Damian Lillard was the first to lob a fastball. He made it clear he’s not playing in the NBA this season unless he has a guaranteed shot at the playoffs. Then it was the NBA’s turn via Mark Cuban to float an idea on how the league can come back, prosper, and be the entertainment vehicle we are used to seeing, barring a setback with players and Covid-19. With the clock ticking on the June 1st deadline that Adam Silver alluded to a few months back, Mark Cuban’s proposal has taken on a greater weight. Will it survive an owner’s vote? Will the players buy-in? What everyone can agree on is that Cuban’s proposal covers a lot of bases. And it’s not short of drama and excitement.
The season would resume for a 5-7 game regular season schedule for everyone. All teams would have a chance to make the playoffs, except for the Warriors and Wolves in the West. At the very least, Vince Carter would get his goodbye. Teams bunched together in the standings, separated by one or two games, would have the ability to move into playoff positioning.
As for that positioning.
The top 10 teams in each conference automatically quality for the postseason. The West playoff teams as currently constructed are Lakers (1), Clippers (2), Nuggets (3), Jazz (4), Thunder (5), Rockets (6), Mavericks (7), Grizzlies (8), Blazers (9), Pelicans (10). With a 5-7 game schedule that might change. The Nuggets, Jazz, Thunder, and Rockets are separated by 2.5 games. The Pelicans, Blazers, Kings, Spurs are separated by half a game.
In the East, teams would include Bucks (1), Raptors (2), Celtics (3), Heat (4), Pacers (5), 76ers (6), Nets (7), Magic (8), Wizards (9), Hornets (10) if the season ended right now. But the Heat, Pacers, and Sixers are separated by 2.0 games. The Nets and Magic are separated by half a game. 2.5 games separate the Wizards, Hornets, and Bulls. With this formula, even the Knicks have something to play for.
Once the 20 playoff teams are set, then comes the drama. First, you seed by record 1-20, conferences don’t matter. For seeds 17, 18, 19, and 20 there are one-game elimination games. Seed 17 would play Seed 20. Seed 18 would play Seed 19.
The two winners of those games would play seeds 15 and 16 in a 3-game series to see who advances. The two teams that advance would make up the lowest seeds of a 16 team field seeded by record. The playoffs would continue as normal, 7 game series.
What not to love about Cuban’s plan?
It’s different, exciting, and definitely has a college fell to it. Because this is unchartered territory why not think out the box and do something entirely different. The one game elimination pushes all the chips to the center of the table. It’s fun. The three-game series should be won by the higher seeds 15 and 16 but strange things happen.
Once you get to the traditional NBA playoff format, you lose some of the pizzaz as we are back to a 7 game series format. But here’s the thing about how the NBA wants to salvage what is left of the season. Nothing is going to be like it was before. Once fans were locked out of arenas, it made sense to try to maximize the season within this very chaotic pandemic environment. How many years have fans whined about reseeding for the playoffs. Now it is here. See how you like it.
A bonus is that teams who would be tanking right about now will try to get into the playoffs.
About the lottery. It’s reduced from 14 teams to 10. That helps the 10 who are shut out of the playoffs as far as the ping pong balls are concerned. What looked like a no brainer for the Warriors to get the top pick isn’t that cut and dried now. The odds move up for every team. With the exception of the Warriors and the Timberwolves, those 5-7 regular-season games, no one is tanking. Everyone is giving full effort because 28 of the 30 teams have a legitimate shot at the playoffs.
If this season was going to be devastated by a pandemic then might as well throw something non-traditional against the wall and hope it sticks. What’s the worst that can happen?
Someone getting the virus and the whole thing is shut down. So, to paraphrase Charles Barkley, the best of the worst plans will get greenlighted to save the NBA from financial Armageddon.
Mark Cuban’s plan is trending for all the right reasons.