Whenever the NBA returns, it’s clear that the Lakers and the rest of the field heading to (likely) Orlando will be playing in a different environment than they’re used to for the playoffs. There will be no fans in attendance, for one, and the games look set to be played in much smaller gyms in a pseudo-bubble in Disney World amidst a constant stream of COVID-19 tests during a pandemic.
It will, quite literally, be different than any postseason ever played before.
But those contextual changes may not be the only alterations to this postseason run when (and if) the NBA meets its goal of returning by July 31. It’s become clear from the combination of test-balloon leaks the league has made to some of the NBA’s biggest insiders and public statements that Adam Silver and Co. are considering massive changes to the playoff format when the league does attempt to finish the 2019-20 season:
If the NBA ultimately goes this route … it would increase the number of teams invited to Orlando from 20 to 22 and add Washington and Phoenix to Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento and San Antonio https://t.co/mNnpx2bosS— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) May 29, 2020
Sources: If the NBA resumes play with a 22-team regular season format, teams will likely play eight games each. Then, a play-in tournament would take place for the eighth seed in each conference. Plans aren’t finalized yet but as of now it appears conferences would stay in place.— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) May 29, 2020
.@MCuban says on #TheJump he thinks whatever format the NBA picks, it will be different from the 16-team playoffs we're used to with East vs West in the Finals: "Unique circumstances, unique opportunities. So I'm confident we'll take advantage of it & do something differently." pic.twitter.com/ITINjddONP— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) May 29, 2020
Sources: The NBA discussed four competition scenarios for restart with Board of Governors today:— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) May 29, 2020
- 16 teams: Directly to playoffs
- 20: Group/stage play
- 22: Games to determine seeding, play-in tournament for final seed(s)
- 30: 72-game regular season, with play-in tourney
According to Charania’s follow-up tweet, that fourth scenario is unlikely. But if you’re confused by all the other possibilities that haven’t been ruled out at this point, you’re not alone. There seem to be a ton of options on the table, and it’s not really clear which direction the league will go in. Over the course of various interviews during the last week, even the Lakers themselves have all shared different opinions on which format they’d prefer.
“The World (Cup Model with group stages), that was an interesting one,” said Alex Caruso during his appearance on “The Lowe Post” podcast. “I’ve seen the last four teams in the West plus the 16 playoff teams, seeded 1-20 and playing off a couple games to finish the regular season, so yeah, I’ve heard them all, seen them all.”
For his part, Danny Green said on “The Herd” that he thought that re-seeding all the teams, 1-16, regardless of conference and doing the playoffs that way was “an interesting concept” that he thought would be “more fun and entertaining” for fans.
“Something a little different will make things more interesting,” Green said.
Quinn Cook told Paolo Uggetti of The Ringer that he also prefers the conference-less format that Green likes:
“I know the league has been trying to switch things up for a while, so I wouldn’t mind seeing a tournament with no seeding. I mean, not no seeding, but no conferences. I saw a bracket like where they have the Western Conference teams mixed with the Eastern Conference teams during the playoffs. That looked pretty cool. Maybe a play-in tournament for the couple of teams who have a chance to make it in—New Orleans, Portland, a couple of those teams, just to make it interesting and switch it up a little bit. I think this is a good time to try something new out.”
But whatever form it ultimately takes, the one thing that’s clear is that the Lakers want to resume the season. Caruso has said he is champing at the bit to come back because chances to win a title are so rare. Cooks says he’s training like the Lakers have a game tomorrow. Green previously stated that he and the entire players union want to resume the season “by any means necessary.”
No matter what it looks like, the Lakers just want to suit up with their brothers again.
“I think any player and player rep would like the idea of any type of basketball, it doesn’t really matter as long as we’re out there and able to play again,” Green said. “I’m open to new ideas... It may not be great, it may turn out great, but like I said, I’m open to it. I think most guys are open to it because they just want to get back on the court.”
This shouldn’t necessarily be a surprise. The Lakers are one of the best teams in the league, and look like they have a legitimate shot at the title. Of course they want to play again. And sure, there are more variables if the format for the postseason changes, or if they end up facing an opponent their coaching staff hasn’t already been scouting as a result.
But in the end, those look like they’d be more of road bumps on the way to a lengthy playoff run rather than something that could derail the incredible season the Lakers have already put together amidst tons of adversity. Sure, things could always go wrong, but that will likely be more due to bad luck with injuries or illness than anything related to the format. The Lakers are a great team, and whether they have to go through group play or face off with an Eastern Conference opponent they weren’t expecting due to reseeding, they should be able to weather that storm and go on the type of deep run most have always expected them to.
Which format they like best may slightly differ, but however it looks, they just want to hit the court again and chase the franchise’s 17th title.
“I’ve seen it all, I don’t know if I really have an opinion on which one I like vs. dislike, as long as one of them happens. That’s the biggest thing for me, (and) just that we just get it done safely of course,” Caruso said. “All of them sound good to me as long as we’re back and playing.”
For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.