As they deal with several season disruptions, a postseason expansion could be the best thing for the NBA’s checkbook and the San Antonio Spurs
The 2019-20 NBA season has been far from typical, both in terms of the on-court production and off the court distractions. Traditionally captivating storylines such as the rise of the Los Angeles Lakers to the top of the Western Conference and the fall of the San Antonio Spurs were overshadowed by a feud between the NBA and the Chineses government and a concerning and unprecedented drop in ratings.
We were almost past it, the playoffs were approaching, a Finals showdown between MVP candidates Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James seemed like the inevitable outcome. Then the Coronavirus shut the door on the season. Since then the NBA has worked to juggle quantifying the financial impacts of the season suspension with finding a safe and entertaining way to return to play.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen a variety of suggested plans to resume the season. Some prefer jumping straight into the playoffs, others prefer playing out some, if not all, of the regular season. Others, such as The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor, have suggested a more bold expansion of the postseason that would be unlike anything the NBA has ever done before.
O’Connor recently appeared on The Bill Simmons Podcast to discuss his proposed return to play and in the conversation revealed something that should be particularly interesting to NBA and San Antonio Spurs fans.
KOC noted that a lot of the NBA’s money comes from large, national TV deals that carry the playoffs every year. Expanding the playoffs and looping in fringe teams like the San Antonio Spurs, or even lower-seeded teams could create a new window to recoup some of their lost revenue through broadcasting these expanded playoff games on national TV networks.
It’s a complicated hypothetical. The NBA is still struggling with nailing down where to resume play, we have to assume that how they start the season back up is being considered at the same time. And considering how prominent superstars like the Portland Trail Blazers Damian Lillard have expressed a hesitation to play unless they’re guaranteed a shot at the postseason, perhaps the NBA would consider a one-year expansion. It would be a novel idea that would capture the interest of fans across the world, ensure the participation of the superstars we all love to see and help the NBA claw its way back into a more secure financial situation.
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For the San Antonio Spurs, it would mean the continuation of one of the most impressive records in sports. The Spurs’ historic streak of postseason appearances was all but dead when the season was suspended. They’re four games out of the eighth seed and barring the expansion of the postseason their chances of making the playoffs are nearly nonexistent.
If the NBA does decide to play out a fraction of the regular season it would be better for the Spurs to use however many games they’re given to experiment with lineups, play young players together, and try to build excitement for next season. But that plan would fly out the window if they’re instantly slotted in as a low seed in the playoffs.
Low seeded teams rarely make it out of the first round, and almost never advance past that if they somehow do survive their opening matchup. But we saw how dangerous a well-coached Spurs team can be in the first-round series last year against the Denver Nuggets. And with the unpredicted break afforded by a long season suspension, everyone’s going to be a bit rusty. If the Spurs make it into the postseason don’t bet your life savings on them but don’t completely discount them either.
A potential expansion of the postseason would be a rare win-win-win for the NBA. It’s a new format that would certainly draw the attention of fans, help generate the most revenue possible, as well as keep the San Antonio Spurs historic streak of playoff appearances alive.