N.B.A. Team Owners to Vote on 22-Team Plan to Resume Season

N.B.A. Team Owners to Vote on 22-Team Plan to Resume Season

N.B.A. Team Owners to Vote on 22-Team Plan to Resume Season

N.B.A. Team Owners to Vote on 22-Team Plan to Resume Season

The N.B.A. will formally present a return-to-play plan to its team owners on Thursday that calls for 22 of its 30 teams to resume the 2019-20 season at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida in late July, according to several people familiar with the league’s intentions.

The single-site, 22-team format requires the voting support of at least 23 owners and is expected to be approved comfortably during a conference call scheduled for Thursday at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time, according to the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the details of the proposal.

Subsequent approval from the National Basketball Players Association will also be required to enact the plan, but the league’s commissioner, Adam Silver, has been working on it for weeks with Oklahoma City’s Chris Paul, the union president, and Robert A. Iger, Disney’s executive chairman. ESPN, one of the N.B.A.’s two main media partners — the other is Turner Sports — is owned by Disney.

The N.B.A. moved last week toward a 22-team format featuring the 16 teams that were in each conference’s playoff positions and the six teams that were within six games of a playoff spot when the league abruptly suspended play on March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Of the six teams that were outside the top eight in their conferences, five are from the West: Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento, San Antonio and Phoenix. The Washington Wizards are the only Eastern Conference team that was within six games of a playoff spot when the season was suspended.

There would be 88 regular-season games in Orlando under this plan — eight for each of the 22 teams — with all of them played with no fans in attendance. ESPN reported Wednesday that the N.B.A. would add a play-in round for the East and West if the No. 9 seed in each conference finished within four games of the No. 8 seed after the 88 games were completed. Such a play-in would require the ninth seed in each conference to beat the eighth seed twice to wrest the final playoff spot away.

The season would then continue with its typical structure: four best-of-seven playoff rounds based on 1 to 8 seeding in the East and West, with league officials determined to make the postseason as legitimate as possible. ESPN reported Tuesday that the tentative dates for the rest of the season, through the last likely date for a Game 7 in the N.B.A. finals, would be July 31 to Oct. 12.

The N.B.A. was the first major North American sports league to shut down in response to the virus outbreak, but questions remain about the safety protocols the league would implement in what it has labeled a campus environment.

The mode and frequency of a virus testing program, potential quarantine measures when teams first arrive in Florida, how the league will handle players or team staff members who test positive for the virus and how strictly movement will be monitored into and out of the two Disney World hotels expected to house the teams are among the details being negotiated.

The N.B.A. gradually moved away from the idea of bringing all 30 teams to Florida because of safety concerns, in a nod to the public health experts who have warned that basketball is susceptible to spreading the virus as a full-contact indoor sport. But it settled on 22 teams — rather than the 16 teams in playoff positions — in part for the financial benefits from staging regular-season games rather than jumping straight into the playoffs.

Some team officials and players lobbied for the need to be able to play through the rust before the playoffs, as well as to learn how to best manage injury risks and to improve what is bound to be raggedy play, after a layoff far longer than is customary for the modern player. In addition, the 88 regular-season games will give marketable stars like Portland’s Damian Lillard and the New Orleans rookie Zion Williamson one last opportunity to play for a postseason berth — while also enabling some teams to meet their contractual obligations with regional television networks and potentially mitigate significant losses of revenue.

  • Updated June 2, 2020

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Teams are still awaiting guidance from the league on how the schedule will be made for each club’s eight regular-season games — with complaints almost guaranteed since there is no way to make schedules balanced.

A firm date for teams to report to the Orlando area has also not yet been announced, but it is expected that teams will soon begin recalling their out-of-town players and ramping up training in their own practice facilities before heading to Disney World, which features multiple arenas as part of the 220-acre ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.

The New York Times reported last month that teams had been advised to limit traveling parties to the most essential staff members: Each team will probably be allowed to take roughly 35 people, including players. Teams routinely had traveling parties exceeding 50 people before the coronavirus outbreak.

If the N.B.A. can successfully complete the 2019-20 season under this structure, it is expected that the 2020 N.B.A. draft would be moved to October, with free agency to follow shortly thereafter and a tentative plan to establish Dec. 25 as opening day for the 2020-21 season.

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