NBA team owners to vote on 22-team plan to resume season interrupted by coronavirus outbreak

On Thursday, NBA team owners will vote on the league's 22-team plan to resume the 2019-20 season which was interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic

The New York Times June 04, 2020 16:10:11 IST
NBA team owners to vote on 22-team plan to resume season interrupted by coronavirus outbreak

The NBA will formally present a return-to-play plan to its team owners on Thursday that calls for 22 of its 30 teams to resume the 2019-20 season at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida in late July, according to several people familiar with the league’s intentions.

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The NBA will restart its season at ESPN's Wide World of Sports at Walt Disney World. AP Photo

The single-site, 22-team format requires the voting support of at least 23 owners but is expected to be approved comfortably during a conference call scheduled for Thursday at 12.30 pm (Eastern Time), according to the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to publicly discuss the details of the proposal.

Subsequent approval from the National Basketball Players Association will also be required to enact the plan, but the league’s commissioner, Adam Silver, has been working on it for weeks with Oklahoma City’s Chris Paul, the union president, and Robert Iger, Disney’s executive chairman. ESPN, one of the NBA’s two main media partners — the other is Turner Sports — is owned by Disney.

The NBA moved last week toward a 22-team format last week, featuring the 16 teams that were in Eastern and Western Conference playoff positions and the six teams that were within six games of a playoff spot when the league abruptly suspended play 11 March because of the coronavirus pandemic. The players will be asked to live and play at the complex.

Of the six teams that were outside the top eight in their conferences, five are from the West: Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento, San Antonio and Phoenix. The Washington Wizards are the only Eastern Conference team that was within six games of a playoff spot when the season was suspended.

There would be 88 regular-season games at Disney World under this plan — eight for each of the 22 teams — with all of them played with no fans in attendance. ESPN reported on Wednesday that the NBA would add a play-in round for the East and West if the No 9 seed in each conference finished within four games of the No 8 seed after the 88 games were completed. Such a play-in would require the ninth seed in each conference to beat the eighth seed twice in a row to wrest the final Playoff spot away.

The season would then continue with its typical structure: four best-of-seven Playoff rounds based on 1 to 8 seeding in the East and West, with league officials determined to make the postseason as legitimate as possible. ESPN reported on Tuesday that the tentative dates for the rest of the season, through the last likely date for a Game 7 in the NBA Finals, would be 31 July to 12 October.

The NBA was the first major North American sports league to shut down in response to the virus outbreak, but questions remain about the safety protocols the league would implement in what it has labeled a campus environment.

The mode and frequency of a virus testing program, potential quarantine measures when teams first arrive in Florida, how the league will handle players or team staff members who test positive for the virus and the various boundaries on the Disney World site beyond the two hotels expected to house the teams are among the details still being negotiated between the NBA and the players union.

The NBA gradually moved away from the idea of bringing all 30 teams to Florida because of safety concerns, in a nod to the public health experts who have warned that basketball is susceptible to spreading the virus as a full-contact indoor sport. But it settled on 22 teams — rather than the 16 teams in Playoff positions — in part for the financial benefits from stating regular-season games rather than jumping straight into the Playoffs.

Some team officials and players lobbied for the need to be able to play through the rust before the Playoffs, as well as to learn how to best manage injury risks and to improve what is bound to be raggedy play, after a layoff far longer than is customary for the modern player. In addition, the 88 regular-season games will give marketable stars like Portland’s Damian Lillard and New Orleans rookie Zion Williamson one last opportunity to play for a postseason berth — while also enabling some teams to meet their contractual obligations with regional television networks and potentially mitigate significant losses of revenue.

Teams are still awaiting guidance from the league on how the schedule will be made for each club’s eight regular-season games — with complaints almost guaranteed because there is no way to make schedules balanced.

A firm date for teams to report to the Orlando area has also not yet been announced, but it is expected that teams will soon begin recalling their out-of-town players and ramping up training in their own practice facilities before heading to Disney World, which features multiple arenas as part of the 220-acre ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.

The New York Times reported last month that teams were told they would have to limit travelling parties to the most essential staff members: Each team will likely be allowed to take roughly 35 people, including players. Teams routinely had travelling parties exceeding 50 people before the coronavirus outbreak.

If the NBA can successfully complete the 2019-20 season under this structure, it is expected that the 2020 NBA draft would be moved to October, with free agency to follow shortly thereafter and a tentative plan to establish 25 December as opening day for the 2020-21 season.

Marc Stein c.2020 New York Times News Service

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