How will the NBA playoffs work?
NBA commissioner Adam Silver pushed for a play-in tournament during normal times. The concept holds some appeal now as a way to set the postseason field without completing a full regular season.
But don’t expect it.
A postseason play-in tournament has been weighed but is considered highly unlikely, according to multiple league sources. While a tournament could be attractive to fans and lucrative for the league in future seasons, it’s considered too dramatic of a shift in the short term. The league already has its existing contracts with RSNs and national networks, so the best use of time would be fulfilling those deals rather than introducing another unknown on top of every other uncertainty the league is facing.
The NBA should draw few long-term lessons from the current state of affairs. The whole world is upside down.
A play-in tournament might be a good idea right now. It might not. A play-in tournament might be a good idea in normal times. It might not. One has nearly nothing to do with the other.
If the NBA is going to hold games for all teams, the league should consider how to generate enthusiasm with lottery-bound teams. It’s not there naturally.
Fortunately for the league, there’s a well-defined top eight in the standings of each conference. Teams currently outside playoff position would have only minimal room to gripe if not afforded an opportunity to make the playoffs.
That’s not totally fair to the Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Kings and Spurs, who are in striking distance of the eighth-place Grizzlies in the Western Conference. Those other four teams had easier remaining schedules than Memphis.
I support a single-elimination play-in tournament for the Western Conference between those five teams. Reward the Grizzlies with a bye to the final, where they’d face the winner of a Portland-New Orleans-Sacramento-San Antonio bracket.
A small play-in tournament like that would achieve many goals. It’d generate excitement and revenue. It feels fair. It’d be a good way to test coronavirus-prevention protocols with a limited number of people.
The NBA should be open to radical one-time solutions in this unprecedented situation. Don’t worry about how it’d translate to future years. Those will be so different, regardless.