fb-pixel Skip to main content
Gary Washburn I On basketball

Adam Silver gets raves again for NBA’s plan to return

NBA commissioner Adam Silver was able to gather the broken pieces of a season into a cohesive blueprint for a return.Stacy Revere/Getty

NBA commissioner Adam Silver devised a plan for the league to return to action without receiving much criticism from the owners or players.

The NBA is set to return July 31, with the Celtics one of 22 teams that will head to Disney World in Orlando to play eight games each before the playoffs.

The plan is that nine teams from the Eastern Conference and 13 from the West will finish the regular season and playoffs over a 10-week period.

There will be stringent safety regulations for players, coaches, team executives, and staff because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the players will live in a quarantined “bubble” for the duration.


It’s the best-case scenario. Some unhappy teams will be left at home — for example, the Hornets, Pistons, and Cavaliers released statements expressing disappointment — but it was the right decision.

Some of the details of Adam Silver's proposal were unveiled Thursday.Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

Bringing all 30 teams, some of which did not want to play, would have been a farce. And so would have limiting the field to 16 teams, eliminating those that were making pushes for the final playoff spots in each conference.

One interesting aspect of the plan is a potential play-in tournament for the eighth seeds. If the ninth-seeded team in each conference is within four games of the eighth-seeded team, the two will play for the final playoff spot, with No. 9 needing to beat No. 8 twice. It could be even more compelling if more than one team is within four games of the No. 8 seed.

Silver was able to gather the broken pieces of a season that was halted after Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 into a cohesive blueprint to hopefully bring finality to what had been an entertaining campaign.

At the time the season was suspended, the Lakers were in control of the West after recent wins over the Clippers and Bucks. The Bucks were streaking in the East. The Raptors had overcome the free agent loss of Kawhi Leonard and had the second-best record in the East. The Celtics, despite some befuddling skids, showed they are capable of reaching the conference finals, and perhaps the NBA Finals.


With this plan, we hopefully will finally get some answers to questions such as which is the best team, who is the MVP, and who is a dark horse during these 10 weeks in Orlando? Silver was able to ensure there will be consistent COVID-19 testing, and Disney was able to offer a spacious enough facility where the teams can be housed, practice, and play games.

The structure is going to be unusual. There will be no fans. And games will be played simultaneously throughout the complex. The league couldn’t have it all. There will be no home-court advantage for the teams with higher seeds. The 76ers were 29-2 this season at Wells Fargo Center, but that won’t matter.

The atmosphere will be surreal. If you remember the Orlando Summer League the Celtics participated in over the last decade, teams played only in front of team officials, scouts, and the media. The games were intense but they lacked the normal ambiance, with microphones picking up every squeak of every sneaker. The NBA will spend the next several weeks trying to come up with ideas to bring a more festive and atmosphere to games.


Teams that worked hard to claim high seeds and strong records will have a chance to make championship runs. Players who were dealing with injuries — including Ben Simmons, Jaylen Brown, and Malcolm Brogdon — have had three months to heal. Megastars such as LeBron James, Leonard, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and James Harden have had three months to rest. Coaches have had three months to devise new strategies.

How will Jayson Tatum and other stars react to returning to the game?John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

It was best for the NBA not to implement some bizarre playoff format, a soccer-style round robin, interconference playoff matchups, or an arrangement that would have given poor teams a shot to make the playoffs. The NBA maintained its integrity and devised a plan that hopefully will produce a true champion and allow teams that played 80 percent of the regular season to finish what they started.

That’s all fans can ask. While Major League Baseball owners and players are still debating over salaries, number of games, and the schedule, with zero success, the NBA has seven weeks to prepare for its first game and again set the example for how professional sports leagues should conduct business.

“While the COVID-19 pandemic presents formidable challenges, we are hopeful of finishing the season in a safe and responsible manner based on strict protocols now being finalized with public health officials and medical experts,” Silver said in a statement. “We also recognize that as we prepare to resume play, our society is reeling from recent tragedies of racial violence and injustice, and we will continue to work closely with our teams and players to use our collective resources and influence to address these issues in very real and concrete ways.”


So, the NBA is already encouraging players to make statements about the discrimination, stereotyping, and diversity issues that have been sparked since the tragic death of George Floyd.

Once again, Silver is coming through one of his biggest challenges as a commissioner with rave reviews.

Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at gary.washburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.