With CDC’s latest coronavirus recommendations, NBA must get creative

There are a number of scenarios for the NBA to weigh as it figures out how to eventually end the 2019-20 season after the coronavirus shutdown, but maybe an unusual ending in unusual times is the answer.

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The CDC’s recommendation that no events that include more than 50 people for the next eight weeks creates a new scheduling problem for the NBA.

The CDC’s recommendation that no events that include more than 50 people for the next eight weeks creates a new scheduling problem for the NBA.

Paul Beaty/AP

It was more bad news for the Bulls and the rest of the NBA four nights into the league’s coronavirus shutdown. 

Late Sunday night, in the wake of the CDC recommending that no gatherings of more than 50 people take place over the next eight weeks, NBA teams reportedly began allowing players to leave their home markets to practice social distancing with their families back home — with the league preparing for the possibility the season will be lost.

Commissioner Adam Silver has been quick in his decision-making throughout this crisis, with the CDC recommendations carrying significant weight. The fact that the NBA was the first major U.S. sports league to have a player test positive for COVID-19 also has likely been a major factor in its decisions (it was the first major U.S. sports league to halt play last Wednesday). But the NBA also has long taken pride in its forward thinking.

That will be tested again.

According to ESPN, while cancelling the rest of the season is one option, owners and the NBA office also are preparing for a mid-to-late June restart. That would have the playoffs finishing up in late August, assuming teams play their remaining 17-18 regular-season games. If the NBA were to start the playoffs immediately upon restarting in June, the NBA Finals would finish in mid-August.

That would give players who participate in the postseason just a month to six weeks off before the start of the 2020-21 fall camp.

If the NBA chooses that path, in all likelihood it would have to use the model from the 2011-12 lockout season to get through next year, reducing the number of games from 82 to 66.

In other words, every path is a mess. It’s a matter of choosing the one with the least clean-up.

Resuming in mid-June, having teams finish the regular-season schedule and then starting the postseason would be the biggest disaster. A camp of at least one week would be necessary to get players back in shape. And why would teams with no shot at the postseason want to jeopardize any of their key players? Why would any player — especially a player about to become a free agent — on a non-playoff team want to jump back into a meaningless grind? The product for that month would be awful on most nights.

One week of camp and jumping right into the playoffs is more doable and more interesting, but also a logistics nightmare. Games still might be closed to fans, and venue availability might be an issue because of other events scheduled in what normally would have been the offseason.

No, these are unusual times, and the NBA should instead think about an unusual finish: a mid-June restart with a “June Madness” to it. All 30 teams could be seeded by record — or point differential for teams that are tied — with the two top teams, the Bucks and Lakers, earning first-round byes. It would be single elimination for higher-seeded teams in the first round, while lower-seeded teams would have to win twice to advance. The entire tournament could wrap up in two weeks, and eliminations could also determine draft order, penalizing those who deliberately tank.

Win-win? It’s as win-win as the NBA can hope for in such a strange situation.

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