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.

Charles Barkley says he played game drunk in 1992 when trade to Lakers fell through

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Charles Barkley was about to be a Laker and he wanted to celebrate.

It was 1992 and Barkley’s time in Philadelphia was coming to an end; meanwhile, the post-Showtime Lakers needed another star (they still have James Worthy but needed much more). The two teams got together and a trade was nearly done. Barkley started drinking to celebrate… until everything fell through.

Barkley loves telling this story. He first told it to Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated five years ago, then retold it on Jimmy Kimmel Live in 2018. He expanded on it during the Lowe Post podcast with ESPN’s Zach Lowe (hat tip Silver Screen and Roll).

“My agent calls me one morning and he says ‘hey, you’re going to get traded to the Lakers today. And me and my friends, we go out and celebrate and get drunk around noon….

“He calls me later and says ‘hey you’ve been traded to the Lakers, they’re going to finalize the deal and I’ll get back to you.’

“I’m on cloud nine, he calls me back three hours later, it’s like 3:30 now, he says, ‘The Sixers backed out of the deal.’ And I’m drunk as [bleeped expletive] and we got a game that night, and I’m like ‘what? What are you talking about?’ And he’s like ‘the Sixers were scared to pull the trigger.’ So I’m like ‘you’re kidding me, dude we got a game tonight and I’ve been drinking since noon.’ The one thing that’s funny, I don’t even know how I played that night. I think I might have played so bad because I was so angry the Sixers didn’t pull the trigger, and then it’s just suffering the next two or three years.”

There are not enough details to pinpoint the game in question (assuming the timeline is right and this is 1992). Barkley had a couple of home clunkers in early 1992, although it’s possible he didn’t play terribly that game. We may never know.

Barkley got traded that summer, being sent to Phoenix, where he was revitalized, won the MVP the next season and led the Suns to the NBA Finals (where he ran into Jordan’s Bulls).

76ers coach Brett Brown knows tenuous job fate lies in NBA restart

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Almost fitting for his seven-year tenure coaching the Philadelphia 76ers, Brett Brown had an injury to report: his 16-year-old dog pulled a hamstring on one of their daily walks.

But for the banged-up Sixers’ Big Dogs? Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are coming along just fine from their injuries and should be healthy enough to play if the NBA season resumes — and end a season Brown expected the Sixers to contend for a championship.

“I think this team was built for the playoffs,” Brown said Friday.

Brown needs Embiid and Simmons, Philly’s All-Star franchise players, to be in shape and try to salvage a season that saw the Sixers fade from Eastern Conference contenders to just sixth in the standings (39-26) when it stopped March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

That made Brown’s job status a hot topic around the NBA and a daily debate in Philly.

Brown led the 76ers from The Process — when the roster was purposefully stripped of real NBA talent to secure better draft picks — to consecutive 50-win seasons. The Sixers labeled themselves championship contenders this season, only to have a roster of mismatched parts, injuries and an abysmal road record (10-24) push them to the brink of a bust.

Brown has had two months to consider what a play-or-stop scenario could mean for his future.

“You’re human, you think about it all the time,” he said. “I wouldn’t say you think about it to the point where it weights you down. But I get it. I’ve been doing this for a long time. I feel this strongly, as it sits, in my sort of coaching world, this thing is so, for me, incomplete.”

The 23-year-old Simmons had missed his eighth straight game and was receiving daily treatment for his nerve issues in his lower back when the season stopped. Embiid was recovering from surgery on his left hand and had just returned after missing five games with a sprained left shoulder at the time of the shutdown. Embiid and Simmons had received permission to rehab at the Sixers practice facility in New Jersey.

Simmons, who averaged 16.7 points, 7.8 rebounds and 8.2 assists in 54 games, was hurt in a Feb. 22 game at Milwaukee.

“That was as disturbing a memory as it relates to a player that I can think of,” Brown said. “He’s lying on his back, he’s vomiting primarily because of pain. Trying to get him back on the plane and build him back up to some level of health where he can play basketball again and with us … his health obviously ruled the day.”

Brown, whose contract runs through 2021-22, said the opportunity for Simmons to rehab and get cleared to play should the season start was a rare positive during the break. Brown also spoke with Embiid for a bit Friday and found the good-natured center determined to get into top physical shape for a potential training camp. Embiid had missed 21 games this season and Brown counted on the big man to play 38 minutes a game in the postseason.

