Report: NBA could resume with group stage

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A fundamental conflict for the NBA:

  • The more traditional of a season – all 30 teams playing 82 games, four rounds of best-of-seven series – the league completes, the more more money it will make.
  • The more teams involved in a resumed season, the higher risk of coronavirus spreading throughout the league.

That’s why the NBA is considering a middle ground – resuming without teams far outside playoff position.

But how would the league structure a format for 20 teams?

Maybe a group stage to replace the first round of the playoffs.

Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer:

The 16 current playoff teams would qualify for the group stage, plus the four teams with the next-best records (Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Kings, and Spurs). The remaining 10 teams would be done for the season. The survey sent to each general manager noted that “tiers” would first be created using the regular-season standings to ensure competitive balance between the groups.

Groups could then be randomly drawn, with one team from each tier going into each group. The NBA is working on approaches to fairly balance the groupings, such as limiting each group to only three Western Conference teams, according to multiple front office sources. Drawings for the group stage could be televised, league sources say.

As an alternative to having groups randomly selected, multiple league sources say the league has considered allowing Tier 1 teams—the Bucks, Lakers, Raptors, Clippers—to draft their own groups.

Teams would play opponents within their own groups twice, meaning every team would play eight games. The two teams in each group with the best record would move on.

Based on the current standings, the tiers would be:

  • Tier 1: Bucks, Lakers, Raptors, Clippers
  • Tier 2: Celtics, Nuggets, Jazz, Heat
  • Tier 3: Thunder, Rockets, Pacers, 76ers
  • Tier 4: Mavericks, Grizzlies, Nets, Magic
  • Tier 5: Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Kings, Spurs

As far as ways to resume with 20 teams, this isn’t bad. The draw – whether random or top-team choice – alone would be a revenue-drawing TV event.

The ninth-place (Wizards) and 10th-place (Hornets) teams in the Eastern Conference might argue they should be included over the 11th-place (Kings) and 12th-place (Spurs) teams in the Western Conference. But Sacramento and San Antonio have better records than Washington and Charlotte. If there were ever a time not to stress conference affiliations, it’s now with the league preparing to resume in a single location.

There would be increased risk for top teams getting knocked out early if their group is challenging. They’ve already lost home-court advantage. But there’s also chance of upset in a regular playoff series. Besides, downside could be mitigated by allowing the top teams to draft their groups* and using regular-season record as a tiebreaker.

*This could even be done in reverse – i.e., the top teams selecting which lower-tier teams not to put in their own group.

The Bucks, Lakers, Raptors and Clippers could rotate selecting lower-tier teams to avoid. Once three top-tier teams have nixed a team, that lower-tier team would be placed in the fourth top-tier team’s group. Each group would still be required to have one team from each tier.

Or maybe the top-tier teams could even rotate sticking lower-tier teams into a specific top-tier team’s group. The Bucks could use their first selection on placing the 76ers into the Lakers’ group, for example.

There are many possibilities how to structure a group draft.

If the NBA locks into resuming with 20 teams, the other 10 teams would be incentivized to vote for whatever system generates the most revenue. Those 10 votes could boost any proposal that would otherwise be doomed by teams trying to clear their own path deep into the playoffs.

This system would satisfy players on marginal teams – like Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard – who want to play only if the games are meaningful. It’d also allow the worst teams just to be done.

The draft order and lottery odds would have to be re-considered with a 20-team group phase. Though that’s a minor issue, it’d involve every team. Again, self-interest would creep in.

This idea has some rough precedent. In 1954, the playoffs began with three-team round robins in each the East and West.

The bigger question is how many NBA teams should resume? But if the best answer is 20, this is the best format I’ve seen.

New York Governor clears path for Knicks, Nets to open facilities for workouts

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As of today, 19 NBA teams have their practice facilities open for players to come in for individual workouts, but 11 have yet to open the doors. Some it’s the decision of the team, some it’s that the municipality or state had not allowed it.

The Knicks and Nets — in the heart of New York, the part of the nation hardest hit by COVID-19 — are two of those teams whose facilities are closed. However, on Sunday New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said they could open the door for practice.

“I believe that sports that can come back without having people in the stadium, without having people in the arena — do it! Do it!” Cuomo said at his press conference. “Work out the economics, if you can. We want you up. We want people to be able to watch sports. To the extent people are still staying home, it gives people something to do. It’s a return to normalcy. So we are working and encouraging all sports teams to start their training camps as soon as possible. And we’ll work with them to make sure that can happen.”

While the teams have not formally announced anything yet, it is likely at least the Nets will open soon for the players still in market to workout (the majority of players from the New York teams went home to other parts of the country). The Knicks, well out of the playoff picture, may be much slower to open their facilities back up.

When they happen, the workouts come with considerable restrictions: one player and one coach at each basket, the coach is wearing gloves and masks, the balls and gym equipment are sanitized, and much more.

One part of a potential plan for the NBA to return to play called for a couple of weeks of a training camp at the team facilities, followed by 14 days of a quarantined training camp in Orlando at the bubble site. Multiple teams reached out to the league about doing their entire training camp in Orlando to avoid having players quarantine twice (once when the player reports back to market, once when the team goes to the bubble city).

Nets reportedly have had internal discussions about Bradley Beal trade

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The Washington Wizards have no plans to trade Bradley Beal. At all. Beal has said he doesn’t want to be traded. The idea is to pair Beal with a returned and healthy John Wall next season and win a lot of games in the East.

That hasn’t stopped other teams from planning to trade for Beal, just in case things change.

