So we will likely be without NBA basketball for a while, weeks at least, as the league tries to devise the best game plan to deal with this COVID-19 outbreak that has spread to two players for the Utah Jazz.
Once center Rudy Gobert was diagnosed with the virus, the league had no choice but to shut it down, allowing players, coaches, team officials and team employees a chance to potentially get tested as the league’s ownership and commissioner Adam Silver attempt to save the season without risking the health of anyone involved.
There remain several questions about this hiatus. The NBA has spent recent days trying to gather information and not reacting by cancelling the entire season when a postponement would suffice right now.
All the answers aren’t available yet. This process is in its early stages but the NBA, as has been its history, has been the front runner for professional sports in its serious approach to this virus and the threat it poses to the overall health of its players and fans.
So what happens now? Let’s explore some popular questions and try to answer them as best as possible:
IS THE REGULAR-SEASON DONE?
I would assume there are going to be no more regular-season games. The 30-day period the owners are imploring Silver to take before making a final decision will essentially kill the rest of the regular season. The playoffs are schedule to begin on April 18, so the best-case scenario for the NBA is to resume practice around April 10, give teams a chance to prepare and then begin the playoffs on time.
The league does not want to push back the calendar and start the playoffs in May and finish the season in July. That would be a logistical nightmare, especially with the Olympics coming on July 24 – if they aren’t canceled.
WHAT HAPPENS TO THE PLAYOFF SEEDINGS?
Well, this gets interesting. The NBA would likely take the teams with the eight best records in each conference and seed them accordingly. The fortunate thing is there would be no real controversy here because both eighth seeds — Orlando and Memphis — lead their next competitor by at least 3½ games. So a team like Portland, which is 3½ games back of the Grizzlies, couldn’t complain much because the margin isn’t close enough to really dispute the decision. That means the Celtics would be seeded third and play either the Philadelphia 76ers or Indiana Pacers in the first round — both teams have the same record — and the playoffs would begin on their regular schedule.
Considering the circumstances, it’s difficult to envision any team owner disputing this idea to try to retain the integrity of the season. If the virus is controlled in a few weeks and medical experts clear the NBA to resume play, then this is the best-case scenario.
WHY CAN’T THE NBA JUST DELAY THE SEASON UNTIL THE SUMMER?
This is a possibility, but the league does not want to interfere with the Olympic Games for obvious reasons. If the Olympics are held and there are several NBA players interested playing for Team USA, the NBA would prefer to end its season as scheduled to give those players a chance to play in the Olympics. It’s difficult to imagine the NBA playoffs and Olympic Games going on simultaneously, so the NBA is likely to begin with the playoffs when they resume the season.
WHAT HAPPENS WITH THE PLAYERS NOW?
There aren’t likely to be vacations to Cabo San Lucas or anything luxurious for NBA players. The league will want these players to stay close to their NBA cities and perhaps get tested for the virus. The Celtics have decided to self-quarantine, because they did play the Jazz twice in the past two weeks, including last Friday at TD Garden.
The players are expected to receive their normal paychecks. This isn’t a strike and the players would play if they could. The owners and television partners are going to take a majority of the financial hit because this is unprecedented. We have had NBA basketball in March for the past 71 years. League officials are as confused, shocked and dumbfounded by the situation as the fans.
They considered the worst-case scenario playing games with no fans but continuing the schedule. But with Gobert’s diagnosis, that became impossible. Many players are disappointed, but they understand the situation.
With the untimely passing of Kobe Bryant six weeks ago and now the postponement of the season, players are just trying to contain their emotions and disappointment.
COULD THE SEASON BE CANCELED?
That’s a definite possibility if there is no progress in the suppression of the virus in the next 30 days. There is no way the NBA is going to take any chances by resuming the season in a less than optimal health situation. If the situation isn’t optimal, and there appears to be no timeline when they could happen, then yes, the season could be suspended for good. Of course, the NBA is going to do everything it can to prevent this, but it won’t take any risks.