B/R Staff: Winners, Losers, Takeaways from NBA's 22-Team Plan to Resume

Bleacher Report NBA StaffFeatured ColumnistJune 3, 2020

B/R Staff: Winners, Losers, Takeaways from NBA's 22-Team Plan to Resume

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    Abbie Parr/Getty Images

    The NBA Board of Governors approved a plan on Thursday to resume the 2019-20 campaign, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium, as well as ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski

    Twenty-two selected teams will play the conclusion to the regular seasonEach respective team will participate in eight games. Regular-season records will be honored and will be factored in determining seeding as teams make their final push toward securing home-court advantage. 

    For the bubble teams, a play-in game for the eighth seed looms as the ultimate prize. Should the ninth seed finish within four games of the eighth seed, the two will enter a play-in tournament in which the ninth will face single elimination. The eighth will face double elimination. 

    The six teams outside the playoff picture that will resume their seasons are New Orleans, Phoenix, Portland, Sacramento, San Antonio and Washington.

    Now let’s poll some of our staff and find some winners and losers! 

NBA Draft Lottery Takeaways

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    From a draft perspective, the big takeaway from the new format upon the NBA's return is that certain teams currently projected for the lottery will now have a chance at making the playoffs.

    If NBA Commissioner Adam Silver had canceled the season, we'd already know the 14 franchise logos to be painted on pingpong balls. Instead, the Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs, Phoenix Suns and Washington Wizards now have a chance at sneaking into the postseason. And each of those teams possess enough firepower to catch lightning in a bottle and take out the Orlando Magic, Brooklyn Nets or Memphis Grizzlies in a play-in tournament.

    Among those groups, the Blazers look like the biggest threat with Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins suddenly expected to be available after both missed the majority of the year.

    Keep an eye on the Grizzlies' situation, since Memphis owes the Boston Celtics a top-six-protected pick. If the Grizzlies miss the playoffs and move into the top six during the lottery, they'll keep their pick and owe the Celtics an unprotected pick in 2021. However, Memphis would presumably rather give Boston its 2020 pick and hold onto next year's, when the draft class is expected to be stronger. 

    Meanwhile, the Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves will officially enter the lottery with the highest odds (14.0 percent) to win the No. 1 pick, followed by the Atlanta Hawks (12.5 percent), Detroit Pistons (10.5 percent), New York Knicks (9.0 percent), Chicago Bulls (7.5 percent) and Charlotte Hornets (6.0 percent).

    Jonathan Wasserman

Winner: Golden State Warriors

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Since the season went on hiatus, Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr has said he was operating as though his team's season was over.

    Now that it's official, Golden State stands to benefit the most out of any team looking at a potential seven-month layoff before the start of next season.

    Stephen Curry had just returned from a broken hand before the shutdown, while Klay Thompson was expected to miss the rest of the season while rehabbing from the torn ACL he suffered in the 2019 Finals. Even Draymond Green, who had missed some games to rest and nurse minor injuries this year, will benefit from being well rested.

    This year was always going to be a lost year for the Warriors between their injuries and the departure of Kevin Durant in free agency. Next year, with Curry and Thompson fully healthy and a longer-than-usual break? Look out.

    Sean Highkin

Winner: Giannis Antetokounmpo

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    The Giannis Antetokounmpo-led Milwaukee Bucks are the clear-cut favorites to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. 

    However, the uncertainty surrounding the return of games opened the door to experimentation. Kevin O'Connor of The Ringer proposed a World Cup-style format that would've put teams in separate groupings. Instead of facing the currently 30-35 Orlando Magic in Round 1—who they'd face if the final eight regular-season games provide no change in the standings—they'd be pitted against teams from both conferences, a far more dangerous slate. 

    In the proposed format that would seed the top 16 teams by record and ignore conferences, the Bucks would have been on a collision course with Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers in the semifinals. 

    Maintaining the status quo was always the best-case scenario for Giannis. He won't have to face the Clippers or Lakers until the Finals, assuming one of them gets out of the West.

    Preston Ellis

Loser: Orlando Magic

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    Joe Murphy/Getty Images

    There may not be a bigger loser in all of this than the Orlando Magic. 