Kyrie Irving has pushed the franchise saying Nets need a third star, and internally the Nets have talked about trading for Beal, reports Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

Immersed in their championship window, the Brooklyn Nets are in the market for a third star and have internally discussed avenues of acquiring Wizards guard Bradley Beal, the Daily News has learned…

The Nets will have to match salaries for any trade, with Beal earning roughly $29 million next season. Assuming Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are off limits, the Nets’ best assets are Spencer Dinwiddie ($11.5 million), Caris LeVert ($16.2 million) and Jarrett Allen ($3.9 million).

If the Wizards were trading Beal it would mean they are rebuilding, and they will want picks and/or young prospects thrown into any deal.

That’s if. Right now all indications are the Wizards want to get the band back together, including re-signing Davis Bertans, and play out next season — they consider Wall and Beal an elite backcourt that can do real damage in the East. Plus, rebuilding is not exactly owner Ted Leonsis’ style.

Both Beal and Wall are under contract for two more seasons, followed by a player option for a third season (remember Beal signed an extension to stay in Washington). If next season does not go as planned, then in the following offseason Beal may become available. Not now.

But teams are still watching.

Possible NBA return timeline: Training camps start June 21, games July 15

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As it gets closer to the early June date when NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is expected to make a call on the NBA’s restart plans, the buzz around the league has settled on a rough timeline:

Players report back to team markets in early June and do individual workouts, then somewhere in the final week to 10 days of June formal training camps would start at team facilities. Finally, by mid-July, teams would travel to the bubble city or cities (likely Orlando, and maybe still Las Vegas as a secondary spot) and a handful of regular season games would tip-off getting teams to 70 games total (or, maybe, a couple more). After that, the playoffs would begin, with seven-game series for each round.

Thursday multiple people confirmed this timeline, with the Nets’ Spencer Dinwiddie giving specific dates of June 21 for training camps and July 15 for games.

Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry was a little vaguer but told Jabari Parker at CNBC the NBA could resume games in 6-to-8 weeks.

At this point June 21 and July 15 are not set in stone, but they serve as a useful marker for what the NBA is thinking.

It will take extensive testing of players, coaches, training staff, broadcast crews, and everyone in the “bubble” to make this work, but the NBA is negotiating those deals reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The return of the NBA, just like the reopening of other parts of American life, is a fluid situation. Everyone is being understandably cautious, and things could change.

However, everything seems to be settling on a timeline that will see NBA games back on your screens in the middle of July, with the rest of this season playing out and a champion being crowned. And you can be sure whichever team raises that banner is not about to put an asterisk on it.

 

D’Angelo Russell says Lakers didn’t offer professional guidance, takes blame

D'Angelo Russell in Lakers-Nets
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D'Angelo Russell has a unique place in NBA history: young star journeyman.

The Lakers drafted Russell No. 2 overall in 2015. After alienating his teammates in Los Angeles, Russell got traded to Brooklyn. He developed into an All-Star with the Nets, but they moved on to sign Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. So, Russell joined the Warriors last summer in a double sign-and-trade for Durant, becoming the youngest established All-Star to change teams via free agency. Russell already got moved again, getting dealt to the Timberwolves just before the trade deadline.

Russell is only player ever to play for four different teams and become an All-Star all before turning 24.

Nobody else has played for even three different teams and become an All-Star before turning 24.

Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic took a deep dive into Russell’s journey. I recommend reading it in full. The story includes Russell reflecting on each of his stops.

Russell on the Lakers:

“I didn’t know how to be a professional and the guidance wasn’t there also,” Russell said. “I don’t blame anybody. I blame myself. It was really a blur to me, just in the sense that the things that I’ve been through ever since then.”

A completely fair assessment.

The Lakers were focused on Kobe Bryant’s farewell tour. Young players like Russell got put on the backburner. Russell’s relationship with Lakers coach Byron Scott was mutually unproductive.

But nobody is responsible for D’Angelo Russell like D’Angelo Russell. It would’ve been nice if the Lakers better mentored him. Ultimately, though, it falls on him.

Which leads to Brooklyn, where Russell improved under then-coach Kenny Atkinson’s watch.

Russell on the Nets:

“I’m not going to give it to Kenny,” he said. “I still don’t think he knew what he had, honestly. I don’t think he knew what I was capable of in the fourth quarter.”

If Russell gets the blame for his stumbles, he should also get the acclaim for his success. People assign too much credit to the coach. Though Brooklyn’s player-development system helped, the player is most central to his own growth.

Russell’s progress earned him plenty of suitors in free agency, including the Timberwolves. But unlike Minnesota, Golden State offered a max contract.

Russell on the Warriors:

“I remember going through the process and I was like, ‘If I go to Minnesota, I play with Karl and all the guys who will be there. I could potentially settle down and relax and unpack my bags,” Russell said. “But there’s something telling me you gotta go get every bit of money you’re worth right now.”

There’s always valuing in securing financial security. That looks particularly prescient now.

Though Russell spent time as an awkward fit in Golden State, he still got to Minnesota, where he was heavily pursued and warmly welcomed.

Russell on the Timberwolves:

“I’m like, OK,” he said, “this is where I’m supposed to be.”

I still have questions about Russell’s and Karl-Anthony Towns‘ fit together. Though the friends have long wanted to play together and each have plenty of talent, neither has shown the necessary commitment to the finer points of winning basketball.

Of course, there’s still time to learn. After all – despite all he has been through and all the perspective he shows throughout Krawczynski’s article – Russell is still just 24.