It seems certain the NBA will return. Following a two-hour Board of Governors meeting on Friday, the league is aiming to officially restart the season on July 31, per reports, and is in the midst of figuring out what that return will look like.
The NBA is targeting Walt Disney World as a hub site for its return. It has the hotels and facilities to host thousands of players, coaches and league officials, and ESPN is owned by Disney.
Per USA Today, the options to be voted on Thursday are:
- Resuming the regular season with all 30 teams
- Hosting a play-in tournament with fewer teams, giving bubble playoff teams a chance to make the playoffs (ESPN pegs 20-22 teams invited)
- Ending the regular season and jumping straight to a 16-team playoff
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Only the first option would include the Detroit Pistons. With a 20-46 overall record, they’re closer to catching the Warriors (15-50) for the worst record in the NBA than they are to catching the Magic (30-35) for the eighth seed.
Detroit Pistons forward Sekou Doumbouya dunks against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first quarter at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse on Jan. 7, 2020. (Photo: David Richard, USA TODAY Sports)
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Given the effort it would take to bring the Pistons into the fold, it’s worth asking — should the Pistons play additional games this season? For the league, it would mean more testing and a higher chance of introducing COVID-19 into the bubble. For Detroit, it would mean bringing players off of a long layoff to play additional games in a lost season.
While no Pistons have publicly stated they’d rather see their season end, at least one other non-playoff team has. In April, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said he’s approaching his responsibilities as though the season is over.
“There’s still a chance the league could ask us to come back and play some games,” Kerr said. “But given what we went through this season with all the injuries and the tough record, it’s been more of the case of, you know, we’re staying in touch with guys but everybody is just sort of assuming that you know, this is, this is kind of it. We’re not going to be involved much anymore.”
While it seems more likely the NBA will opt to return with fewer than 30 teams, the Pistons would see some benefit from playing additional games.
It would give the league a chance to stabilize the order of the draft lottery and get the bottom 14 teams to the same amount of games played. As it stands, teams have played between 63 and 67 games.
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The inequality has created oddities in the current lottery standings.
- Golden State: 15-50 (65 games played)
- Cleveland: 19-46 (65 games)
- Minnesota: 19-45 (64 games)
- Atlanta: 20-47 (67 games)
- Detroit: 20-46 (66 games)
- New York: 21-45 (66 games)
The Cavaliers at No. 2 have a 14% chance at landing the No. 1 pick and can’t fall lower than fifth in the draft order. The Knicks at No. 6 have a 9% chance at the top pick and can fall as low as 10th. Only 1.5 games separate the two teams. The uneven number of games played is an issue.
The Pistons and Cavs have the same number of losses, but Cleveland benefits from having played one fewer game. Likewise, the Pistons and Hawks have 20 wins, but Atlanta has the advantage due to playing an additional game that ended in a loss.
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FiveThirtyEight’s ELO forecast projected Detroit finishing 25-57 — tied with Minnesota and Atlanta, and behind Cleveland and Golden State.
There’s an inherent unfairness to the lottery system, but equalizing the total amount of games played would establish parity.
It’s easy to envision how bringing non-playoff teams back could backfire, though. Without a realistic path to the playoffs, it could lead to a race to the bottom. The league would be asking players to leave their families and put their health on the line with no obvious benefit for themselves.
Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard dribbles around Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond in the first half at Moda Center, March 23, 2019. (Photo: Jaime Valdez, USA TODAY Sports)
For some players, that would be a tough sell. Earlier this week, Blazers star Damian Lillard told Yahoo Sports if Portland isn’t given a path to the playoffs, he won’t play.
“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,” Lillard said. “I’m going to do all that 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.”
And while a return could benefit Detroit’s draft position, it could also ruin it. Their current odds of 10.5% to win the lottery are the best the franchise has had since 1994, which it finished the season with the second-worst record.
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A 30-team return seems a longshot compared to the other options, but has yet to be ruled out.
In the meantime, the Pistons are awaiting guidance from Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on when they can reopen the Henry Ford Detroit Pistons Performance Center. Michigan’s stay-at-home order is set to expire June 12.
As of Friday evening, the Pistons are one of three NBA teams, including the Spurs and Warriors, yet to reopen their practice facility due to the coronavirus pandemic.
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