    The Magic, at 30-35 and with a 5.5-game lead over the Washington Wizards, had the league's sixth-easiest remaining strength of schedule. The Wizards had the second-most difficult. 

    Not only did the Magic have a nearly insurmountable lead, but they were in a great spot to catch the Brooklyn Nets for the seventh seed (Brooklyn has a half-game lead on Orlando) and avoid the Milwaukee Bucks in Round 1. 

    Now, they will have a far more chilling slate of opponents and could face elimination in a play-in tournament. The Wizards only need to close the gap by two games.

    For the Magic, passing the Nets is possible. Durant isn't expected to return this season from the torn Achilles he suffered in Golden State. Kyrie Irving has played in just 20 games for Brooklyn and appeared to be out for the season when he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder in March. 

    Even if Durant and Irving do not return, the Nets have enough talent to fend off the Magic for the seventh seed. Whoever ends up with the eighth seed will have the deck stacked against them. 

    —Ellis

Winner: Ja Morant

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    Brandon Dill/Associated Press

    Ja Morant was the clear favorite to win Rookie of the Year when the season went on hiatus. While he'll still face a challenge from Zion Williamson, Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies have at least a 3.5-game advantage against their challengers for the No. 8 seed (Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix Suns).

    Morant has the opportunity to push his team into the playoffs and book a presumptive first-round matchup against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.

    Regardless of whether the Grizzlies won or lost that series, he would get to a chance to both showcase his talents on a nationally televised stage and gain valuable postseason experience. 

    Eric Pincus

Loser: Basketball Fandom for 8 Franchises

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    John Amis/Associated Press

    Perhaps the expense of returning for eight meaningless games wouldn't have been worthwhile, but the season is unceremoniously over for eight teams (Golden State Warriors, Minnesota Timberwolves, Charlotte Hornets, Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons, Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers).

    That means they'll officially be irrelevant until the draft lottery. 

    The Hawks won't get the opportunity to see how Clint Capela fits in with their roster. New Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas won't get a chance to evaluate his team directly on the court. Fans won't get to see Steph Curry, even in games that had no bearing on the playoffs.

    It's a disappointing end for several franchises' disappointing seasons.

    —Pincus

Winner: Los Angeles Lakers

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    The Los Angeles Lakers were playing their best basketball before the shutdown. They had defeated both the Los Angeles Clippers and Milwaukee Bucks, the two teams that stand out as their biggest challengers in a quest for a title, in the span of a week.

    Now, LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the rest of the squad will regain the opportunity to chase a championship.

    While their top seed in the Western Conference isn't locked in, the Lakers have a 5.5-game advantage over the Los Angeles Clippers with only eight games to play. It's unclear whether teams will get some sort of home-court advantage at the Orlando campus, but the Lakers should be able to pace their return without too much worry about losing their seeding.

    —Pincus

Winner: Philadelphia 76ers

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Missing out on home playoff games is a loss for the Sixers. They have the worst road record of any postseason squad and will now be playing all their tilts outside Philadelphia. But that's a secondary concern compared to how this plan benefits them, if it's a concern at all.

    Without fans in the stands, the Sixers won't really be playing on the road. More than that, having so much time off has given them opportunity to become whole. Ben Simmons was dealing with a back injury when the NBA shut its doors, Al Horford has been battling Achilles issues all year, Josh Richardson was banged up, and Joel Embiid is forever at risk of something. They'll return to the court fresher, with a better chance of making it out of the East.

    That they'll get eight regular-season games under their belt before the playoffs only helps their cause. They'll have the time necessary to catch the fifth-place Pacers and, perhaps, the fourth-place Heat. And if they can move up from the No. 6 spot, they'll avoid a prospective first-round matchup with the Celtics or, less likely, the Raptors, which is, at this point, more important than delaying a showdown with the Bucks until the Eastern Conference Finals.

    Dan Favale

Loser: Phoenix Suns

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Congratulations to the Phoenix Suns for making the return-to-action cut. They have the opportunity to play out another eight regular-season games and...go right back home.

    Three losses and four teams separate the Suns from the West's No. 9 seed. Six losses stand between them and the No. 8 seed. The odds that they'll land a play-in spot aren't great. It feels as if they're coming back strictly to increase the NBA's revenue and to watch other squads compete for what's already outside their reach.

