NBA Restart
Winners & Losers of the NBA restart (Karen Pulfer Focht/Associated Press)

Winners & Losers of the NBA restart

Shout it from the rooftops! Sound the celebratory sirens! The NBA is back…..or at least it will be shortly. The NBA’s restart plans have been debated, outlined and voted on to an overwhelming 29-1 margin – weirdly, the Blazers were the one team to vote against the resumption plan.

As a remainder, here’s what you need to know about the NBA’s resumption:

  • The league will take 22 teams to play in a bubble campus at Disney World in Orlando.
  • The teams invited are the 16 current playoff teams, plus Washington from the Eastern Conference and the Blazers, Pelicans, Suns, Spurs and Kings from the West.
  • All teams will play 8 regular season games, beginning on July 31st.
  • Should the 8th and 9th seeds finish within four games of each other, they will meet in a play-in tournament, of two games maximum. The 9th seed will need to win both games to move into the playoffs; the 8th will need to emerge victorious in only one.
  • Playoff rounds will stay at the standard 7 games per round, with the season finishing no later than October 12th.

The league has rightly acknowledged that any resolution to this situation – including the cancellation of the season – would not be perfect. To that end, the league has attempted to put feet in multiple camps: the health of all involved; the need to finish the season; fan interaction; TV contracts, to name a few.

Let’s take a look at some of the winners and losers from the plan:

Winner – Teams outside the playoff picture

As thing stand, Memphis holds a 3.5 game lead over the Blazers, Pellies and Kings. In the East, the Nets lead Washington by 5.5 games. In the usual course of events, it’s unlikely that either of those sides would be caught. But to give teams outside the 8 a reason to turn up and play, there had to be a carrot.

The play-in tournament isn’t perfect, but it does add a level of intrigue to both conferences. In the East, it gives us at least the vague outlines of a race. In the West, we could get a bloodbath.

Loser – The 8th seed

Swings and roundabouts. For the 9th seed to be deemed a winner, it’s natural for the incumbent 8th seed to be seen as a loser.

In the East, the Magic were not going to be seriously heeded by the Wizards. If they meet in the play-in tournament, however, there’s a very real chance they could lose. Orlando’s strength is it’s mundane consistency, whereas Washington is an unpredictable firebrand. If the Wiz offense clicks, and their defense shows more constitution than a puff of smoke, they would fancy themselves.

Out West, Memphis had a horrible run home, and a whole cadre of teams on their tails. But it’s extremely rare for a team to give up the 3.5 game lead they enjoyed in such a short span of time. It surely would have been close, but Memphis were likely to hold on to their playoff spot. Now, a rejuvenated Pels, a healthy Blazers and a Kings side that had started to gel before the shutdown will all have eyes on the Grizzlies seat at the table. The Spurs and Suns will also be chasing them, but….meh.

Winner – Memphis Grizzlies

That being said, the break has given Memphis a major shot in the arm: health.

Prior to the shutdown, the Grizz were missing Jaren Jackson Jnr and Brandon Clarke. Getting those two back in the fold is huge for a team that doesn’t exactly sport great depth. Importantly, they’ll also debut mid season acquisition Justice Winslow who fills the troublesome small forward position, provides excellent defense and has the play making chops to allow Ja Morant to play off the ball from time to time. Ahh, yes: the Boy Wonder. Morant – along with back court partner Dillon Brooks – were both showing signs of fatigue in March. Their scoring and shooting numbers were down, as were their steal numbers. A rest will have done both of them a world of good.

Loser – Health concerns

As stated at the top, the league have openly admitted that there is no ‘catch all’ solution in this scenario. If they’d played the season without compromise, the health ramifications could have been catastrophic. If you straight out cancel the season, the financial impact could have been ruinous. It’s not an easy horse to straddle.

That said, there is a strong and legitimate case to be made that the league should have drawn a line underneath this season. Money can be remade, contracts renegotiated, but lost lives are lost forever. That’s understandable, but was never a realistic option for a business as big as the NBA.

How this scenario plays out health wise could ultimately dictate if the plan is a success. Get through the remainder of the season with minimal health impact, and all’s well that ends well. If there are widespread COVID-19 outbreaks in the campus, the NBA could come out of this looking very foolish – and greedy – indeed.

Winner – New Orleans Pelicans

When the season went into hibernation, The Pellies were the team with the best shot at catching Memphis for the 8th seed. The had, according to Tankathon, the league’s easiest schedule (against the 2nd hardest for the Grizz) and finally had their full complement of players available with Zion Williamson wowing us on a nightly basis, and a healthy Derrick Favors making their defense viable.

That said they still would have had to have pulled off a miracle to make the playoffs. Now, they just have to hold off the teams around them, get that 9th seed, and their destiny will be in their own hands.

