With various professional sports leagues preparing plans to return to action, the NBA is currently considering multiple options for the conclusion of its season. Currently, Orlando is the overwhelming favorite to be the host city for the NBA’s “bubble” of players, coaches and other league and organizational personnel, as the ESPN Wide World of Sports offers the facilities to accommodate such a large group.
In terms of the actual playoff structure, a multitude of options have been discussed. Based on a report from ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, a 22-team scenario made up of eight regular season games to determine seeding, as well as a play-in tournament for the final seeds in each conference, is the official proposal from the league office and expected to be approved in a vote Thursday.
While this could lead to more health concerns due to the vast amount of personnel from each team, local TV contracts require teams to play at least 70 regular season games, a benchmark that has not been reached by any club.
At this point in the article, you might be wondering about a couple things, such as how this relates to Duke in the slightest. Well, according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, the NBA is committed to affording the New Orleans Pelicans, and other teams chasing the final playoff spot, a chance to make a final push for the postseason. Why the emphasis on the Pelicans, you might ask? Two words: Zion. Williamson.
The Pelicans, at 28-36, sit 3.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the eighth seed. Williamson, who missed the first 45 contests of his rookie season due to a meniscus injury suffered in preseason, quickly turned heads upon his professional debut. By averaging 23.6 points per game on 58.9 percent from the field and pulling down 6.8 rebounds per game, Williamson has already sparked more national hype than his one spectacular season at Duke.
In his 19 starts before the season was suspended, New Orleans had made major leaps with a young core featuring Williamson, fellow former Blue Devil Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball. Williamson has shown why he was constantly compared to NBA greats such as Lebron James and Charles Barkley during his Duke career, and the league now has another charismatic, dynamic and marketable young player to help generate interest for the next decade.
Ensuring that Williamson and the Pelicans have a chance to make the playoffs is a strategy that promotes emerging teams and players as the league moves into this next decade. Williamson is already one of the most entertaining players in the league and the Pelicans were clearly a different unit when he returned to the court.
With a chance to be the main source of intrigue in sports during the dog days of summer, NBA commissioner Adam Silver and other league officials feel the need to maximize ratings—including the top draft pick and a team on the rise in the postseason chase would do exactly that.
For years, the NBA has done a fantastic job of giving stars the spotlight to shine on the court and make stands on societal issues. The league clearly views Williamson as part of this next batch of superstars alongside young sensations such as Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic, which means that the rookie phenom will need to create more highlights in the playoffs sooner rather than later.
Obviously, the ethics of a decision that slants so heavily toward New Orleans and other teams behind in the standings must be considered. In order to weigh every concern from a health and safety standpoint, as well as to account for fairness toward all 30 teams, a Board of Governors call is being held on Thursday to discuss and likely approve the league's plan.
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Max Rego is a Trinity junior and sports managing editor for The Chronicle's 117th volume.