    —Favale

Winner: Victor Oladipo

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Playing eight regular-season games is a monstrous win for Victor Oladipo and the Indiana Pacers. His offense has been touch-and-go since he returned from a ruptured right quad in January, but he's now had months to rest, and he'll get a handful of tuneup performances before heading to the playoffs.

    Finishing part of the regular season also gives the Pacers a chance to tinker with their spot in the standings.

    They're within striking distance of fourth place in the East (two games behind the Heat), but equally important, they'll have the option of, ahem, throwing a few games if they wish to drop to sixth place and avoid a potential meetup with the Bucks until the Eastern Conference Finals.

    —Favale

Winner: Zion Williamson

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    On May 28, Brian Windhorst dropped a bomb that held jaw-dropping implications for Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans. 

    "I'll tell you one thing: that scenario gets Zion in," Windhorst said on The Hoop Collective. "Look, I've just heard. ... I'm not saying the NBA is going this route, I'm just saying I've already heard this scenario that no matter what happens, the cutoff line will be the Pelicans."

    Zion has been a ratings sensation for the Pelicans and the NBA. His off-court earnings have already amounted to $20 million, according to Forbes (h/t Sports Illustrated). Oddsmakers have already begun to predict big things for Zion as his minutes restriction is likely to be phased out. 

    As the NBA turns to Orlando, more eyes than ever will be on Zion. He and the Pelicans will have every opportunity to trigger the play-in game and fight for the final spot in the Western Conference playoffs. 

    If he leads the Pelicans past the Grizzlies for a date with the Lakers in Round 1, there's no telling how much star power he'll wield entering 2020-21.

    —Ellis

Winner: LeBron James

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Perhaps LeBron James would benefit more if the NBA were heading right into the playoffs. He's an expert at keeping himself in shape while away from the game. The Los Angeles Lakers would have a competitive advantage by default if the entire league were entering the postseason with a little bit of rust.

    On the flip side, the MVP race was becoming an actual thing before the Association shut down March 11. LeBron now has another eight games to bridge whatever gap exists between him and consensus favorite Giannis Antetokounmpo.

    Maybe that's not long enough. Maybe no amount of time would be enough. But if Giannis or the Bucks stumble out of the gate and if LeBron resumes play without missing a beat, the MVP ballot stands to get interesting—potential asterisks and all.

    —Favale

Loser: Andre Drummond

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    Paul Beaty/Associated Press

    Drummond played in just eight games following a February trade from the Detroit Pistons to the Cleveland Cavaliers and probably needed more time with his new team before making a contract decision this summer.

    While Drummond played well with the Cavs (17.5 points, 11.1 rebounds, 1.4 blocks in 28.1 minutes) and the team went a respectable 4-4 with him, that's a small sample size to consider when talking about a long-term commitment.

    Drummond can choose to accept a $28.8 million player option and remain in Cleveland or enter free agency. He could also opt out of his option and negotiate a long-term deal with the Cavs, possibly taking less money than his option would have paid in year one but giving him financial security for the next three to four years.

    Getting to play more than eight games with his new team would have helped make everyone's decision easier.

    Greg Swartz

Winner: San Antonio Spurs

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    The Spurs' playoff streak is still alive!

    San Antonio is currently tied for the most consecutive postseason appearances in NBA history, with 22 straight trips dating back to the 1997-98 season. One more playoff rodeo would break the tie with the Syracuse Nationals/Philadelphia 76ers for the outright record.

    Of course, the Spurs face truly difficult odds to get to the eighth seed. 

    Down four games in the standings to the Memphis Grizzlies, the Spurs will now have just eight games to try to make up ground to at least get to the ninth seed, where they'd have to win a play-in tournament.

    Not only is San Antonio chasing Memphis, but also the Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings. And the Phoenix Suns were all invited as well.

    While the odds of making the playoffs aren't great, at least the Spurs' record-tying streak hasn't been snapped yet.

    —Swartz

Winner: Memphis Grizzlies

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    Joe Murphy/Getty Images

    While jumping directly into the postseason would've been ideal for the Memphis Grizzlies because it would guarantee them a playoff spot, this was their second-best outcome. 

