Now that the NBA has confirmed they are in discussion with Walt Disney World in Orlando to host the remainder of the 2019-20 season, and specific dates have started to leak out about their proposed schedule, all signs are pointing towards basketball returning this summer. But now that everyone seems on board with playing again, the big question is figuring out a format that makes sense for everyone, both from a health perspective, and a financial one. 

On one hand, it’s a huge logistical and health issue to get all 30 teams down to Orlando, and teams without a chance at competing for a title will have little motivation to play.  As we’ve already seen, Damian Lillard announced that if the Blazers don’t have a shot at the postseason, he’ll simply sit out whatever games they play. At the same time, team owners will be eager to get in as many games as possible in order to fulfill the contracts with their regional TV providers, most of which require them to play at least 70 games. 

In an attempt to try and please everyone, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has suggested a plan that would require all 30 teams to return to play, but would create a play-in tournament for the final two playoff spots in each conference, thereby giving more teams a chance at the postseason. Via ESPN:

Cuban considers it a must for all 30 teams to participate in the resumption of the NBA season, tentatively planned to take place at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, because of the financial impact of fulfilling local television contracts.

In Cuban’s proposal, the top 10 teams from each conference would qualify for the postseason and be reseeded based on record. There would be two play-in matchups — either single games or a best-of-three series — pitting seeds 17 vs. 20 and 18 vs. 19. The winners would advance to play the 15th and 16th seeds for the final spots in the playoff bracket.

The playoffs would then proceed with best-of-seven series.

Other ideas along these lines have been floated, including a World Cup-style group play idea. While nothing is going to be perfect, some sort of format that gives more teams a chance at the playoffs makes sense from a bunch of different angles. 

For one, it gives the teams just on the outside of the playoff picture a fair chance at continuing their season. The Blazers, Pelicans and Kings, for example, are 3.5 games out of the eighth and final spot in the West, as things stand. While they would have needed to make a real surge down the stretch to get in, it would be somewhat unfair to them to simply end the regular season and go straight to the playoffs. 

Then from a financial aspect, playing some number of regular season games, including the play-in tournament, would allow owners to cash in on the TV contracts. That, in turn, would help protect a lot of money for the players. 

And finally, in terms of the actual basketball, these guys are going to need some time to get back up to speed. Even with some sort of training camp, and the strength and conditioning they’ve been doing on their own during quarantine, there’s nothing that can prepare you for full-speed NBA basketball other than playing the game itself. Jumping right into playoff intensity games would not be good from a quality of play perspective, and could also lead to an increased risk of injury. 

All things considered, expanding the playoff bracket, or altering the format in some shape of form seems pretty likely, but of course, it remains to be seen just which proposal the league will decide to move forward with.