting to play for the fans. I wanted to play for my teammates, for my coaches and for myself. I played to win, not for the fans. Granted, a high school game cannot possibly create the roar of a packed college or pro stadium. But is the roar of a crowd what the athletes play for? No, some would answer, they play for money. But the ones who are winners are playing for the sole purpose of victory.

Fans or not, any way possible to get sports back on my television screen I am all for.

How the NBA and its players union reach a decision might reveal how they are balancing safety, the league’s finances and the quality of product. The problem is that those goals are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Each scenario presents its own risk-reward with those variables.

Perhaps in meetings Friday, the league will have decided how best to resume play or maybe the cacophony of voices and opinions will just create more questions.