    The Grizzlies were set to face the NBA's most difficult remaining original schedule, with the New Orleans Pelicans set to face the easiest, per Power Rankings Guru. In 17 games, their 3.5-game lead over the Pelicans and Portland Trail Blazers would have been in peril.

    Now, with just eight to play, the Pelicans, Blazers, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix Suns will all face substantially more difficult schedules than they otherwise might have, since the eight-worst teams won't be available as easy prey.

    In addition, the No. 9 seed will need to finish within four games of the Grizzlies to secure entry into a play-in tournament. If Memphis pushes it to a four-game cushion or more, it won't face the tourney. Even if it does, it only has to beat the No. 9 seed once to advance, while its opponent has to win twice.

    The advantage is considerable and a major win for the Grizzlies.

    —Ellis

Winner: Damian Lillard

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    Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

    Damian Lillard got what he wanted: a chance to play for something. But he and the Portland Trail Blazers will have an uphill battle to overtake the Memphis Grizzlies for the Western Conference's No. 8 seed.

    Instead of 16 games to make their run to the playoffs, the Blazers will get eight. They’re 3.5 games behind Memphis and have to hold off the New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix Suns as well.

    After several months off, Lillard and his teammates will need to play outstanding basketball immediately—or at least at a much higher level than their fellow challengers. The Grizzlies were reeling with injuries in March, but with time off, they are well positioned over the final eight games.

    The Blazers are going to have to fight to stay in playoff contention.

    —Pincus

Loser: Atlanta Hawks

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    Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

    With all five starters age 22 or younger, the Hawks need experience more than anything. With their season now over at 20-47, they'll likely have to wait until December or even January to get more of it.

    "I coach the youngest team in the NBA," head coach Lloyd Pierce said on ESPN's The Jump. "And the biggest thing we can benefit from is playing basketball, and the game has been taken away from all of us at this point."

    "If the season is going to resume and we're still not a part of it, it hurts our growth, it hurts our product, it hurts our ability to continue the momentum that we need going into next season." 

    The Hawks possess one of the most talented young rosters in the NBA with Trae Young, John Collins, Cam Reddish, De'Andre Hunter and Kevin Huerter. While Clint Capela was brought over in a deadline trade from the Houston Rockets, he was sidelined with a heel injury and had yet to play a game with his new core.

    With their season now over, the Hawks don't know how Capela fits in or how their young talent will grow around him.

    —Swartz

Winner: Brett Brown

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Fair or not, all season, most around the league have been of the belief that Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown needed to lead the team deep into the playoffs—and possibly even to the Finals—to keep his job.

    Well, assuming everything in Orlando goes smoothly, he'll get that chance.

    Not only that, but Brown should be bringing a healthy Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid with him. Perhaps Embiid, who in the past has struggled to maintain conditioning during long layoffs, is not in the best of basketball shape. But his body should be more rested than ever.

    For the Sixers, that could mean all the difference between an early postseason exit and a trip to the Finals.

    For Brown, that could mean the difference between a contract extension and having to look for a new job.

    Yaron Weitzman

Winner: Sacramento Kings

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    The NBA's longest playoff drought isn't technically over, but the return-to-play setup gives the Sacramento Kings a better shot to reach the dance for the first time since 2006 than they would have had otherwise.

    With De'Aaron Fox on a heater and the "Buddy Hield off the bench" gambit driving a 7-3 post-break record, the Kings were cresting at the right time...but they still hit the hiatus 3.5 games behind the eighth spot. Even if the Grizzlies had a tougher remaining schedule, it would have been hard to close that gap.

    Now, though, the Kings don't have to overtake whoever's in eighth; they just have to finish the eight-game regular season within four games of that spot. Do that, and they get to participate in a play-in tourney.

    They'd be at a disadvantage in that scenario, having to basically go 2-0 against whoever's in eighth. But the path to a playoff position is smoother now than it would have been in a normal year.

    Grant Hughes

Winner: James Harden

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    Tim Warner/Getty Images

    James Harden has put up absurd numbers the past few years, but he's also played a heavy load of minutes.

    Since being traded to the Houston Rockets in October 2012, he hasn't played fewer than 35.4 minutes per game in a season. He averaged 36.8 minutes last season and is at 36.7 minutes per game this season.

