Eight ideas for how to resume the 2019-20 NBA season if or when the time comes


Day five with no live NBA basketball is rapidly approaching its conclusion, and there's little hope we'll see it return any time soon. Recent reporting from Adrian Wojnarowski indicates that the sentiment around the league is that play resuming in mid-June would represent a "best-case scenario."

That's sad, albeit necessary in the face of a global pandemic.

But of course, the natural follow up is: Even if or when basketball does return, what might the remainder of this season look like? The current campaign was suspended with roughly a quarter of the regular season remaining, and a full, highly anticipated playoff slate still to come. Abundant scheduling concerns could force the league to be creative with how it decides to tie a bow on the 2019-20 NBA calendar.

So with that conundrum in mind, we decided to spitball some ideas for how the league might reintroduce itself if or when the time comes. Because, what else is going on? Read on:

1. Skip the rest of the regular season, and start the playoffs with the standings as-is

This outcome feels plausible, though no reporting has yet indicated that axing the final quarter of the regular season is on the table. 

The logic is obvious: Doing so would shave off about a month’s worth of games that the NBA will have to complete when it returns, and if the recently-reported mid-June window for action resuming bears out, this would ensure the season wraps up in late July or August. Finding venues to play in, recouping ticket, television and miscellaneous revenue losses, and rejiggering the start of the 2020-21 season (plus the draft and free agency) all present logistical hurdles for the league, but we’re in ‘making lemons out of lemonade’ mode for the foreseeable future.

The biggest downsides would be sacrificing the revenue generated by that month’s worth of games (even if many of them would be somewhat pointless in the grand scheme of competition), and smothering the playoff hopes of teams fighting for a bid — the No. 8 (Grizzlies) and No. 12 (Spurs) seeds in the West are separated by just four games.

2. A play-in tournament

Here’s a solution for that latter concern, at least. The NBA has been flirting with the idea of a midseason tournament for months now. Well, here’s the chance! A single-elimination play-in tournament for the eighth seed in the West would be raucously exciting. Here’s what the matchups would look like:

(2) Portland Trail Blazers vs. (5) San Antonio Spurs

(3) New Orleans Pelicans vs. (4) Sacramento Kings 

(1) Memphis Grizzlies get a bye to the play-in finals

I’m so in on this idea. Extend it to ‘best of three’ series or otherwise skew the odds in Memphis’ favor if you please. What a reintroduction to live basketball Ja, Zion, Dame, De’Aaron Fox and the undying Spurs duking it out for a playoff spot would be. 

You could argue we should do this in the East with the Magic, Wizards, Hornets and Bulls, but I would disagree with you. For all of our sakes. 

3. Bring back best of five playoff series

Whether or not the above outcome comes to pass, re-kindling ‘best of five’ playoff series (at least for the first round) also has its appeal. Remember: This is how the league sorted first round series until 2003.

Sacrificing revenue (a taller ask for playoff games) is a consideration here, too. But it’s a measure that could condense the calendar and mitigate some potential scheduling and travel hurdles. And above all: It ain’t my money. I’m just spitballing here.

4. Full-league tournament

Let’s get crazy. This idea comes by way of a tweet thread from Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie:

It’s a little convoluted to follow, but it appears Dinwiddie is proposing a five-game regular season run-up to a 30-team tournament, wherein the top four seeds (Bucks, Lakers, Raptors, Clippers) would get first-round byes, and the bottom four (Warriors, Cavaliers, Timberwolves, Hawks) would play for the final two spots in a 28-team bracket. The ensuing first round series would be best of five games, then best of seven from there on out. To Dinwiddie’s point: This would undoubtedly generate a ton of excitement while also slightly shortening the schedule.

Unfortunately, the logistics seem too outlandish to actually work. And are we really about to let the Warriors get Steph, Klay and Draymond together and healthy for a run at a title? Actually, that would be awesome. I miss basketball.

5. Sim it

When all else fails, leave the fate of our fandoms up to the 2K gods. What could go wrong?

For what it’s worth, I simulated a full Bulls season in NBA 2K20 as Professional Research™ for this article. They finished 25-57, securing the — you guessed it — No. 7 pick in the 2020 draft. The Nets won the title. Good thing life isn’t a video game.

6. Elam ending, but make it the whole season

Alright, here’s a wacky one: Take every team over 40 wins (if you’re at less than that, you’re probably not a title contender. Sorry Philly) — there’s ten of them right now: Bucks, Lakers, Raptors, Clippers, Celtics, Nuggets, Jazz, Heat, Thunder and Rockets. Throw them all in a randomly-generated round robin, and play out a micro version of a regular season schedule until one team gets to seven more wins than the Bucks have right now (60).

This idea makes absolutely no sense for countless reaons, but in times of strife, the Elam ending has saved us before. Why not give it another shot?

7. Just give the Bucks the title

Undoubtedly the most boring idea I have ever had. It smooths a lot of scheduling concerns, but there’s too much to lose in just deciding not to play any more games this year. 

Plus, what a stale celebration that would lead to.

8. Resume as normal, finish the regular season and playoffs as planned, but a couple months late

I was already as excited for these playoffs as I have been for any in my lifetime. I don’t need the frills. Just bring basketball back — safely — whenever possible and we’ll all be happy. Whatever form it comes in.

Happy hiatus, y’all.

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