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NBA plans for a July 31 return, with 22 teams resuming season in Orlando

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver speaks during the NBA All-Star festivities Feb. 16, 2019, in Charlotte, N.C.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is expected to present his restart plan to the league’s board of governors during a conference call June 4.
(Gerry Broome / Associated Press)

The NBA is on track for a July 31 return, with 22 of its 30 teams headed to Orlando, Fla., for a resumption of its season that’s been on hold since March 11 because of the coronavirus crisis.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will present his restart plan to the league’s board of governors during a conference call Thursday morning, when the plan is expected to be approved, according to people familiar with the situation.

The plan calls for a truncated regular season, the possibility of a play-in tournament for the final playoff spots and seven-game playoff series in each round of the postseason.

The 22 teams — the 16 currently in playoff spots plus Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento, San Antonio, Phoenix and Washington — will play eight games to determine the final seeding order. If the ninth-place team in each conference is within four games of the eighth-place team, the two teams will have a play-in tournament for the final spot. The ninth-place team would need to beat the eighth-place team twice to advance.

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Major League Soccer and its players union ratified an agreement on a return-to-play plan as coronavirus restrictions are further eased.

Then the conference playoffs would begin, with the NBA Finals possibly extending into the second week of October.

“It’s fair,” said an Eastern Conference executive on an Orlando-bound team. “It’s all about getting back to basketball.”

The NBA needs the players’ union to approve the plan before it can be official. The league still must also finalize a deal with Walt Disney World to host the rest of the season and playoffs at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex.

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Silver’s proposal comes after months of discussions about how the NBA could resume a season that’s been on hold since Utah’s Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 in March.

The NBA hoped to be able to play empty-arena games in teams’ own cities at one point. The league considered scenarios in multiple locations to host games. It kicked around ideas to resume with playoff games and to reinvent what the first round of the playoffs could look like by adopting a World Cup-style format with pool play.

Ultimately, after discussions with factions throughout the NBA and medical experts, Silver landed on a plan that delivered the league regular-season games that it desperately needs to generate revenue for local and national television partners along with a complete postseason schedule. By limiting the number of teams returning to play, the NBA has reduced the risk of players contracting COVID-19.

The league is still working with teams on fixed dates for arrival in Orlando — there’s hope a deal could be finalized soon with Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports complex, which has three facilities with multiple courts, including an arena and field house. Teams will be instructed to limit members of their traveling parties to essential staff only.

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The plan is a massive undertaking that will reportedly require 15,000 tests for COVID-19 , rapid processing of those tests and contingencies for players and staff who test positive.

As of now, those plans remain private — if they’ve been fully developed.

Those plans, like so much coming out of the NBA’s remote offices, are constructed with some levels of flexibility because of the nature of the coronavirus.

But Thursday’s call and subsequent vote will be the first decisive step toward restarting the 2019-20 season — another sign that momentum for the league’s return continues to grow.


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