It’s hard to really process all the problems the U.S., and the world, are suffering and may continue to suffer for the foreseeable future due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Life will eventually return to normal but when that happens is anyone’s guess. Through this lens, thinking about the future of the NBA seems as trivial as can be. Nevertheless, part of getting through these tough times is by avoiding being consumed by the negative. I’m not advocating that we pretend the current COVID-19 situation doesn’t exist. Rather, we should all be keenly aware what we can to do prevent the spread (I’ll be sequestered at home for the foreseeable future).
Having said all that, experts (and common sense) favor some life balance and healthy distractions. In that vein, allow yourself to think about the possibility that the NBA season might return and, if so, what would be the best way to complete this year. Recently, Spencer Dinwiddie floated the idea of a quasi-team, March Madness style tourney. The rules wouldn’t be single-elimination like the NCAA but instead would have the following rules:
-The four worst teams would have to play-in to get in
-The top four teams would get byes
-The remaining 24 teams would play five-game series to get to the round of 16
-Once at 16 teams remaining, the normal playoffs rules would set in.
The idea is interesting but has some weirdness. It essentially is the normal playoff system but with an elaborate play in to get to the normal playoffs. At first blush, I’m not bullish but let’s play out Dinwiddie’s proposal based upon current standings and see (we will assume that the seeding will be done regardless of conference):
-(23 seed) Atlanta (20-47) v. (26 seed) Golden State (15-50)
-(24 seed) Minnesota (19-45) v. (25 seed) Cleveland (19-46)
Hawks and Warriors seems like a bit of fun, particularly if we could get Trae Young playing against a healthy Steph Curry. A Wolves/Cavs playoff series is less scintillating.
From there, though, it gets only moderately intriguing. The Celtics are fifth in the NBA, and therefore the top remaining seed in this mini-tourney. The tourney would essentially give some non-playoff teams a puncher’s shot at the decent playoff teams. For example, we would have the also-ran Knicks might be playing a team like OKC in a five-game series. This matchup would give the fans starved for sports one last chance to care about their team but is not objectively interesting to the general fan.
It seems to me that the best way to generate interest from all fans AND keep all fans potentially engaged is to throw caution to the wind and just seed all teams from 1 to 30 and run a mini March Madness. Only the top two teams would get a bye (Bucks and Lakers) and it could be single elimination or only a three-game series in each match up. The NCAA tourney can trend to random upsets due to its format. If the NBA wants to try the format, it also has to consider embracing randomness as well. Dinwiddie’s proposal would allow for reasonably clear outcomes in some meh match ups. A giant tourney that is reasonably foreseeable would not create the same intrigue. Therefore, the NBA should consider this more haphazard scramble tourney. It would be a fitting end to a strange season and, hopefully, all can return to normal next year.