Remember when the big issue for moments like Tuesday would have been whether to play Kristaps Porzingis on the second night of a back-to-back?
Things have changed a bit.
We are caught up in the COVID-19 web and not exactly sure what’s going to happen next in life, much less the NBA. The game we love is on hold, suspended because of the very real health risks associated with the coronavirus.
This situation certainly deserves our utmost respect.
But the glass-half-full part of all of us believes that eventually, some sense of normalcy will return to life and sports.
It’s not as important as the overall health and welfare of society, of course. But basketball is a part of that society and we already miss it less than a week into the stoppage of games, kind of like the withdrawal you get after a Super Bowl.
The coronavirus is a nasty one when it comes to how contagious it is. That’s why the NBA and all sports leagues have suspended games.
Right now, we don’t know a lot beyond that. Is it really heat-sensitive? Could global warming, or at least a hot Texas summer, actually help? Can the extended NBA family go 14 days without a new case of coronavirus being detected? Are we going to play basketball again in the 2019-20 season?
With the help of some smart folks who have analyzed a lot of the possibilities, we have put together a list of scenarios that could happen regarding the NBA. We’ll start with the most optimistic outlooks and work our way down to defcon-5.
Full disclosure: these are possible scenarios, nothing more, nothing less. They make sense, but there are no guarantees any of them will come to pass.
Our social distancing works – and fate lends a hand:
This probably is a pie-in-the-sky scenario. Even the most optimistic of NBA insiders believe it’s got virtually no chance of happening.
But long shots do come in from time to time. And since nobody knows what’s next, hope is a good thing.
Let’s just say that our society works together, we stay away from crowds, we wash our hands often and, most importantly, we get a little help from science – and a little luck.
We beat this thing and by late April there are basketballs bouncing in practice gyms and toilet paper on shelves again.
If that somehow happens, the NBA could reconvene and this is where the league could get creative.
If the final month of the regular season is scrapped, a play-in tournament for the final two playoff seeds in each conference could be staged. Nos. 7 and 10 and Nos. 8 and 9 could play a quick (possibly one game on the higher seed’s home floor) to see who the last two seeds in the eight-team playoffs in each conference would be.
This also could be a trial balloon for a midseason tournament that the league already has said it is considering for the future.
So if the playoffs start in early May, and the league doesn’t stretch out the first round, the NBA finals could be played in early July – before football gets serious and with only major-league baseball as its prime competition.
That would allow for a mid-July draft, an August free agency and summer league (if it is played at all in 2020) and then enough down time to prepare for a training camp in October.
Again, don’t hold your breath for this perfect-world scenario.
Speed bumps slow things down
It’s entirely possible that while the league tries to follow every rule and do everything the right way, things still go haywire.
The virus doesn’t cooperate as fast as we’d like. Stock markets continue their rollercoaster. Things simply don’t fall together. People continue to work from home and gatherings of large groups are against the law.
This could mean games resume without fans and not necessarily at 20,000-seat arenas. It would not be a palatable situation.
But it would be better than nothing if it saves the NBA season. The league jump-starts itself by June and goes directly to a playoff that could use best-of-five formats for the first series or two. This could keep the playoffs on line to finish in July, which would allow the above off-season format to survive.
This possibility could also include the play-in tournament, which of course would be bad for the Mavericks, since they are seventh in the Western Conference and would wonder why they have to win another game or two to get into the playoffs. But if TV networks want to recoup some lost content, anything is possible.
The last chance to save the NBA season
If the virus gets worse before it gets better – and sadly, this is probably the most likely scenario – the suspension of sports could drag into June, maybe even July. We would all be fighting cabin fever by the end of April, if not sooner.
But it doesn’t mean the NBA season couldn’t still crown a champion.
As Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban has said, the league has no limitations on going into July, August or even September to complete this season. The NBA’s television partners could make this happen and if games resume in July, some form of the playoff schedule could be utilized.
And this is where the NBA could get very creative. If this season ends in late summer, it would require a couple of months at the least to let athletes recover and get ready for an 82-game grind in 2020-21.
This would give the NBA a chance to see how a season starting in December would fly with players, fans, sponsors and the like.
However, this likely would have to be a fundamental – and permanent – change to the sports landscape. It would be problematic to have a season start in December and not stick with that schedule in the future. No sport wants to be inconsistent with its scheduling.
Even a one-time departure might be met with great skepticism by all involved.
Cry uncle, come back stronger in 2020-21
This would be the equivalent to losing the battle against coronavirus, but giving yourself a chance to win the long-term war.
Scrap the 2019-20 playoffs. It would stink for teams like the Bucks, Clippers and Lakers who have a real shot to create history and a lot of great, athletic drama in the playoffs. But sometimes, life ain’t fair.
And that elusive NBA playoff experience the Mavericks so desperately crave and need would be put on hold another year.
But sometimes, this is what has to happen.
Here’s hoping it doesn’t end up that way.