“He’s got a real desire to be at a playing weight that equals his best since he’s been in the league,” Brown said.

The Sixers had the best home record in the league at 29-2, the kind of percentage that would naturally make Brown lean toward playing at the Wells Fargo Center, even if meant the arena was empty.

“We were dominant at home,” Brown said. “Somewhere in the middle, I felt like everything was pointing to us landing the plane, getting good health and letting that environment be Judgment Day. I feel very confident, and respectfully, cocky, that we’ve done good work.”

The sting of last season’s elimination, when Kawhi Leonard sank the first Game 7-ending buzzer-beater in NBA history to lead Toronto past the 76ers in the East semis, still lingers for the franchise. Al Horford lost his starting job in his first season of a four-year free-agent deal and the Sixers could be headed to a potential playoff matchup with his former team, the Boston Celtics.

The break could be just the reset the Sixers needed.

“The mission has been, and will be, we need to hunt for a championship,” Brown said. “In many ways, I feel like the carpet has been pulled from this team.”

When will NBA return? A Q&A on where, what will it look like, how to watch

When will NBA return
Photo Illustration by Avishek Das/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
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A restart of this NBA season — albeit in a very different form — has gained momentum in recent weeks, and it seems more and more likely games will be back this summer, prompting the obvious question of when will NBA return? Those games will be played without fans in the building, and there could be other format changes, but the league wants to complete a season that legitimately crowns a champion.

There are countless things still undecided about a return, but as plans take shape this is where they stand today, according to sources and other reports. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman put together this update.

When will NBA return?

NBA commissioner Adam Silver reportedly plans to decide in 2-4 weeks.
—Dan Feldman

Do NBA players support the return? NBA owners?

Yes. An “overwhelming” majority of players support a return to play this season — if steps are in place to make things safe. A number of the game’s biggest stars — LeBron James, Chris Paul, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrookestablished a united front after a conference call saying they wanted to return to play this season, forming a powerful lobby that will influence other players.

Another player reportedly put the split at 70% wanting to play this season as long as things are safe, 30% do not. That is an overwhelming majority that want to come back, but also a sizeable minority with concerns. Players want to know what the risks are with a return, and some will want more safety guaranteed than others.

As for the owners, there is no public polling, but the buzz around the league is they unanimously want this season to play out. Financially, that should be expected. They and their organizations are taking a big hit in the pocketbook and they want to restart games, make their television partners happy, and regain momentum for the league. More importantly, they want next season — even if it starts around Christmas — to be played in full, all 82 games.

The owners of some teams well out of the playoffs have questioned if they should shoulder the expense of sending teams to a “bubble” location for a handful of meaningless regular season games. Still, they will do so for the good of the game if NBA Commissioner Adam Silver asks them to.
—Kurt Helin

When would NBA games resume? How often could teams play?

The NBA is still mapping out potential timelines, but most sources around the league expect games — whether they be regular season, part of a play-in tournament, or playoff games — to begin in July. Those games would be preceded by a roughly three-week “training camp” for players to get back in shape and readjust to playing. The timing of all of that will depend on both the coronavirus in America and the availability of rapid testing.

How often teams would play also is not fully decided, but most around the league expect a condensed schedule with playoff games every other day for teams (and a rotation so games are being played and broadcast every day). If there are regular season games we possibly will see some back-to-back games for teams as the league pushes to get as many games in a limited time as possible.
—Kurt Helin

How can I watch?

The playoff games, once they tip-off, will be broadcast on ESPN and TNT, as per usual. Teams’ regional sports networks likely would be able to show any regular season games played as well as the first round of the playoffs, as they traditionally would. The schedule for the games (if they are played) will be announced at a later date.

The also NBA wants to use this opportunity to explore new camera angles and greater use of technology — possibly pushing their 3-D game experience or other new technology — to help draw viewers in since the energy will be different without fans in the building.
—Kurt Helin

Where would NBA games be played?

Most likely inside a “bubble” or “bubbles” in an MGM hotel in Las Vegas (the Mandalay Bay) and/or at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando. There has been momentum toward two bubbles of late, with possibly the West teams in Las Vegas and the East in Orlando. (Other cities are still in consideration, but are seen as long shots.)

