In a time of crisis, a strong leader is needed. The NBA has exactly what it needs in Commissioner Adam Silver, who has shown over time that he’s decisive, smart and trustworthy.
The successor to David Stern, Silver took charge in 2014 and immediately faced a major controversy. After it was revealed that Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling had made racist comments, Silver responded by banning Sterling from the league for life. Silver won the respect of the players, and his actions propelled his tenure.
During the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic that has turned American life and the sports world upside down, Silver made the first move to shut down a major professional league. On March 11, he indefinitely suspended the 2019-20 NBA season after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus.
A few other stars — Brooklyn’s Kevin Durant, Boston’s Marcus Smart and Utah’s Donovan Mitchell — are among those who have since tested positive for the virus, which has put the playoffs in jeopardy.
The entire situation is surreal, creating a challenge unlike any Silver has faced. He’s searching for solutions to salvage this season and solve the logistical issues that will follow for the 2020-21 season.
It’s a challenge fit for a progressive thinker like Silver, 57, a graduate of Duke and the University of Chicago Law School. This is a time for change and a time to explore new ways of doing business.
Six years ago, Silver announced he favored legalized sports betting, something the NBA previously fought along with the NFL, NHL, MLB and NCAA. And look where we are now.
Silver recently said the NBA would be innovative in its attempts to resume games and make contingency plans for the playoffs, which were set to run from April 18 through mid-June. All options seem to be on the table and open for debate.
Erin Rynning, a VSiN analyst and one of Las Vegas’ most respected professional bettors, said he thinks June 15 to July 15 is the “most likely scenario” for a window to restart the season.
“I would say it’s a 25% chance that we don’t see the NBA again for the 2019-20 season,” Rynning said. “But I believe the NBA and the owners will try to finish this out in some way, shape or form.”
Will another regular-season game be played? It’s highly unlikely the 82-game schedule will be completed because of time constraints. Rynning said he believes the NBA views 70 games as the desired magic number, and that would mean playing a handful of games before tipping off the playoffs.
Milwaukee, the top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, has played 65 games with a record of 53-12. The Los Angeles Lakers lead the West at 49-14.
It’s possible the regular season will not resume and the playoffs will start with the teams seeded Nos. 1 through 8 in each conference as the standings sit now. In that case, the players would need one to two weeks of a simulated preseason to prepare to play.
Rynning’s proposal — similar to something the NBA is reportedly considering — is to put all the playoff teams in one city for a made-for-TV event. Las Vegas makes sense as a potential location due to having several available arenas.
“It would be important to try and keep the traditional format, as I believe fans and players would agree,” Rynning said. “Place the 16 playoffs teams in one city or perhaps a West and East city with eight teams in each. It would be a summer league-type of atmosphere. That would be the easiest thing to do.
“However, I’m pretty certain you would not see fans at these games. All of the players would have to be tested and quarantined under the circumstances. Pending when this could happen, with the start anywhere between June 15 and Aug. 1, there would be potentially shortened series or a reduced number of teams.
“There’s a scenario with all 30 teams being involved, and there’s a scenario where you could see four teams in each conference in a condensed format. The owners and the NBA could push for five to seven more regular-season games for each team with a potential play-in tournament and on to the playoffs. Again, the logistics would be much tougher to pull off, so this would need to be at a central location with a quarantine.”
Las Vegas is a logical neutral site with at least six venues — T-Mobile Arena, Thomas & Mack Center, MGM Grand Garden, Mandalay Bay Events Center, Orleans Arena and Cox Pavilion — that stage pro and college basketball games.
In a recent interview with ESPN, Silver said “the impact on the national psyche of no sports programming on television” is an important issue that must be considered this summer.
“Shutting down the economy is a public health matter as well,” said Silver, who estimated that 99% of NBA fans follow the league through TV, online and other technology rather than attending games in person.
China can be an example to provide hope. The Chinese Basketball Association is preparing to end a three-month suspension of play. ESPN reported the CBA plans to restart its season with all 20 teams in one or two cities with an abbreviated regular-season and playoff schedule with no fans.
“It’s certainly a positive for the NBA that the Chinese league is coming back within three months, and that league will serve as the barometer,” Rynning said.
The NBA draft scheduled for June 25 will likely be delayed, and the fate of the early-July summer league in Las Vegas is up in the air. The start of the 2020-21 season might also be pushed back from October to December.
Silver faces an assortment of challenges, but his primary goal will be to save the playoffs.