NBA senior coaches at risk
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - June 21, 2020 - 12:00am

The NBA is determined to push through with the restart of its suspended 2019-20 season on July 30 even as the world continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. When the league called off play last March 11, about 80 percent of the regular season was done with still no certainty as to which 16 teams would make it to the playoffs.

The objective of the restart is to put a closure on the season, meaning to end it by crowning a champion. Presumably, the NBA generates most of its income from the playoffs – that’s where sponsorship money pours in. To keep that revenue stream alive, the NBA came out with a quick fix to end the regular season, determine the 16 playoff qualifiers and launch the playoffs. Because the pandemic isn’t over, the league cranked out an extensive checklist of health protocols to protect players and staff from infection during the restart process and the actual resumption of games at the 89-hectare ESPN Wide World of Sports complex within Disney World in Orlando, Florida. The restart was initially scheduled on July 31 but it was adjusted a day earlier to Thursday which is a marquee TV day for the NBA.

Commissioner Adam Silver’s quick fix struck out eight teams with no chance to advance to the playoffs based on their standings. The yardstick was if a team was more than six games behind the eighth placer in the Eastern or Western Conference, it wouldn't be invited to Orlando. That deleted five former NBA champions – Golden State, Chicago, Detroit, New York and Cleveland. The top eight teams in the East and West standings were invited plus the six teams that were six or less games behind the eighth placer in either conference.

The 22 teams will play eight “seeding” games each in Orlando. The schedule will follow the sequence of eight games in each team’s regular season calendar. If the schedule lists a team not invited to Orlando, the next available qualified team will take its place. After each team plays the eight “seeding” games, the NBA will review the top eight standings in each conference. If a ninth place team is four or less games behind the eighth placer, a play-in will take place where the eighth place team engages the ninth placer with a twice-to-beat advantage, borrowing from an elimination process that has been a practice in the PBA for decades. Once the top eight placers are determined in the East and West, then the playoffs begin with the format exactly the same as before only there will be no homecourt advantage since the same venue will be used for every game.

The “seeding” process isn’t a perfect system. But it’s the most plausible under the circumstances. Here’s why it isn’t totally fair. The Los Angeles Lakers, for instance, have played only 63 games so they’ll end up with 71. The Dallas Mavericks have played 67 games so they’ll end up with 75. The disparity isn’t addressed by the quick fix. Also, some teams may have easier assignments than others in their next eight games. That advantage or disadvantage also isn’t addressed.

The delicate thing about the restart is with the pandemic still hovering, the NBA’s senior coaches are considered high risk for contamination despite the “bubble” environment. San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich is 71, Houston’s Mike D’Antoni 69, New Orleans’ Alvin Gentry 65, Portland’s Terry Stotts 62 and Dallas’ Rick Carlisle 60. Philadelphia’s Brett Brown is 59 and close to crossing the barrier.

Another issue of concern is the vulnerability of players to injuries because they may not be fully game-ready. Training camps are set to open July 1 but only for individual workouts of up to eight players on the court. It will only be on July 22 when teams are finally allowed to play scrimmages.  Players may opt out of the restart but a portion of their salaries won’t be paid, 1/92.6th of their per-game salary cut up to a limit of 14 outings.  Lakers reserves Dwight Howard and Avery Bradley are among players who may opt out. Players were given up to June 24 to inform their teams if they’ll opt out or not. To make up for opt-out players or those who may test positive for the virus, the NBA is permitting each team a 17-man roster in Florida, instead of the usual 15 with the option to pick up a free agent who played in the NBA or G-League since last year. DeMarcus Cousins, Lance Stephenson, Joe Johnson and J. R. Smith are some of the free agents who could be picked up as “replacement” players.

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