Loser – The top seeds

The Bucks and Lakers had the top seeds all but sewn up when the stoppage struck. Now, thanks to playing in the most neutral atmosphere that you could possibly conceive, they’ve lost that all important home court advantage. It’s not only a parochial home crowd – and its built in advantages – that they’ve lost. It’s the little things like knowing the familiarity of knowing the staff in the arena; getting your particular pregame routines in; being with family; sleeping in your own bed. All those little things add up. Milwaukee and the Lakers had earned those advantages. Now they don’t mean a thing.

Winner – Portland Trailblazers

The Blazers currently lead New Orleans in the standings, but they were not exactly tipped to come roaring into true playoff contention. Frankly, this season has been a nightmare for Portland. Hassan Whiteside has been a revelation stepping in for the injured Jusuf Nurkic but losing Zach Collins and Rodney Hood meant that Portland was missing all 3 of it’s front court starters. Pulling Carmelo Anthony out of mothballs was a tepid win, but ultimately this season was a write off in Oregon; until now. With the strong possibility that Nurkic and Collins will be healthy, Portland suddenly have ridiculous depth at the 4 and 5 positions. With Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum – who have both dealt with minor injuries this season – rested, last season’s Western Conference finalists are poised to steal the 8th seed.

Loser – Defeated finalist

Like it or not, this season will have an asterix next to it. If you’re the winner, you’ll live with that. Compromised season or not, you’re still the champion. And you’ve been compromised in exactly the same way as your competitors have, yet you prevailed where others fell.

With the season stretching through to October, we’ll experience a shorter off season that ever before. If you’re the team that fights through it’s conference only to lose out in the finals, you’re getting all the negative effects of the shorter off season without any of the glory to offset it. That rings especially true if you’re an older team like, say, the Lakers or Raptors. Fronting up in 2021 will be hard enough. Without the usual levels of recuperation, the finals loser could be competing against their own bodies as much as their opposition.

Winner – NBA TV partners

$$$$DINGDINGDINGDING$$$$

The most cynical view of the NBA’s return is that it revolves around money. Specifically, the levels of TV revenue that the networks were due to lose if the season didn’t continue. By trickle down effect, the teams and therefore players were due to suffer considerable losses, as well. With the extra 8 games per team, all TV contracts will be fulfilled and broadcast contracts paid in full.

Loser – Utah Jazz

When the league was forced to shut down, Utah were finally getting it together. Mike Conley was healthy and looking the best he had in Utah colours. The team had won 5 of 6 including a huge win in Boston. Joe Ingles was starting to find form off the bench, and Rudy Gobert was playing the best basketball he had all season.

Three weeks ago, the Jazz lost 2nd leading scorer and elite marksman Bojan Bogdanovic for the rest of the season to a wrist injury. The Croat was the X factor for Utah. His ability to capably guard opposition 4’s both inside and on the perimeter, aligned with his elite shooting gave Utah something that they’ve missed in playoff’s past.

As things stand, Utah has a favourable match up as the home team against the Thunder, but with a big part of their game plan out of commission, they’re suddenly the underdog in that series. They’re also only a game out of falling to the 6th seed.

Winner – LA Clippers

Whisper it, but everything is coming up Milhouse for LA’s other team.

The Clippers astonishing depth makes them the most pandemic proof team in the league. Of course, losing Kawhi Leonard will be devastating (although the team actually has a +0.6 without him on the floor) but the Clips are perhaps best positioned to deal with the loss of any other contributor on their roster. Lose PG? Marcus Morris steps in. Lose Harrell? Zubac plays more minutes. Lose Pat Beverley? Let Lou Williams loose.

The Clippers have been treating this season as a slow burn, building up to the playoffs. Now, with load management presumably off the table, they can let rip and see what their star studded roster can really do.

Thirdly, should the expected Western Conference finals with the Lakers eventuate, the Clippers now manage to avoid being the away team for a full 7 game series.

Loser – Las Vegas

Given the NBA’s open secret about wanting to put an NBA franchise in Sin City, and Vegas’ involvement in NBA Summer Leagues, it’s ability to handle this sort of project is well established. So why not put the NBA ‘campus’ in Nevada? Well, fir starters it’s called Sin City!

If things do go wrong on any level, do you think the NBA wants to have a series of Vegas related stories to deal with? Much easier to associate themselves with the family friendly Disney name in these circumstances.

Winner – Disney

Prepare yourselves for a solid 4 months of Disney advertorials, folks.

Loser – Vince Carter

Everyone’s favourite ‘half middle aged man/half amazing’ inadvertently had a nice sendoff, hitting his final NBA shot before the season went into lock down. Still, it felt a little lacking. Carter deserved to have his walk off into the sunset.