Sources working for teams I have spoken to in the past few days have said that the goal, if the NBA can return in late May or June, is to play a handful of regular season games, then jump into the playoffs. The Finals would be pushed back into July and, potentially, all the way into August (which leads to questions about the schedule next year and going forward).
That leads to the question: Why play regular season games? Why not just jump straight to the playoffs?
Money, of course. In this case, money from local television deals with regional sports networks. Brian Windhorst of ESPN talked about it on the Hoop Collective podcast (hat tip Real GM).
“What they would love to do is to get to 70 games. And the reason is it’s 70 is a key number is because that is what the deliverable is to the regional sports networks. They are promised 70 games.
“Now, just because a team like the Lakers, for example, to get to 70 games… they wouldn’t necessarily be able to deliver on that because they’ve had a lot of national games, but getting to 70 would be helpful in retaining revenue because they wouldn’t have to refund some to the local TV.”
NBA teams have played between 63-66 games to this point in the season. That means a couple of weeks of action is needed to get every team to 70, games that would almost serve as an exhibition season before the playoffs.
The NBA is a business and, as much as losing gate revenue would hurt teams, it is television contracts that are the biggest financial drivers. That starts at the local level, and playing a handful more games gets the RSNs more revenue, meaning teams are not having to negotiate too much to make them whole.
For TNT and ABC/ESPN, the playoffs are the equivalent of December to a retailer — a lot of revenue comes in during a short amount of time. A full playoffs, even in the summer months (when ratings would be more unpredictable) would help keep them relatively happy. There are a lot of questions — would playoff games in empty arenas/G-League arenas, where the energy is different, would draw the same ratings? — but at least the league would have a mostly-complete season.
One other thing to consider: Would the NBA consider a play-in tournament for the eighth seed, as Adam Silver had suggested earlier in the season? That idea did not get enough team backing at the time, but would that change now with incomplete races for the final seeds?
That sounds good… if the NBA gets to return to action in a couple of months. As with every aspect of the nation right now, things are up in the air.