NBA readies for a unique return

Following the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NBA indefinitely suspended all games during the middle of a heated season. Over two months later, and fast-forwarding to the present, the league officially confirmed a plan to restart competition.

According to ESPN and senior NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski, the Board of Governors voted Thursday morning to approve a 22-team format playing in Orlando, FL. All 16 western and eastern conference teams that were originally positioned to make the playoffs will participate in this extended season, along with six additional teams on the brink of playoff contention: the Phoenix Suns, Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans, San Antonio Spurs, Sacramento Kings and Washington Wizards.

Wojnarowski also reported that the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) worked closely with league officials to develop this plan, which included a number of dates. The season will likely resume July 31 — approximately one month after training camp begins June 30 — and free agency will commence Oct. 18, according to a tweet from Shams Charania, senior lead NBA insider for The Athletic. Hypothetically, Bleacher Report stated that game 7 of the NBA finals would end all competition Oct. 12.

As for the 2020-21 season, Charania reported training camp could begin Nov. 10, followed by a Dec. 1 opening night — although these dates remain “fluid.” The NBA’s regular season typically begins in October, but this schedule is impossible considering the extended format approved Thursday.

In order to follow COVID-19 precautions, Bleacher Report stated that the league will conduct daily tests for all players in Orlando. If anyone tests positive for the novel coronavirus — as Utah Jazz stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert did in March — that person will be quarantined and treated individually.

Although this updated schedule will feature only players and essential personnel, a number of outlets voiced positive opinions. According to an article from Bloomberg in April, Mark Cuban, multibillionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks, explained that fanless games are a necessary step in the path back to normalcy.

“Mark Cuban said crowding back into sports stadiums and arenas won’t happen until the 'science' is in place to make people feel safe from the coronavirus,” Bloomberg reported.

Separate from the owners, some teams have already reacted to the NBA’s latest plans. According to an article in the Orlando Sentinel, center Nikola Vučević and the Orlando Magic are excited to compete again. When the season was postponed in March, the Magic posted an incomplete record of 30-35 — which would have earned the eighth and final playoff spot in the eastern conference.

Even betting odds quickly changed following the NBA’s updated schedule. Another article in ESPN recorded that the Brooklyn Nets championship odds soared from 750-1 to 60-1 in Caesars Sportsbook on Wednesday. This adjustment came after forward Kevin Durant benefitted from an additional three months to heal his torn achilles.

“Kevin Durant has not logged a single minute for the Brooklyn Nets, but he is having the biggest impact on the NBA’s restructured season,” ESPN reported.

While certain players, owners and franchises expressed their excitement for continuing the basketball season, others showed concern. Los Angeles Clippers guard Patrick Beverley — who is notorious for his gritty defense and unwavering passion — even said basketball is unimportant compared to the Black Lives Matter movement.

According to Sports Illustrated, Beverley showed his support for restarting the NBA season just one week ago, but changed his perspective following the murder of George Floyd and protests around the country.

“We’re living in one of the most volatile times in human history,” Farbod Esnaashari of Sports Illustrated reported. “On one end, the NBA learned about its return to basketball today. On the other end, America is in the middle of its biggest civil rights movement ever. For Patrick Beverley, the latter matters more.”

The article also addressed the poor timing of the league’s return, particularly after months of anticipation that the NBA playoffs — and champion — could still be determined amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“NBA players have found themselves in a tough spot,” Esnaashari reported. “They’ve spent the past three months pushing hard for an NBA return. The moment the players finally got what they wanted, the unprecedented happened.”