How the NBA Returns: A Proposal to Save the Season

Published: March 24, 2020

Predicting the future has never been harder. Make no mistake, it has never been easy, but it has been possible because the future often resembles the past. Most people still fail to predict it, however, because they look at the wrong indicators and/or examples from the past. People also inject their own bias into the equation, and their predictions for the future are often shaded with the future they want to see come to fruition. But for those who are able to be objective and are students of history, predicting the future was at least possible. In a world where there is no history of anything even remotely similar to what we are currently facing, however, predicting what will happen next is almost next to impossible.

That whole paragraph is a preface to say that nobody has any idea what will happen next with regards to the NBA season. Even if we can anticipate a scenario where we are given an all clear to put players back into an arena to compete, the logistics of how and where to play those games become overwhelming when you factor in 30 teams, hundreds (possibly thousands) of flights, hotel room bookings, coordination of local transportation travel, and on and on and on.

Putting a new schedule down on one piece of paper isn’t the problem. The problem is coordinating the logistics that surround all those games. The other issue becomes the massive amount of interaction those players have with each other, who then go on to have interactions with other teams and players, and the possibility that a symptom might not show itself for a week, and in that time, the whole league could have had and interaction from that player through a degree or two of separation.

The fact is that if the NBA comes back this season, it will have to return with a few clear objectives in mind. Namely:

  1. Condensed Travel Plans – We can not pick up where we left off and expect teams to be able to coordinate those logistics in such a short period of time
  2. Limited Team Interaction – We can not have all 30 teams connected via a few degrees of separation like we do with a current regular season schedule
  3. Physical Preparation for a Grueling Postseason – Dropping teams right into playoff basketball, after a layoff, would see injuries skyrocket
  4. Rewarding Teams for the Past and their Present Play – The first 60+ games of the season should definitely matter, but we also need to incentivize all teams for however many games are played as we return, prior to the postseason
  5. Regain as Much Revenue as Possible – This seasons revenue will impact next years cap, not to mention salaries of tens of thousands of employees working with the team, as part of the stadium crew, etc.

The Proposal

The East and West are each broken into five different brackets, comprised of 3 teams each. Each team will play a total of six games (3 versus each team in their bracket) over the course of 15 days. All games will be held at the arena of the team with the best record in the bracket. If games have live crowds, profits for those games will be equally distributed amongst teams. Each bracket has different incentives. The brackets will be as follows:

Group A

Eastern Conference: Milwaukee Bucks (H), Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks

Western Conference: Los Angeles Lakers (H), Golden State Warriors, Minnesota Timberwolves

The Milwaukee Bucks had a large enough lead to secure what will be the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference, same with the Lakers in the West. So this bracket serves as a bit of an exhibition/warmup for them to allow their players to get back into shape and into the flow again. For the Cavaliers, Warriors, Wolves, and Hawks, this is a fight for ping pong balls, as the teams who finishes higher in this bracket will be granted the highest number of ping pong balls in the upcoming lottery. In the current lottery setup, the 4 worst teams get 545 of the 1000 lottery balls. The teams that finish higher in their respective bracket will get 170 balls each, while the teams that finish last in their bracket will only get 102 each. So, it will be critical to play to win those games to improve lotto odds.

Group B

Eastern Conference: Toronto Raptors (H), Boston Celtics, Miami Heat

Western Conference: Los Angeles Clippers (H), Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz

This bracket will be played to determine the #2 and #3 seeds in the Eastern and Western Conferences. The team who finishes last in the bracket will fight for the 4th seed with the team that finishes highest in Group C.

Group C

Eastern Conference: Indiana Pacers (H), Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets

Western Conference: Oklahoma City Thunder (H- S.O.S. tiebreaker), Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks

The winner of this group will play one game, on the road, against the team that finishes last in Group B. The winner of that game gets the 4th seed and the loser gets the 5 seed. No additional interaction required, because those teams will be playing each other in the playoffs regardless. Meanwhile, the 2nd and 3rd place finishers of this bracket will get the 6th and 7th seed.

Group D

Eastern Conference: Orlando Magic (H), Washington Wizards, Charlotte Hornets

Western Conference: Memphis Grizzlies (H), Portland Trailblazers, New Orleans Pelicans (S.O.S. tiebreaker over Kings)

Winner of this bracket has the inside track at the #8 seed, but could be subject to a one game play-in at home against the winner of Group E.

Group E

Eastern Conference: Chicago Bulls (H), New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons

Western Conference: Sacramento Kings (H), San Antonio Spurs, Phoenix Suns

Winner of this group has an outside shot at making the playoffs if they finish with a better record than the winner of the Group D bracket. Same record would not be good enough, but if the Bulls go 6-0, for example, and the winner of Group D goes 5-1, then the Bulls play at the winner of Group D for a shot at being the 8th seed.


There is no perfect solution to resuming the NBA season, if we are even so lucky to do so. There is no history to look back on for a road map, or fool proof way to ensure a deserving champion is crowned. But what we do need to do is prioritize health – both with the virus and with regard to what the physical wear and tear will do on these athletes bodies after having significant time off. The next priority is logistics, followed by a fair system that rewards the teams play up until this point of the season while giving all 30 teams something to play for over the course of whatever remains prior to the regular season.

This two week stretch of an abbreviated end to the “regular season” would accomplish all of those takes, while giving us viewers over 90 incredibly entertaining games that could all be televised nationally. The revenue from those games would easily make up for the lost revenue of the cancelled regular season games, as they would all be meaningful games that would factor into either the playoff picture, the draft lottery, or in some cases both. This works out to an average 6 games per evening. Doubleheaders on ESPN, TNT, and NBATV — all while they are starving for programming and viewers are starving for sports.

Jumping straight into the playoffs risks not only injury, but the possibility of rusty teams not being able to recover from the layoff in time to show who they truly are. This scenario would allow games for teams to get back into the flow, and yes — maybe the Raptors lose the #2 seed because they come out the gate slow, but they are at least still alive and in the playoffs two weeks later with a chance. If we jump right into the playoffs, that same team is possibly out before they even get the chance to return to form.

On the other end, trying to restart the regular season where it left off is problematic because of the logistical issues, not to mention the fact that it would be comprised of pointless games for almost a quarter of the leagues teams. Why would the Pistons want to bring all their players back to play in 6-10 meaningless games? Risk injury, exposure to the virus, etc — for what? Same goes for an idea that has been floated around that sees all 30 teams going to one city (Vegas?) and playing a condensed regular season there. While the logistics would be easier, travel wise, you would have to play games all day at odd times. All 30 teams would be exposed to each other in that scenario, and you could not generate the same revenue – both from TV or the gates, if we were to have live crowds.

What I have laid out above is as close to a perfect solution as possible, as we have each team traveling to and staying in one, and only one, location for the two weeks. This solves all the logistical problems and can help contain a spread, as hopefully by then we have the amount of tests for players to get tested before stepping onto the floor. It makes every game meaningful, which incentivizes the teams and also would increase the eyeballs, and by proxy, the revenue.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the way we save the NBA season!

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