The NBA has coalesced around the concept of the bubble — Adam Silver described it as a “campus setting” to owners — where players, coaches, trainers, staff, and everyone would live, eat, practice, and play games in one location. The idea would be to test everyone before they come into the bubble, and regularly inside the facility, with the hope of keeping the virus out — and quickly quarantined and controlled if it gets in. It’s not only people with the teams or broadcast crews who would be tested but also people with the hotel and facility (janitorial staff, chefs, security, etc.).

Players would be able to leave the “bubble” but would be tested upon re-entry. Players’ families and significant others also are expected to be allowed in the bubble, they would face the same testing requirements.
—Kurt Helin

What would be the safety protocols? Would there be enough testing?

It’s all about the testing. The NBA’s return this season hinges on accurate, widely available rapid testing. There will be other layers of protection inside the bubble facilities as well, but testing is the lynchpin. Anyone entering the bubble would be tested, and Silver said he wants daily testing for players and team staff in the facility. There also would be extensive testing of everyone (hotel staff, for example) involved. In addition to testing, there would be temperature checks (which can catch people with symptoms, even if not everyone shows them), increased sterilization of surfaces, and other steps.

One concern for the league: That they can get the estimated 15,000 tests they need for this without being a drain on tests needed in other parts of the nation where there are outbreaks. The league faced a PR backlash back in March when entire teams were tested (including players without symptoms) while in those same states  citizens with symptoms could not get a test. The NBA learned its lesson on that front.
—Kurt Helin

What happens if a player tests positive?

That player would instantly be quarantined, and there would be contact tracing and testing of everyone that player was in contact within recent days. That team may not play games for a couple of days, depending on the situation.

Play would not stop. Silver emphasized this to both players and owners in recent calls — the league cannot shut down again after one positive test if it is going to get through this season and finish the playoffs. A player who tests positive would be treated almost like a player with a sprained ankle or other injury — he would not be able to play, but games would continue (except in this case said player would not be in street clothes on the bench, instead he would be quarantined away from the other players). Injuries are part of the luck of the playoffs, a positive test would be treated the same way by the league.

Ultimately, to finish the season, the NBA and its players face the same question the rest of society does right now: What is an acceptable level of risk?
—Kurt Helin

What format would the season, playoffs take?

This is one of the big questions still hanging over a restart of the league, and the NBA is mapping out a range of scenarios. One of the key questions in answering this question becomes how deep into the fall the league is willing to go. Is Labor Day weekend the cut off? Is it mid-September? October?

There are three options for the NBA restart (each follows a three-to-four-week training camp to get players back in shape). First would be to bring back all 30 NBA teams, play at least some of the postponed regular season games (if not all), then jump into a playoffs with seven games in each round. This is the NBA’s preferred option financially, but it also would run the longest into the fall, and the more teams brought into a bubble the harder it is to maintain.

Second would be to have a play-in tournament with the final playoff seeds up for grabs. This likely would involve seeds seven, eight, nine, and 10 (and maybe 11 and 12). This compromise has gotten pushback from some teams (what’s the point of earning a playoff spot in the regular season?), plus this would be something to broadcast not covered in the current television agreement, forcing that to be renegotiated at a time there are a lot of other priorities. The final option is to go straight into the playoffs, using the standings as they were when play was suspended. This is the cleanest and most straightforward option, however, it also does not help as the regional networks hit their broadcast goals and it would mean some teams would stop play in March and likely not retake the court until December.
—Kurt Helin

How late could the season go?

The latest word: October. But we’re not that far removed from Labor Day being considered the deadline. This seemingly keeps getting pushed back and could get pushed back again.

The NBA was approaching its most lucrative time of the year – the playoffs – when the shutdown occurred. It’s just logical to make every reasonable effort to play the postseason, even if it disrupts a future regular season.

Prolonging the current season also buys more time for advances that allow fans into arenas next season. Silver said the league draws about 40% of its revenue from ticket sales and other game-day sources.
—Dan Feldman

When will the next season start?

The NBA is open to delaying the start of next season. December gets mentioned most often, because that’d fit with finishing this season then having a shortened offseason.

But there’s a degree of hopefulness with that timeline. Coronavirus creates uncertainty in how quickly the NBA can restart this season, let alone finish it.

