The NBA is closer to returning to the court to complete the 2019-20 season, but the Cleveland Cavaliers won’t be part of that plan.
The league’s board of governors on June 4 approved a 22-team format for restarting the league season in late July at the Disney campus near Orlando, Fla.
The format calls for each team playing eight games to determine playoff seeding plus the possible utilization of a play-in tournament for the final spot in the Eastern Conference and Western Conference postseason fields, a person familiar with the situation said. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the league had not yet revealed the vote result publicly.
“While we are disappointed that the announced return to play proposal excludes the Cleveland Cavaliers, we understand all of the unprecedented factors that contributed to this outcome and we accept the hard decisions Commissioner Adam Silver and the NBA’s Board of Governors had to make,” Cavs General Manager Koby Altman and head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said in a joint statement. “We also respect the exhaustive and life-altering measures that were considered as a result of COVID-19, but as a team, we greatly desired to be a part of the season’s resumption.
“We were hopeful to be granted the opportunity to continue the 2019-20 season and join our counterparts in Orlando to further the development of our young team in meaningful basketball games, and also feed off the positive momentum we had built prior to the league shutdown on March 11. Collectively, our players want to compete at the highest level and we will unquestionably use this as added motivation as we continue working towards a sustainable culture of winning.
Although the time away from our incredible fanbase in Cleveland and across Northeast Ohio is unfortunate, we look forward to finding ways to continue utilizing our platform and available resources to reach out in our community to help affect change and take sustainable action in the fight against racial injustice. We are looking forward to returning to the court for the 2020-21 NBA season.”
The team also issued a statement:
“While we are disappointed that the season has come to an end and would have preferred to continue playing, we respect the extreme complexities involved and understand the league’s recommendation and decision. We remain proud of the way our players, coaches and entire organization has faced this incredibly challenging time. So much of what we’ve learned about our team and ourselves as an organization during this journey, though, has nothing to do with basketball and everything to do with love, character, community and our culture. All of which are things we will continue to amplify.
“We’re also very grateful for the continued passionate support from our partners, our Wine & Gold United members and from all Cavaliers fans. Those bonds and relationships have grown even stronger through all of this. Full focus on our future starts right now and we are in a great position to improve on the momentum that was developing when we were last on the court.
“In a huge understatement, we all miss this greatly and will prepare with great anticipation for the start of next season. What a thrilling, even historic, moment and celebration that will be.”
It is the most significant step yet in the process of trying to resume a season that was suspended nearly three months ago because of the coronavirus pandemic. There are numerous other details for the league to continue working through, including finalizing specifics of what the testing plan will be once teams arrive next month at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports complex and the calculating the financial ramifications of playing a shortened regular season.
Another person, also speaking to AP on condition of anonymity because the details of the ongoing talks have not been publicly released, said the National Basketball Players Association and the NBA are continuing to work on a “lengthy” medical protocols document. The details of that document will be shared with teams once those discussions are completed, said the person, who added that teams should receive them in plenty of time for them to prepare for expected mid-July arrivals at the Disney-ESPN complex.
If all 22 teams that are going to Disney play their allotted eight games before the postseason begins, the NBA would play 1,059 games in this regular season. That means 171 regular season games would be canceled, which could cost players around $600 million in salary.
Those 22 clubs would play between 71 and 75 regular season games if the Disney portion of the schedule is completed, down from the customary 82-game slate. The teams that didn’t qualify for the restart will see their seasons end after having played between 64 and 67 games.
But one of the biggest hurdles is now cleared, and if things go according to plan an NBA champion for a season unlike any other will be crowned in October. The season could go into that month if the league goes ahead with its plan for the same playoff rules as usual, that being every round utilizing a best-of-seven format.
The move by the board of governors – one that came, coincidentally, on the same day this season’s NBA Finals would have started if these were normal times – was largely a formality. The NBA considered countless restart options after suspending the season on March 11, whittled that list down to four possibilities last week and from there the 22-team plan quickly began gaining momentum.
The 22-team plan includes all teams that were holding playoff spots when the season was stopped, plus all other clubs within six games of a postseason berth.
Milwaukee, the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston and reigning NBA champion Toronto had already clinched playoff berths. Now with only eight games remaining for each team, it means that eight other clubs – Miami, Indiana, Philadelphia, the Los Angeles Clippers, Denver, Utah, Oklahoma City and Houston – have postseason spots secured, and Dallas virtually has one as well.
That leaves nine teams vying for three remaining playoff berths. In the East, Brooklyn, Orlando and Washington are in the race for two spots. In the West, Memphis, Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento, San Antonio and Phoenix will jostle for one spot.
If the gap between eighth place and ninth place in either conference is four games or less when the shortened regular season ends, those teams will go head-to-head for the No. 8 seed. The team in ninth place would have to go 2-0 in a two-game series to win the berth; otherwise, the No. 8 seed would advance to the postseason.
In addition to the Cavs, the decision also means the seasons for Atlanta, New York, Golden State, Minnesota, Detroit, Chicago and Charlotte is over. The Knicks will miss the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season, the third-longest current drought in the league behind Sacramento and Phoenix – who still have chances of getting into the playoffs this season.
And with the Hawks not moving on, it also means Vince Carter has almost certainly played the final game of his 22-year NBA career – the longest in league history Carter, the first player in NBA history to appear in four different decades, has steadfastly insisted that he is retiring after this season. He appeared in 1,541 NBA games, behind only Robert Parish (1,611) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1,560) on the league’s all-time list.
The Associated Press contributed to the story.