Lakers guard Kobe Bryant and Spurs forward Tim Duncan
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Basketball Hall of Fame delays enshrining Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett

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The Basketball Hall of Fame originally planned to induct Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett in August.

But coronavirus interfered.

Jackie MacMullan of ESPN:

Jerry Colangelo, the chairman of the board of the governors for the Hall, told ESPN Wednesday that enshrinement ceremonies for the Class of 2020, one of the most star-studded lineups ever which includes Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and the late Kobe Bryant, will be moved to spring of 2021.

Colangelo stressed there will be separate ceremonies for the Class of 2020 and the Class of 2021, even though both events will now be held in the calendar year 2021. “We won’t be combining them,” he said. “The Class of 2020 is a very special class and deserves its own celebration.”

I’m so glad each class will be honored separately. Bryant, Duncan, Garnett and the rest of this class – Tamika Catchings, Rudy Tomjanovich, Kim Mulkey, Barbara Stevens, Eddie Sutton and Patrick Baumann – deserve their own night.

So does Paul Pierce and whoever gets selected in the next class.

Life can end at any moment. Bryant’s death was a tragic reminder of that. But there’s no specific urgency here. The Hall of Fame should wait until it’s safe to hold a proper celebration of this class… then the next one.

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.

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

When will NBA return
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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

Kings minority owner Shaquille O’Neal: I hear NBA could expand to China, Japan, London

Shaquille O'Neal in China
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The NBA has consistently shot down talk of expansion.

So, it’s notable when someone from team ownership talks like this.

Kings minority owner Shaquille O’Neal on The Big Podcast with Shaq:

They’re thinking about going back overseas. I keep hearing that Seattle wants their team back, but they would probably have to sell one of the existing teams. But I’m hearing China, Japan.

London.

I hear in the grapevine that there are a couple teams for sale and one maybe going to Vegas.

Obviously, Shaq isn’t a typical minority owner. He’s also a showman who might pass along unsubstantiated rumors with more veracity than they deserve.

But his ownership ties potentially position him to hear legitimate updates on expansion and relocation.

The coronavirus pandemic might open the NBA to expand. The league is facing massive losses. Even when games resume, if fans can’t or won’t attend, that’d be another hit to revenue. The cash influx from an expansion fee could be welcome.

Especially overseas expansion can’t be decided lightly, though. The continued fallout from Daryl Morey’s tweet shows the complications of operating in China. Travel would be a major burden for domestic teams – especially amid the pandemic, but also after.

Expansion is a fun topic that gets people talking. I have major doubts about Shaq’s report, particularly expanding overseas anytime soon. He sometimes likes to stir the pot.

But he might know what he’s talking about, and the coronavirus pandemic is the type of major event that could put expansion on the table.

Report: NBA unlikely to hold play-in tournament

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver
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How will the NBA playoffs work?

Untraditionally. Beyond that, the possibilities are wide open. It depends, in part, when play resumes. Of course, the coronavirus makes that a major unknown.

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.

Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer:

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.