The NBA has a road map to resume play after the league and its players agreed to a 22-team format with games to be played at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports complex near Orlando, Florida, starting next month.
While a framework has been built, there is still plenty of work ahead.
The biggest hurdle will be COVID-19 testing. The league — which ushered in the cancelation of sports across North America when the Jazz’s Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell both tested positive — will have to practice social distancing when they aren’t playing, submit to a quarantine when arriving in Orlando and will likely be tested daily for the entirety of their stay there. Players and coaches likely won’t even be able to have their families at Disney until at least September.
For the 22 teams who will play, they will arrive at the Disney complex on July 8 for a three-week training camp followed by an eight-game schedule starting July 31. The results from those games will determine playoff seeding, which will be a normal 16-team postseason with eight teams in each conference. Since some teams will have played more than others, the league will determine playoff positioning by winning percentage. Any tiebreakers would follow normal NBA rules.
The Charlotte Hornets won’t have to worry about any of it as one of eight teams not returning to the court.
The agreed-upon format allowed for the return of the 16 teams in a playoff position when league play was halted March 11 plus any team within six games of a berth. The Hornets trailed Orlando for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference by seven games, just one game away from being eligible to return.
With the delayed finish to the 2019-20 season, the NBA has tentatively set a Dec. 1 start date for next season — meaning the eight teams that did not qualify for this seasons’ restart will go nearly nine months without competing. The draft lottery is scheduled for Aug. 25 and the draft on Oct. 15.
“We are disappointed that we will not be able to complete the 2019-20 season, but we understand and support the NBA’s plan,” the Hornets said in a statement last Thursday. It will be the fourth straight season Charlotte has missed the playoffs.
For the Hornets and seven other teams on the outside looking in — Detroit, Chicago, New York, Atlanta, Cleveland, Minnesota and Golden State — it’ll be a long break. The Warriors’ Klay Thompson last played a year ago, when he tore his ACL in the NBA Finals, and teammate Stephen Curry has played just one game since Oct. 30. Brooklyn’s Kevin Durant announced he wouldn’t play the rest of this season, just days before the first anniversary of him rupturing his Achilles tendon in Game 5 against the Raptors during last year’s championship series.
While the eight outcasts won’t play for three-quarters of a year, the team teams that reach the NBA Finals will have an even shorter postseason than normal.
That includes cramming a draft and free agency into very small windows next fall.
Toss in the late start to the 2020‑21 season, and the league’s next campaign into late July and potentially jeopardize the league’s participation in the Summer Olympics. The Tokyo Games — pushed back a year due to the pandemic — has qualifying scheduled for June 2021 for the final four spots in the men’s field. The Olympics set to start July 23, 2021.
USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo has said the Americans will wait and see what the NBA schedule is before reacting and setting a firm plan for picking a team for Tokyo next summer.
But for the players who play deep into this season, then play deep into next season, that’s a lot of basketball without a lot of time off. And that could make the job of picking an Olympic team much tougher than usual.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.