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Report: NBA leaning toward a “playoffs-only” scenario in Orlando

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Such a format would leave out the Phoenix Suns.

Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images

As momentum builds toward the resumption of the 2019-20 NBA season at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando near Walt Disney World, the league is considering a variety of scenarios that would alter the size and scope of the “bubble” it forms to hide away from the virus while giving fans a needed reprieve in the late summer.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN said early Monday on the network that “more people in the league think that it’s going to end up being a playoffs-only scenario,” meaning the 16 teams who, as of March 12, would have been in the playoffs.

That would, of course, mean the Suns are on the outside looking in, as they stand three games back in the loss column of the 12th-seed Spurs, a far cry from a playoff team.

However, Shams Charania did report late last week that the NBA was considering “playoffs plus” options that could still be a possibility even with Windhorst’s new report. Under the “playoffs plus” formats, the league would bring a handful of additional teams to compete in a play-in tournament for the eighth and/or seventh seeds in the playoffs. That would mean a few extra televised games as well as more teams with a chance at a playoff run.

Even if the situation in Orlando includes a few more teams than just the 16 locked in, that would likely not include the Suns, either.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at what John Hollinger wrote at The Athletic about how it might affect the Suns’ cap space. Hollinger, who used to run the Grizzlies and is still well-connected at the top of organizations around the league, wrote that his idea to smooth out the 2020-21 cap number at a mark identical to this year’s $109.4 million has “momentum” around the league.

As a result, Hollinger put the Suns in the “bye-bye cap room” group in his write-up, noting that even if Phoenix declined options for Frank Kaminsky and Cheick Diallo, renounced Aron Baynes and Dario Saric, and cut Elie Okobo, they’d still only get to $19 million if the cap stays the same going into next season. That’s down from the $24 million they expected to have given those same moves, and now, it might make more sense to just roll over a similar roster next season or focus more on the trade market rather than looking at premium combo guards or power forwards in free agency.

So does this mean goodbye, Danilo Gallinari, hello long-term deal for Saric? Not quite. I always expected the Suns to look hard at trades before all this, meaning players like Aaron Gordon or Lauri Markkanen over someone like Serge Ibaka.

There’s a lot riding on what the NBA decides, even for teams that are ultimately not included in the Orlando bubble. Making a determination on the season structure also gives the rest of the league the green light to move forward with a more clear calendar for the draft, free agency, and next season. One way or another, there will be change coming for the Suns, whether it’s an abrupt mid-summer training camp or virtual draft workouts.