After months of uncertainty following the league’s sudden shutdown amid the coronavirus, it appears the NBA’s return is now a matter of when, not if. ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne confirmed Saturday the league has begun “exploratory conversations” with the Walt Disney Company about hosting games at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando when the league eventually resumes play. Shelburne adds that the NBA is targeting late July for its return to game action. Playing games in Las Vegas was also considered, though the well-equipped Disney resort, home to three basketball arenas and plenty of hotel space, appears to be in the driver’s seat for hosting duties.
With the NBA gearing up for its inevitable return in Orlando, the next hurdle the league faces will be structuring the remainder of its 2019-20 schedule. The NHL, which is also putting together the framework for a return this summer, is said to be considering expanded playoffs. The NBA has explored that possibility as well, according to league insider Shams Charania. Per Charania, the NBA sent a survey to all 30 general managers Friday night, looking for input on how best to approach the playoffs and remaining regular season contests under these unprecedented circumstances.
GMs were asked for their thoughts on how many teams should qualify for the postseason with options ranging from the usual 16 to as many as 24. The league also gave GMs the chance to weigh in on how many regular-season games should be played (72 or 76), if any. Should the league scrap what’s left of the regular season and advance straight to the postseason as some have suggested, playoff seeding would be determined by the standings on March 12, the date the NBA announced it would suspend play until further notice.
According to Charania, the league has laid out several different playoff scenarios, including a play-in tournament for “bubble” teams competing for the final two seeds in their respective conferences. In another new wrinkle, the survey raised the possibility of replacing the first round with a “group stage” (each team would play twice with the top two teams advancing) similar to the round-robin format seen in the FIFA World Cup. Given their unusual predicament coming back from what will likely be a four-month layoff, the league will consider abandoning conferences this year and reseeding the playoffs based on record.
General managers were also asked in the survey to voice their opinion on how many “scrimmages” should take place before the league’s restart (two, three, four or five) and how late they’d be comfortable ending the season (Labor Day at the earliest with November 1 on the later end of the spectrum). The NBA has plenty of logistics to sort out including access to frequent, if not daily, coronavirus tests before the league can resume play. But slow, incremental progress is better than none at all.