At the time of the NBA suspending its season due to the threat of COVID-19, or the coronavirus, the Los Angeles Lakers had the best record in the Western Conference (49-14), second-best record in the NBA, appeared to have a real opportunity to catch the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks, and had just beat the latter team and the LA Clippers to prove that their title hopes were very much for real.
In the midst of a pandemic, them getting to finish their season is low on the list of societal concerns. But for the players who had worked so hard to get to this point, it would be understandable if they were disappointed by such an outcome, even if everyone on the team to speak publicly so far seems to agree that the NBA made the right decision to pause the season.
Still, according to the Los Angeles Times, even with the prospect of the season being cancelled seemingly fully on the table, a recent phone call left the players on the Lakers optimistic that they may get to finish what they hope is a run to the title:
Silver said there is a possibility the season could end up wrapping in the summer, with the NBA Finals possibly played in July instead of mid-June. Cancellation is also a possibility.
Lakers players had a conference call with general manager Rob Pelinka and coach Frank Vogel. Players were left with the impression that the league’s owners were committed to trying to finish the 2019-20 season, according to people familiar with the discussions.
The league’s owners being committed to that is a start for those that hope the season finishes, but there will still be significant hurdles to clear for that to happen.
For one, we don’t know how bad everything is going to get. We just don’t. We don’t know if other players besides Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell will get infected despite the NBA’s best efforts to protect its teams. We don’t know how much longer those illnesses to players or other key figures would delay the league getting going again. We have no idea if the government will place further restrictions that will make it even more difficult for games to be played within the NBA’s 30-day break before re-evaluating where it stands.
There is just a lot we don’t know.
We also have no idea how a continued season would work. Brad Turner of the L.A. Times suggested on Twitter that the owners wanted to finish the regular and postseason, but the scoop didn’t make it into the story with that phrasing, so who knows if that’s actually where things are headed.
Finishing the regular season after (at minimum) a 30-day stoppage would mean either condensing the remaining games to a dangerous degree, or extending the season far past its normal end date, which would then affect the timing of the draft, free agency, the NBA’s summer leagues and even making sure every player got enough of an offseason to actually rest before the next league year, all of which would have to be accounted for in any plan to continue the season, whether through cancellation or other such modifications of those events and others.
Even if we take the most optimistic timeline, and the league is back in 30 days and wants to just start the playoffs nearly immediately in order to stay as close to the normal calendar as possible, there would almost assuredly be teams on the fringes of the playoff race in staunch opposition to such a plan because of the disadvantage it could put them at.
But let’s say the league got past that, and came up with a plan to re-start things in some form or fashion. Could they have fans at the games? How would not doing so affect league-wide revenue? What would the NBA do if another player got sick after they resumed play? Is it safe to travel to all of these cities? Would neutral cities want to accept such large traveling parties?
These are all questions the league would have to answer and account for, and why this isn’t just as simple as Mitchell and Gobert getting better and then just scheduling the games to start again. The NBA Players Association, owners and league partners will all have to be brought on board whatever plan is ultimately enacted, and there are a lot of variables here.
While obviously everyone who read this far into a story on a niche Lakers site during a suspension is obviously hoping basketball comes back (me too!), the health and safety of everyone is of paramount importance right now, and it’s worth pointing out that in the end, it may just be too complicated for the NBA to resume its season.
Even commissioner Adam Silver noted in his open letter to fans that while he and the league want to continue the campaign, they will only do so “if and when it becomes safe for all concerned.” The word “if” would seem to be much bigger than its letter count here. There is a real possibility that “if” won’t come in 2020, or at least not in time to allow the next season to not have drastic changes as well.
Not starting up again would cost the Lakers a legitimate shot at the title, something that would obviously be tremendously disappointing for every reader here and affect the league landscape in ways both big and small for years to come, but it might ultimately be the simplest choice, and one the league is somewhat forced to make. Even if no one wants things to come to that, we have to acknowledge and prepare for the reality that it might be on the table.