NBA executives prefer play-in tournament to World Cup-style group stage for 2020 playoffs, per report

The NBA is moving full steam ahead with its plans to resume play later this summer. It’s almost certain that the action will take place at Disney World in Orlando, but there are still some logistical issues to sort out. One of the biggest is deciding on a format and schedule. 

In recent days, there have been a number of proposals put forth. The most obvious and straightforward is canceling the rest of the regular season and going straight to the playoffs, but there have also been a few other ideas getting some traction. Those include a play-in tournament for the final few playoff spots, and a World Cup-style group stage that would replace the remainder of the regular season and the first round of the playoffs. 

On Thursday, the GMs got together for a conference call with Adam Silver, during which they discussed the plans, but did not make any formal decisions. An informal poll, however, did find that GMs favored a play-in tournament over the group stage format by a significant margin, according to a report from Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer. Furthermore, about half the GMs preferred going straight into the playoffs. 

Half of the league’s general managers voted to go straight to the playoffs and cancel the rest of the regular season, sources said. Just over half of the league voted to reseed the playoffs 1 to 16 without factoring in conference affiliation.

General managers were surveyed about a “playoffs-plus” format—either a play-in tournament between the bubble teams to determine the final seeds in the playoffs, or a World Cup–style group stage, which would replace the end of the regular season and the first round of the playoffs with a round-robin format. About 75 percent of teams voted in favor of a play-in tournament, sources said, while 25 percent of teams voted in favor of the group stage.

When the season was suspended back in March, every team had played between 63 and 67 games. After such a lengthy delay, there’s no chance of playing out the remainder of the schedule, but figuring out what to do now is a complicated problem. 

In terms of fairness, there are a few teams — specifically the Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Kings and Spurs — in the Western Conference who are within striking distance of a playoff spot, and assuredly feel like they deserve a chance to get into the playoffs. It’s clear why they would not be in favor of going straight to the postseason.

Likewise, many of the owners are eager to get to 70 regular season games in order to fulfill their contracts with local TV providers. While that isn’t the number one issue at play here, the financial interests at stake figure to make it a significant part of the discussions. 

From a quality of play and injury perspective, it also may be unwise to launch players straight into playoff intensity games after they’ve been sitting around for months. Even with some sort of training camp, the early games would likely be sloppy, and there could be an increased risk of injury. 

And then of course there are the very logistical challenges of getting everyone to Orlando, testing them and keeping them safe and healthy during a deadly pandemic. It simply doesn’t make sense to bring every team down there when many of them have no chance of competing in the playoffs. 

Trying to make everyone happy is going to be impossible in this scenario, but considering all of the issues at play, a format like the play-in tournament or group stage makes the most sense. This would give the teams just outside the top-eight a chance to get into the postseason, while also giving everyone more time to get into game shape and prepare to play again. 

If the GMs are in favor of the play-in tournament by that wide of a margin, that’s a strong indicator of what direction the league may take. Silver has a call scheduled with the league’s board of governors on Friday, and they’re expected to take the weekend to deliberate further after that discussion. 

Though there are some other matters to sort out — lottery odds if they do a play-in tournament, roster sizes, etc. — it looks like the league could have a plan in place by early next week. 

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