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Suns could qualify for the playoffs when NBA resumes

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To give the NBA lottery teams and players incentive to return for very short season, the league could implement play-in tournament that helps the Suns.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at San Antonio Spurs Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

And you thought the Phoenix Suns could go a whole 10 years without making a playoff game, huh?

The 2019-20 NBA season will eventually resume (positive thoughts here, because... Bright Side!) later this spring or summer. The best case, now, is a very shortened remainder of the regular season followed by a playoffs that almost certainly will culminate with an NBA champion no later than Labor Day.

The problem is that only 16 of the 30 teams make the playoffs each year, leaving 14 teams to come back merely for a few meaningless regular season games before heading home again? What’s the incentive here? Why would 14 Robert Sarvers say, “thanks for the crumbs, while the rest of you get whole sandwich?”

My guess is that the lottery teams will push for some kind of revolutionary ending to this season in an attempt to squeeze every bit of entertainment (i.e. dollar) out of it before thinking about next season.

And frankly, the players need to think about revenues too, since next year’s salary cap is wholly dependent on this year’s basketball-related income (BRI). If the BRI goes down 20 percent, then so would next year’s cap, unless the players and owners agree to smooth the loss over multiple years.

So, it’s in everyone’s best interest to generate the most possible money out of a shortened schedule.

That’s why it’s getting more and more likely the NBA would adapt a version of their already-proposed mid-season tournament and possibly allow all 30 teams to qualify for at least 1-2 playoff-ish games at minimum.

Balanced 28-team, Play-in model

The Nets’ Spencer Dindwiddie tweeted his idea last week for a 28-team tournament in which the 27th and 28th seeds would be determined by a pair of three-game play-in series for the four worst records in the league.

My version is a bit simplified compared to his. Assuming in the real world you keep the Conferences separate (because that’s how the owners think), the Timberwolves and Warriors would “play-in” for the 14th seed in the West, while the Hawks and Cavaliers would duke it out for 14th in the East, with the winner going on to play the Lakers and Bucks, respectively, in 5-game series.

The Suns, as the 13th seed in the West, would get a 5-game series with the 2nd-seeded Clippers.

In this model, if there are any regular season games, they would simply be used to help players get more into playoff-level shape and allow for final seeding maneuvers.

30-team lopsided model

John Hollinger has a little more un-balanced version that heavily favors the top six seeds in each conference and lets all the lottery teams beat each other up first. If you don’t remember who John Hollinger is, he is the father of the PER statistic from his ESPN days, then worked in the Grizzlies front office for several years before now joining The Athletic as an NBA writer.

Here’s Hollinger:

The other key element is that everybody makes the playoffs. Yes, all 30 teams. I think this is a necessary concession to the reality of asking everyone to come back in the middle of summer and actually try. Don’t worry, the dice will be completely loaded against the bottom seeds.

Here’s how it works:

The top 6 seeds in each conference go straight through the playoffs.

The 7 and 8 seeds get a double bye in the play-in tournament

The 9 seed gets a single bye in the play-in tournament

The first round of the play-in tournament pits seeds 10 vs. 15, 11 vs. 14 and 12 vs. 13 in each conference.

The second round of the play-in tournament is the next day and pits seed 9 vs. the 12-13 winner, and the other two winners face off.

The final round pits the 7 seed vs. the winner of the 10-11-14-15 bracket, and the 8 seed vs. the winner of the 9-12-13 bracket. Those winners make the playoffs.

In this model, the 13th-seeded Suns would play three eighth-or-lower teams before having to go up against the mightiest in the West.

The Suns would start off against the 12th-seeded San Antonio Spurs. If the Suns beat the Spurs, they would then face the 9th seeded Portland TrailBlazers for the right to stay alive. If the Suns keep winning, they get the 8th seeded Memphis Grizzlies. Beating the Grizzlies then gets the Suns into the REAL playoffs, where we are back to five or seven-game series depending on the calendar, against the Lakers.

No matter what happens, those would be the most meaningful games the Suns have played since May 2010.

Bottom line

Every day that goes by without basketball is a loss of another few million dollars. Estimates have a total loss of the remaining games plus playoffs reaching as high a $1 BILLION. No way the owners will walk away from that money, or any portion of it, if they have any say in the matter.

And there’s no way 14 of the 30 owners will say, ‘sure, go ahead, half of us should make the lion’s share of whatever’s left. We don’t need it as much as you do.’

My guess is that some form of full-league playoffs is on the horizon, breaking the Suns playoff-less streak at nine seasons. Just ignore that asterisk, kthx.


An extra word

Jobless rates just hit 3.3 million around the country this past week (initial unemployment claims), and that does not even include the contractors/gig workers who can’t get work and don’t qualify for unemployment.

People around you are hurting big time. Gov’t just passed a bill that will get up to $1,200 in into peoples’ pockets, but how far does that actually go?

Any little bit helps. $10, $20, or more. Please. Donate. Click this button to give something to those out of work in the Phoenix area.