Written by: Jordan Vitkauskas (@Lower_Merion33)
The NBA is coming back! After 85 days of what seemed like pure emptiness for basketball fans, the league’s board of governors approved the proposal for the sport to return on July 31 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. We still have a ton of information to come regarding where teams will be staying, how close they’ll be with each other, and the official times for games. While we wait, let’s take a look at some of the winners and losers of this new proposal.
Winner: The NBA
Duh! The biggest winner here is everyone in the NBA. They are the first major sport in America to lock in their restart plan. The league will now shift towards preparing safe facilities locally and in Disney World for players to begin practicing and working out. We finally get to see if James Harden has lost weight or if Nikola Jokic has a six-pack (this I will pay to see). In just weeks, “re-training” camps will begin, and soon enough after that, we’ll see the likes of LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, and Giannis Antetokounmpo take the court. In a period of ultimate uncertainty, the NBA will provide the world with what it does best. We get an exciting escape from everyday troubles and a dazzling display of athletic achievements.
Winner: The Western Conference
Like almost every season since 2000, the West has been significantly better than the East. It is clear the league rewarded that dominance when reopening. The NBA selected a total of 13 teams from the West (including the Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Kings, Spurs, and Suns), while they just took nine from its counterpart (the Wizards). That means we are getting more Dame Lillard, Devin Booker, LaMarcus Aldridge (and Spurs basketball overall), and of course, Zion Williamson. (If you think this new expanded format is a ploy to get Zion into the playoffs during his rookie year, you’re crazy).
Four of the five West teams are within four games of the elusive eighth spot, held by Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., and the Memphis Grizzlies. Talk about a target on the backs of two young studs. Can they handle the pressure of having to probably go 5-3 in eight games after almost three months off? Will Lillard and company in Portland use their years of playoff knowledge to sneak in? Or will the Spurs muster one last gasp at a 23rd consecutive playoff appearance? So many questions will be answered within 16 days beginning July 31. Either way, the West represents well once again – a trend that won’t change anytime soon.
Winner: LeBron James
Since the 2018 NBA Finals, James has rested a lot. He played just 55 games in 2019 before sitting out the rest of the season with a groin injury. Now, he has relaxed for almost three full months before a quick regular season wrap-up and the playoffs. For those counting at home, that’s nearly nine months of inactivity for one of the league’s premier talents.
James was playing some of his best basketball to start the 2019-20 year, cycling between scorer and facilitator (league leader in assists at 10.6 per game) while giving a concerted effort on defense for the first time since 2016. He inspired his teammates and wowed opposing teams/fans alike with the ability to play at such a high level this late in his career. This decade has been all about James climbing the all-time rankings (I currently have him sixth all-time if you’re asking). Now he has a chance to go for the Mount Rushmore of the NBA’s elite if he can add a title or two while in Los Angeles.
Loser: Any Team Not Going to Disney
I know some teams will say it’s okay because they get to keep their players healthy and safe, but in all reality, these guys want to play. They can’t be happy about their season coming to an official end after all this wait time. For current stars such as Steph Curry, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Trae Young, along with other rising talents such as Collin Sexton, Zach LaVine, and D’Angelo Russell, this is an abrupt end. It will forever be a strange mark on their careers. I’m not saying it wasn’t the right choice (the dreaded double negative!). I would’ve only picked the top 16, maybe 18 teams to restart the season, but we didn’t need to see the Knicks or Pistons taking up time in Orlando.
Winner: Future Regular Season/Playoff Formats
A significant potential change stemming from this late end to the season is how it affects the future of the basketball schedule as we know it. With the way it stands now, the last game of the Finals would be on Oct. 12, and the 2020-21 season would begin sometime around Dec. 1. Many have called for a shorter regular season (around 72-74 games). It would ensure more rest (and overall health of the players) and quality of play. They’re entirely right. We don’t need 82 games to determine the best teams in the league, especially when players like Kawhi Leonard and others already miss 10-15 for load management. It’s good to see the association being proactive here, and hopefully, it continues. For this season, teams will be playing 74-77 games, depending on how many they had completed before the stoppage.
For the playoff format, we’re going to see possible play-in games depending on how close the ninth seed can get in each conference. If they get within four games, it will be a situation where the ninth seed will need to win two games before the eighth seed can win one. This scenario seems like a great test of what it could be like to have a tournament moving forward. Whatever the league chooses to do in that regard, they need to pick the best overall records regardless of the conference. We don’t need any more 38-44 East teams clogging up the playoffs. Seriously. Like never again.
Loser: Really Good Home Teams
Sorry to teams like the Sixers, Bucks, Clippers, and Nuggets. You’ve kicked the crap out of over 75% of the opponents you hosted all season. Your reward? You get to travel to Disney World to play the best teams in the league on a neutral court! This part does stink, as home-court advantage is real in the NBA (seriously, the 76ers are 29-2 at Wells Fargo this year), and these teams worked hard to earn it come playoff time.
The league is reportedly floating various ideas around regarding home-court advantage in Disney, including giving the home team an extra timeout or coaches challenge. Still, it is unknown what official decision they will make and how effective it will be. Either way, genuine home-court advantage has officially disappeared.
Winner: The Philadelphia 76ers
I know I just put them in the losers category, but they are winners too because of their poor road play. Philly is a paltry 10-24 outside of Wells Fargo this year, but a series of neutral court games could favor them. They have the size to handle any team. Ben Simmons should be in the running for Defensive Player of the Year and is having a fantastic all-around season (even if he still refuses to shoot 3s). This extended break should have Joel Embiid fresh and roaring to prove he is the best big man in the NBA.
The point of having Philly in both categories is that this situation is all an unknown. Anything can happen in the NBA, especially when you throw 22 teams in the Wide World of Sports Resort at Disney World. If Tobias Harris finds his shooting stroke or Al Horford finds his game, the East could be in for a significant reorganization.
Stay tuned for updates, reactions, and more from Nuts and Bolts Sports.
Feature image courtesy of Bleacher Report.
All stats courtesy of ESPN.com or Basketball-Reference.