As the NBA enters into talks with Disney to restart its season in Florida, the reigning topic of discussion will be what form basketball return in. Given the time constraints, restarting the season right where it left off isn't a realistic option. But launching right into the playoffs doesn't give teams on the postseason bubble a chance to eek their way into a low seed. There are a variety of methods to meet somewhere in the middle, but as with most things, it will be impossible to keep everybody happy.
Damian Lillard told Yahoo! Sports' Chris Haynes on Tuesday that he has no intention of playing if the Portland Trail Blazers won't play meaningful games. While he did say he would show up to be with his team, there's no chance he's going to suit up if the Blazers are just going to play exhibition games without an opportunity to compete for a playoff spot. Many other players likely feel the same way, even if they won't say it as loudly as Lillard, and that's an issue the league will have to address. The full quote:
"If we come back and they're just like, 'We're adding a few games to finish the regular season,' and they're throwing us out there for meaningless games and we don't have a true opportunity to get into the playoffs, I'm going to be with my team because I'm a part of the team. But I'm not going to be participating. I'm telling you that right now. And you can put that [expletive] in there. If we come back and I don't have an opportunity to make the playoffs, I will show up to work, I'll be at practice and I'll be with my team. I'm going to do all that [expletive] and then I'm going to be sitting right on that bench during the games. If they come back and say it's something like a tournament, play-in style, between the No. 7 and No. 12 seeds, if we're playing for playoff spots, then I think that's perfect."- Damian Lillard
While Lillard doesn't necessarily have to worry about the financial impact of refusing to play that many players on mid-tier contracts would have to take into consideration, it does highlight an issue the league will face. If teams aren't in the playoffs, what incentive do players have to risk their health and well-being by playing amidst a global pandemic? There's the monetary aspect, which will be enough for some, but there will be more than a few guys going into the situation with the bigger picture in mind. Ten or so games' worth of paychecks won't be enough for every player to happily risk getting hurt on the court or catching coronavirus.
Teams already in the playoffs will be willing to play, but the league probably won't want to skip right to the playoffs. Reports suggest they think a ramp-up to some type to postseason play is necessary to increase general interest, along with the obvious facet that better basketball will be played if playoff teams have a few warm-up bouts before going full tilt. A play-in tournament as Lillard suggested does seem like the best path, but like everything else with this operation, it comes with its own set of complications. But even then, I very much doubt Steph Curry will lace up a 12-seed Warriors team with the slimmest of shots at making the postseason.
It may just end up the reality that not every player is going to be willing to play in this bubble setup. But the league will need to balance that factor with the need to maximize the opportunity it has to televise basketball in order to mitigate the financial losses the league and every team has felt over the last two months. How the NBA and its teams strike that balance will determine what we're looking at when the season eventually starts up again, which seems inevitable at this juncture.