It’s been 11 weeks since the NBA suspended its season due of the threat of COVID-19 on March 11. Talks surrounding its resumption remain steady, but the prospects of whether the league will restart swing dramatically on a seemingly weekly basis. Now, it appears that the league has the makings of a foundational plan that could see the NBA return this summer.
The league is in talks with The Walt Disney Company to hold games without fans at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida. If negotiations are successful, games would begin in “late July,” NBA Chief Communications Officer Mike Bass said in a statement. Prior to that, teams will have to hold training camps at their own practice facilities — likely in late June — before traveling to Orlando.
When the league postponed the season, there were 259 regular-season games remaining on the schedule. The Dallas Mavericks, who played the in the NBA’s final game before the shutdown, have 15 games left to play and are currently the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference. Not every team has played the same amount of games, which poses potential problems. The league hasn’t decided whether or not it will play out the remainder of the regular-season with all 30 teams, implement an abridged schedule, or if it will continue the regular season at all. What it decides will have plenty of ramifications.
There are a number of complications associated with bringing all 30 teams to Orlando. The most prevalent is the health of everyone involved. If the NBA is to pull-off its season reboot successfully, it needs to limit the number of personnel allowed in Disney. That won’t be easy if the whole league flies in, considering family members are allowed to accompany players. So, add them to the list of coaches, team staff, television crews, and media and the number of people sheltering at the ESPN complex has the potential to reach into the thousands.
Instead of finishing all of the remaining regular-season games, there’s also talk of an abbreviated schedule. In this scenario, each team may play five or six games as a lead-up to the playoffs. Another idea that’s been floated is a round robin-style tournament featuring group play. The NBA hasn’t openly endorsed either concept and both present potential pratfalls if the players suspect the league is trying to short them.
While players publicly state their desire to return to the court, it’s more than just their love of the game that’s driving them. It’s also financial. They take home 50 percent of the league’s basketball related income (BRI) during the regular-season. Foregoing the end of the regular season will mean the players’ wallets will take a significant hit. But it’s not just players who are seeing red. Teams, too, stand to lose money. For one, they won’t be able to sell tickets in Orlando.
If the NBA and its players are focused on retaining as much money as possible, a likely outcome is to play as many of the remaining regular-season games as possible. The league keeps 100 percent of the revenue from its contracts with regional sports networks (RSNs), like Fox Sports Southwest, once those stations air 70 games. FSSW was to carry 76 Mavericks games this season. If the NBA makes the leap directly into the postseason, it won’t be able to recoup these losses and will have to refund the RSNs for the lost games.
Besides the financial benefit of resuming the season where it left off in March, in terms of BRI and RSN money, there are also playoff implications. There’s not much of a realistic chance for the Washington Wizards to sneak into the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference. However, in the West, three teams sit three and a half games back of the Memphis Grizzlies, who hold the last playoff spot. If the NBA played a handful more games prior to starting the postseason, perhaps one of these teams sneaks in while others, like the Mavericks, jockey for better seeding — assuming the playoff format remains the same.
Still, the league faces a great many unknowns. The NBA returning to action in its bubble in Orlando isn’t a set in stone. Countless logistical decisions must be finalized before anything happens. Right now, the situation remains extremely fluid. Even if the league and players come to a consensus on resuming the season, there are still overarching health concerns that dominate every facet of decision making. One stumble and coronavirus has the potential to plunge the whole endeavor into chaos.