NBA Return to Play goal: get Zion into the playoffs

As our time in sports limbo seems to have a distant ending in sight, the NBA sets in motion strategies that will help them achieve their own self-serving agenda.

Reports have been out for a while now that the NBA and Disney could become partners in creating a bubble-like atmosphere in Orlando that would allow the NBA to isolate and contain their personnel. The same bubble is also rumored to be in the works in Las Vegas. These games, played without fans, will be a far cry from the basketball we are used to, but a heck of a lot better than what we’ve had for the past two plus months.

On Friday, Woj reported that players likely would begin reporting back to their respective teams in early June. But without clarity on practical questions like: how many teams will participate in the rest of the season, will the NBA jump straight to playoffs, etc, many players are reticent to make physical moves to another city because they might have to quarantine all over again.

Over the weekend, Shams Charania of The Athletic shared the details of a survey that was sent to the 30 general managers of NBA teams late Friday night. According to Shams, this survey included “polling on whether the NBA should do a play-in tournament, the preferred number of teams to enter the playing site and the preferred number of scrimmages or regular-season games prior to the playoffs.”

In general, I am a fan of the play-in tournament concept. I think it would make for great drama at the end of the season and give a few extra teams a little bit more hope down the stretch. Granted, those teams who would participate in a play-in tournament would just be fodder for the top seeds once the formal series began, but there are always those rare 8 seed victories that make sports memorable.

However, the play-in concept this season goes directly against my personal rooting interests, therefore I am vehemently against this idea (until next year of course). You may have forgotten, but the Grizzlies are holding onto the 8th seed in the West and are 3.5 games in front of the Trail Blazers, Pelicans, and Kings. Luka and the Mavs are slotted in the 7th spot right now and are 7 games ahead of Memphis. It is very clear that Memphis and the three teams closely trailing them would all have had a shot to make a post-season appearance this year had all the games been played. The final portion of this season would have been provided excellent theater.

Nonethless, it couldn’t be more blatantly obvious that the NBA is working their hardest to take advantage of the situation by trying to get Zion Williamson and the Pelicans into the playoffs. It’s no secret that the loss of games due to COVID-19 has meant the loss in hundreds of millions in revenue for the league. A Zion-LeBron first round would pique the interest of any sports fan and would likely draw huge numbers on TV.

I admit, the Pelicans are a really fun team. They are a League Pass favorite of mine and I look them up as often as I can, but crafting a way to give them an additional opportunity to push into the playoffs is a bold strategy.

I get the fact that this season has been completely turned on its head and that now would be the perfect time to try something new in an attempt to garner increased viewership. But it sure does seem convenient that the number one draft pick and media darling happens to be on a team that could easily benefit from such a situation. Honestly, I’m surprised that the NBA isn’t pushing for a playoff expansion to twelve teams in each conference just to guarantee that Williamson gets into the playoffs in his rookie campaign.

What’s wrong with the actual rookie of the year making the playoffs? Anyone who pays attention to the NBA knows that Memphis has one of the most exciting young cores in the league. Ja, Jaren, BC, Dillon — these guys are going to be around for years and people who are fans of highlight reel plays on both ends of the floor know that Memphis will produce plenty of excitement in the playoffs. Ja is just as likely as Zion to put someone on a poster and break the internet.

At the end of the day, no matter what happens, Memphis still has to win games to get into the playoffs, and this will just create another avenue for this young team to gain experience as they grow and mature together.

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