What If the NBA Season Is Already Over?

The coronavirus forced the league to halt its season without a clear idea of when, or if, it would resume, leaving players, teams and fans wondering if the 2019-20 campaign will forever be incomplete.
photo of Howard BeckHoward Beck@@HowardBeckNBA Senior WriterMarch 18, 2020

We know nothing.

That point can't be stressed enough. We. Know. Nothing.

We don't know when the COVID-19 pandemic will peak, or when it will pass or how many will die.

We don't know when bars and restaurants and schools will reopen, or when "social distancing" will fade into a weird, quaint memory.

We don't know when life will return to normal.

So we can't possibly predict when the NBA will resume play. Or where those games will be played. Or whether fans will be allowed in the stands. Or whether there's enough time to finish the regular season and play a full postseason before the league has to start up again in the fall. Or whether next season might also be abbreviated. Or when it might begin.

We know nothing.

Some of the league's brightest minds are busily formulating contingency plans, and contingencies for the contingencies, but it's way, way, way too early to know what's realistic, or what's likely.

Will the NBA still hold the draft lottery on May 19? Will the envelopes be torn open in an empty ballroom? Or will the NBA abandon that made-for-TV contrivance and just televise the actual pingpong ball draw?

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Oh, and while we're here: How will the odds be set? Based on the standings as they are now? Or does the whole thing get delayed until (and if) they play the rest of the season?

Who knows? (Spoiler: No one.)

Or, picture this: an NBA draft without the draftees. No slick suits. No ritual hat fittings. No green room full of nervous, teary-eyed parents. Just Commissioner Adam Silver, alone at the podium.

Or maybe the event goes on as usual—only with elbow bumps replacing the traditional handshake from the commish.

Possible? We don't know. No one knows.

Anything and everything is on the table. And yes, that includes canceling the rest of the 2019-20 season.

"Of course, it's possible," Silver conceded Thursday on Inside the NBA.

Underscoring the point: On Sunday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended canceling or postponing all events with 50 or more people for the next eight weeks. That would take us to around May 10.

Could the NBA restart then and squeeze in every team's remaining regular-season games? Or would we just skip to the playoffs? If the season never restarts, will the NBA still hand out postseason awards?

What about free agency? Summer league?

One big shrug emoji.

Pascal Siakam and the Raptors would retain their status as NBA champions if the season is lost but wouldn't get the chance to defend their title.
Pascal Siakam and the Raptors would retain their status as NBA champions if the season is lost but wouldn't get the chance to defend their title.Adam Pantozzi/Getty Images

But since cancellation of the seasona first in NBA historyis now within the realm of possibility, it's time to ponder all the strange consequences, such as…

The Toronto Raptors would enjoy a two-year reign as defending champions. But they would (for now) be denied a chance to repeat, with Pascal Siakam as their new centerpiece.

The Lakers would be denied their first chance at a title since 2010.

LeBron James might lose his last, best chance to win another championship, or another MVP award. He turns 36 in December. He's logged 58,000 minutes. How much longer can he play at a superstar level?

The Milwaukee Bucks would have their best season in a half-century ripped away. Giannis Antetokounmpo would have his title hopes dashedand with free agency looming in 2021. If his future in Milwaukee depends on the Bucks being title-worthy, how would a lost seasonand all the uncertainty attached to it—shape his decision? Have they shown enough to convince him?

If the season is over, the awards race would be, too. So Antetokounmpo would almost certainly repeat as MVP (over James, who needed those final 19 games to surpass him). And Ja Morant would be a near-lock to win Rookie of the Year (over Zion Williamson, who played only 19 games).

Williamson would lose his chance to make a run at the eighth seed with New Orleans. Morant, whose Memphis Grizzlies are frozen in eighth, would be denied his playoff debut.

So would Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis.

The Los Angeles Clippers would lose their first real shot at a Finals run. Kawhi Leonard's quest to be the first player to lead three franchises to the championship would be delayed. And the Clippers' window to win with Leonard and Paul George, before they hit free agency, would be down to one year.

If the season's over, the L.A. vs. L.A. debate will remain unsettled.

We'll never know how far the small-ball Houston Rockets could take their audacious experiment. And Mike D'Antoni might have already coached his last Rockets game.

Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons won't get to show what they learned from their heartbreak last spring—or whether the Embiid-Simmons partnership is worth continuing in Philly.

We won't get to see if Chris Paul can take the Oklahoma City Thunder where Russell Westbrook couldn't in the post-KD erato the second round. Or whether a healthy Jusuf Nurkic can rally the Portland Trail Blazers to a playoff berth.

We'll be denied a month of Steph Curry magic, after already being robbed of four months of Steph Curry magic.

New York fans will lose eight more nights of chanting, "Sell. The. Team."

If the season's over, Gregg Popovich's legendary run with the San Antonio Spurs might be, too. Insiders considered him a 50-50 bet to retire before the league shut down. (Or maybe the truncated season motivates him to return?)

Vince Carter, still dunking at 43, would finally be done for good. Carmelo Anthony, who turns 36 in Mayand whose career appeared over before Portland threw him a lifelinemight be, too. Same for Udonis Haslem (39), Kyle Korver (39) and Tyson Chandler (37).

Vince Carter hit a three-pointer late in the Hawks' last game before the NBA suspended its season, a game that may end up being the last of Carter's career.
Vince Carter hit a three-pointer late in the Hawks' last game before the NBA suspended its season, a game that may end up being the last of Carter's career.Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

If the season's over, every free-agent-to-be will soon be contemplating his next move. Brandon Ingram might already be an ex-Pelican, Fred VanVleet an ex-Raptor, Gordon Hayward an ex-Celtic, Montrezl Harrell an ex-Clipper, Danilo Gallinari an ex-Thunder and Joe Harris an ex-Net.

Of course, in an NBA economy wrecked by untold revenue losses, maybe the market isn't so frothy.

If the season's over, it ends with James Harden as the scoring champion (34.4 points per game) for the third straight year; LeBron as the assists leader (10.6 per game) for the first time in his career; Andre Drummond as the rebounding champ (15.2 per game) for the third straight year and Hassan Whiteside as the blocks leader (3.1 per game). Mitchell Robinson would finish with the highest field-goal percentage in NBA history (.742).

And no playoffs would mean losing two months of buzzer-beaters, grudge matches and Game 7s, along with all those wonderful "Gone Fishin'" collages from the boys at TNT.

So maybe we need one more before the season signs offwith enough room for 450 players, 30 coaches, 70 referees and a few million wistful fans. Yeah, we're gonna need a bigger boat.


Howard Beck, a senior writer for Bleacher Report, has been covering the NBA full time since 1997, including seven years on the Laker beat for the Los Angeles Daily News and nine years as a staff writer for the New York Times. His coverage was honored by APSE in 2016 and 2017, and by the Professional Basketball Writers Association in 2018.

 Beck also hosts the Full 48 podcast, available on iTunes.

 Follow him on Twitter, @HowardBeck.

Milwaukee Bucks owner Marc Lasry returns to The Full 48 with Howard Beck to discuss the NBA league suspension due to coronavirus, how he found out about Rudy Gobert testing positive and what the regular season, playoffs and Finals might look like if and when the ban is lifted. He also speaks to Giannis Antetokounmpo's recent injury and his future.


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