Even if the NBA cancels the rest of this season, there are no guarantees about when it’d be safe to start next season amid a pandemic. Unlike this season, next season would definitely include all 30 teams and possibly travel between cities – more points of concern.
—Dan Feldman

When will the NBA draft and free agency take place?

The league is reportedly set on holding the draft after the current season (whether canceled or completed). That’d allow teams to put current players into trades involving draft picks. A delay would also allow a chance for team workouts and a (potentially virtual) combine. Right now, the pre-draft process is out of whack. The NCAA indefinitely deferring its withdrawal deadline eases the NBA’s ability to postpone the draft.

If holding the draft before the season finishes is untenable, there’s absolutely no way to hold free agency until then. For the playoffs to be credible, players must have contractual allegiance to only their current team.
—Dan Feldman

What are the financial ramifications (including to the salary cap) of the stopped season?

Simply, the NBA is losing significant revenue while on hiatus. That hurts both owners and players, as the Collective Bargaining Agreement calls for each side to split revenue approximately 50-50.

So far, owners have borne the brunt of the losses. Players will soon feel the pain through paycheck deductions. A lower salary cap could follow.

A goal was preventing a significant decline in the salary cap (which is $109.14 million and was projected to be $115 million next season). The salary cap is typically calculated based on revenue. Yet, owners and players could agree to artificially boost the salary cap while withholding a higher portion of salary from all players. That’d protect certain classes of players – 2020 first-round picks, 2020 free agents, players who signed max extensions last year (Ben Simmons, Jamal Murray, Pascal Siakam and maybe Jaylen Brown) – from getting particularly disadvantaged. It’d also smooth (pun intended) the transition back into normal conditions whenever that happens.
—Dan Feldman

Jayson Tatum almost skipped pre-draft workout in Boston because he liked Phoenix

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Jayson Tatum is part of one of the most dynamic young combinations in the league, paired with Jaylen Brown in Boston on one of the East’s best teams.

However, before the 2017 NBA Draft, Tatum wanted to go to Phoenix and then Suns coach Earl Watson really wanted Tatum to pair with Devin Booker — what would have been a dynamic combo in the West.

Tatum went on the All the Smoke podcast this week and said he wanted to play for the Suns.

“I called my fam, my mom, I’m like, ‘Yo, I think I want to go to Phoenix.’ Earl Watson, he’s like, ‘You come to Phoenix, you and D-Book, two light-skinned killers, I’ mma let y’all rock out.’ I’m sitting in the car, like, ‘This sounds good! I think I want to come here.'”

The feeling was mutual. The Suns were drafting No. 4 that year and Watson wanted Tatum, even if that meant trading up to get him, as Watson told Jay King of The Athletic.

Tatum warmed up with a ballhandling drill, Watson recalled during a phone call Monday afternoon, and then the wing went straight to the corner to shoot 3-pointers. Players normally work their way out to the arc slowly, taking closer shots first. Tatum did not bother. Even without any shots to loosen up, he was already hot.

“He drilled 40 straight off the first shot,” Watson said. “Forty straight. So I immediately turned to the owner and the GM. And I said, ‘What else do we need to see?’”

Two things conspired against Watson’s dream of pairing Tatum and Booker. The biggest one was that Suns owner Robert Sarver — one of the more meddling owners in the league — had fallen in love with Josh Jackson, who the Suns ended up selecting at No. 4. Watson wanted to trade up to make sure Phoenix landed Tatum, but that was not happening. Watson even Tweeted about it Monday.

The other thing in the way in Phoenix was Danny Ainge wanted Tatum in Celtics’ green. Boston had the No. 1 pick that year, but traded down to No. 3, moving Philadelphia up to No. 1 to select Markelle Fultz. Ainge wanted to workout Tatum — Jackson had just canceled his workout with Boston — and while Tatum was reluctant, it was his college coach Mike Krzyzewski who called up and convinced Tatum to workout for the Celtics right before the 2017 NBA Draft.

The rest is history.

Would Tatum be an All-Star and potential All-NBA player three seasons in if he played for the Suns? We’ll never know, Phoenix doesn’t have quite the same reputation for developing players that Boston does. Brad Stevens knows how to bring guys along. Also, Boston is a more stable, consistent organization that gives a player sound footing to take big steps forward, that’s not always the case in Phoenix.

For Tatum, things have worked out as well as he could hope.