NBA Expected to Approve 22-Team Return Plan on Thursday

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A few weeks back, Adam Silver said he hoped to have a concrete return plan to deliver to teams by the first week in June. Well, June has (somehow) already arrived, and Adrian Wojnarowski hopped on Get Up today to report that the league is expecting its Board of Govenors to approve a plan to resume play that would include 22 teams.

How many teams would be included in a restart was the hottest topic of debate in NBA discourse as the likelihood of basketball returning grew stronger. Cutting the remainder of the regular season entirely and starting from the playoffs seems to be the easiest solution, but there was enough jockeying going on in the back half of the Western Conference playoff picture that half the teams in the West would not be happy with that solution. Thus, a play-in tournament seems the best middle ground, and it appears that will be the case.

The interesting development will be if the NBA keeps all things even. With a 22-team format upon resumption of play, it stands to reason that the league would eliminate the bottom four teams from each conference and keep the rest. But the bottom of the West is definitively better than the bottom of the East; the five teams currently sitting behind the Grizzlies for the Western eight seed all have better records than the five teams behind the Eastern eight seed. If the NBA kept it even, the Spurs (27-36) wouldn't get a bid for a play-in tournament, while the Bulls (22-43) will. San Antonio is merely five games behind Memphis, and Chicago is eight games behind Orlando. There's a strong case that the Spurs deserve a shot more than the Bulls.

In fact, if the NBA decides to have the 16 playoff teams and the six next best teams by record regardless of conference come down to Disney World, all six teams would be from the Western Conference. A lot rides on exactly how they'll do the play-in tournament (which teams have an automatic berth and who would play who after the play-in) but going by record instead of conference could set up some wonky matchups for top seeds and tough combinations for broadcasts. You can bet the Bucks are going to pull for whatever format has them playing the Magic instead of the Trail Blazers or Pelicans.

Silver has a difficult line to toe between keeping fans entertained, keeping teams happy, and putting a quality product on the floor while maintaining the appearance of parity. It's tough to say which path would allow for all of that. I think the NBA will take the simplest route available and take three teams from each conference to add into a play-in tournament. Western Conference teams won't be pleased, but it lessens any complications and the NBA might be more focused on making sure everything is as close to normal as possible instead of experimenting. This would ensure that, even if it probably means some of the first NBA games we'll see in months will be Hornets vs. Wizards and other such matchups.

There's still much to be figured out here, but the league is taking it step-by-step. Thursday will represent the biggest one taken yet.