The NBA is no closer to a return date than three weeks ago when the season was placed on hiatus because of coronavirus concerns.
And nothing might happen for the next two months, especially with projections that the virus remains a few weeks from peaking in the United States. So that will be at least 2½ months without NBA players participating in an organized practice.
The NBA can resume when the pandemic dissipates, but how? It seems unreasonable to resume a normal travel schedule this summer when there still will be safety issues and travel fears lingering, regardless if a vaccine is created by then.
NBA executives have floated the idea of bringing perhaps all 30 teams to Las Vegas, attempting to finish out the regular season and then the playoffs in one central location. Las Vegas has several arenas that could house NBA basketball, including T-Mobile Arena, Thomas & Mack Center, Cox Pavilion, and the Grand Garden Arena.
The league’s best chance to preserve the season is to begin working on these arrangements now.
With each team having approximately 20 games left, it would be nearly impossible to finish the entire regular season until the league dedicates an entire month to those games. The good news is the top eight teams in each conference have separated themselves, with the eighth-seeded Orlando Magic 5½ games ahead of the Washington Wizards in the East. In the West, the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies are 3½ games ahead of the Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings.
For obvious reasons, the NBA wants Zion Williamson, the Pelicans rookie, in the playoffs. The most prudent move might be to slice the remaining regular-season schedule to 10 games, allowing for playoff-clinching teams to prepare for the postseason and giving those three teams in the West one sliver of a chance to catch Memphis.
It isn’t fair, but fair isn’t important in these times. The NBA is just trying to salvage the season, so somebody is going to be unhappy with the process.
The best answer is for the NBA to play 10 games over a 20-day period. The league wishfully would allow teams to begin practice by July 1, giving each team 10 days to work out before traveling to Las Vegas.
The remaining 21 days of July would consist of playing regular-season games. The league will have to determine whether teams will be allowed to play each other twice or whether they want to create marquee matchups for television.
The Celtics were scheduled to play the Bucks, Heat and Magic twice in their final 18 games.
The NBA would create 10-game schedules and each team would play every other day, creating a smorgasbord of games for television.
The NBA has enough networks — NBA TV, ESPN, TNT, Fox and ABC — to carry games and local networks such as NBC Sports Boston can carry the Celtics’ remaining schedule as a means of making up for lost games.
The playoffs would begin in August, with each of the 16 teams playing five-game first-round series, just like the 1980s and ’90s. The second round would consist of seven games with back-to-back games. Since there is no travel, teams won’t have that as an excuse for fatigue.
The goal is to finish the season in late September, avoiding too much intersection with the NFL and college football. There also could be the possibility of moving series to respective home-road sites if those cities are safe to host games.
Have we seen our last Celtics game in Boston until perhaps November? Probably so. The NBA owners are determined to finish the season, not only for financial reasons but for morale.
Would pushing the season back to late September affect the 2020-21 season? Of course. The target date for opening night should be Dec. 25, giving the players approximately three months after the NBA Finals to rest. A potential training camp would begin on Dec. 1 and there would be perhaps four preseason games before the Christmas Day opener.
That Christmas Day schedule would include the 10 best teams in the NBA. The remaining 20 teams would begin their seasons in the forthcoming days.
A July 1 training camp kickoff in teams’ respective cities gives the NBA nearly three months to allow the coronavirus situation to improve. The league then heads to Las Vegas for the next few weeks, where it becomes the center of the basketball universe.
Of course, this is unconventional. But the league realizes it can’t just pick up the season in a few months with the same extensive travel and large crowds as before. Getting back to sports normalcy will take considerable time.
So the next best idea is to make it easier and safer for NBA teams to play games and complete what was an engaging and compelling season.