Not even one of humanity’s most common forms of escapism could dodge the reality of a global pandemic.
On Thursday morning Philippine time, the NBA announced an indefinite suspension of the 2019-2020 season amidst reports that reigning two-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz had tested positive for COVID-19. Since the announcement, the NBA and its teams have scrambled to take the necessary precautions, including instructing teams and staff that had participated in games with the Jazz in the last two weeks to conduct self-quarantine.
This growing issue is one that definitely goes beyond basketball, as chronicled by Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban in a postgame press conference after the NBA suspension.
However, for the NBA in itself, this issue puts them deeper into unchartered territory during a season wherein the league already suffered the deaths of former NBA commissioner David Stern and NBA legend Kobe Bryant, as well as take on the financial blows of the Daryl Morey issue with China. The human ramifications of this issue make this easily the craziest time in NBA history, and also leave tons of doubt about what’s next for the league.
On one hand, the league’s decision to suspend the season was 100% correct. The suspension is meant to protect every single member of the NBA community, their families and the fans. The NBA has already taken several cautionary measures, including requesting self-quarantine for the teams that played the Jazz over the last two weeks, and disallowing group workouts and team practices.
But in this time of uncertainty, the overarching issue for the league from a basketball standpoint will revolve around the schedule for the remainder of this season, and the trickle down effects into next season.
It’s still mostly unclear how the NBA will adjust its schedule moving forward, especially with no clear end date for the corona outbreak. All NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has announced that the suspension would last “at least 30 days”, and several pundits have suggested an adjusted calendar that would see the season end in August.
There also is still the looming possibility that this pandemic could completely wipe out the remainder of this season. That would mean no NBA champion, possibly no NBA awards, and the end of the illustrious 22-year career of NBA legend Vince Carter.
However, should all be blessed with good health in time for the season to proceed, the schedule change affects several moving parts on the basketball court, including the race for this season’s title.
Most of the 2019-2020 season has already been played, meaning majority of the contending teams are likely locked into their positions. This time allows added rest for all of the teams, but it will be more beneficial in the aggregate for some. The God tier of title contenders all benefit well from the time off: Giannis and the Bucks are currently banged up, the Lakers have pushed hard all season, and the Clippers rotation has been a mess due to injuries.
Of the pseudo contenders, Boston and Philadelphia get extra time for the injuries to Kemba Walker and Ben Simmons to fully heal. Victor Oladipo also gets the same added time to try to get himself back into the level he played at prior to his gruesome injury.
But the biggest wildcard is actually the looming return of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving for the Brooklyn Nets. As it stands, the Nets sit six games above the 9th place Wizards, meaning they’re basically assured of a playoff spot. If the season is delayed three to four months and proceeds as is, the 7th seed Nets could easily have their full roster back. It may be a bit ludacris to say that those two returning could propel a team to the NBA Finals, but it definitely pales in comparison to the madness of this entire year.
That said, the likely scenario is that these massive changes don’t play a major role in which team that ultimately holds the Larry O’Brien. Whether the Finals are in June 2020 or on Christmas, the safe pick would still be the Bucks or one of the LA teams.
One of the options the league could go in adjusting the schedule is immediately fast forwarding to the playoffs to keep the status quo for the offseason and beyond. For playoff seeding out East, this shouldn’t be a big problem as I already alluded earlier to the eight teams in the East as set in stone. But in the Western Conference, the race for 8th is still very much open.
The Blazers, Kings, Pelicans and Spurs, all of whom are within four games of the eight-seed Grizzlies, could show some pushback on this decision. The Grizzlies were also slated to have one of the toughest schedules remaining, only building the case of any of those four aspirants that a cut season would be unfair.
Should the remainder of the regular season be played, the Grizzlies would still get the benefit of injury returns from Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke. Of the chasing teams, the Kings would likely get back Marvin Bagley III, and the Blazers would finally get some depth through the returning Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins.
In the big picture, the next step for the NBA product is still much less urgent than that of the global pandemic that has infiltrated its community. There’s no doubt that the league is prioritizing keeping itself and its stakeholders cared for.
But as everyone involved with the league has entered into uncharted waters, including writers as myself, there’s also no doubt in my mind that the discussions on the above league-related issues are being had on the clock by the league office.
At the end of it all, I think I speak for everyone in that I pray for the safety of all affected people around the situation. In the end, the hope is that as many people possible are kept safe, all our lives can soon go back to normal, and that the league we all love can return to entertaining us day in and day out.