    Going all-out like that in the regular season has at least partially contributed to his tendency to burn out in the playoffs, which has given him the reputation of a regular-season player (fair or not).

    Before the shutdown, Harden was leading the league in scoring at 34.4 points per game on a usage rate of 36.4, the second-highest of his career. Had the season continued as normal, the spotlight would once again have been on him to continue that kind of production without any substantive rest.

    With four months off by the time the season resumes in late July, Harden will be as fresh as he's ever been heading into the playoffs.

    —Highkin

Winner: Luka Doncic

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    Glenn James/Getty Images

    The league's play-in tournament format reportedly will be between the No. 8 and No. 9 seeds in each conference. Considering how many teams in the West are going to Orlando, it would have been easy to picture the tournament deciding the last two playoff seeds, not just the last one.

    The Mavericks are currently the No. 7 seed in the West and have an almost insurmountable seven-game lead over the Grizzlies. They're all but assured a playoff spot at this point.

    In his second season, Luka Doncic has established himself as an MVP-level player. He's almost guaranteed to get a real playoff run and not be at risk of falling out if one of the on-the-bubble teams gets hot.

    —Highkin

Loser: Washington Wizards

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    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    The Wizards are the only non-playoff team from the Eastern Conference that will be invited to Orlando, but their chances of making the playoffs are slim. They're currently 5.5 games behind the Magic for the final playoff seed, and there's almost no chance they catch them with only eight regular-season games.

    The league's proposal calls for a play-in tournament only if the eighth and ninth seeds are within four games of each other, so Washington has some ground to make up there as well. A 1.5-game deficit from the cutoff is doable but is no sure thing.

    The most likely scenario is that the Wizards will go to all the trouble of bringing their players to Orlando, integrating into the bubble and going through training camp, only to play eight regular-season games over two weeks and go back home.

    —Highkin

Winner: Portland Trail Blazers

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    Sam Forencich/Getty Images

    Damian Lillard recently told Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports that he only wanted to play in Orlando if the Trail Blazers had a chance to make the playoffs.

    He got his wish, and the Blazers team that takes the court in July will be a very different one from the team that was clinging to playoff hopes.

    Starting center Jusuf Nurkic, who has been out since March 2019 with a broken leg, had been set to make his season debut on March 15, but the season was suspended days earlier. Starting power forward Zach Collins had also been hoping to return before the end of the regular season after undergoing shoulder surgery in October. The long layoff will give Collins and Nurkic even more time to get back into playing shape and be ready to go this summer.

    The Blazers are currently in ninth place in the Western Conference, 3.5 games behind the Grizzlies for the final playoff seed, but they have two games remaining against the Grizzlies. It's a tough climb, but it isn't impossible, and the Blazers will have two key players back.

    —Highkin

Winner: Chicago Bulls

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    Paul Beaty/Associated Press

    Two of the Eastern Conference bottom-feeders are expected to be told officially Thursday that their seasons are over. Both of these teams have brand-new front offices, with former power agent Leon Rose taking over the Knicks and former Nuggets executive Arturas Karnisovas taking over the Bulls.

    Both of them will now have the opportunity to start moving on their search for a new head coach.

    The Bulls' new regime has been noncommittal on the future of head coach Jim Boylen, who holds a 39-84 record over parts of two seasons. His tenure has been filled with public disagreements with players over roles and minutes, as well as bizarre rotation and timeout usage patterns.

    The front-office brain trust of Karnisovas and former Philadelphia 76ers executive Marc Eversley will likely want to bring in their own coach to give the organization a fresh start. They can start that process soon.

    —Highkin

Winner: Leon Rose

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    The Knicks' new president of basketball operations had nothing to gain from New York resuming its season—other than perhaps losing some games and falling in the standings, improving the team's lottery odds.

    With the Knicks not being invited to Disney, Rose can now officially get to work on rebuilding the team. He can hire a coach (Tom Thibodeau appears to be the favorite). He can focus on draft prep—with a greater idea of where the Knicks will likely land following the lottery—and free agency.

    Preparing—and living—in the NBA's Disney bubble is going to be a logistical nightmare for teams, the sort of thing that no doubt would have occupied at least some of Rose's attention. With that out of the way, he can now direct all his focus on basketball matters. 

    —Weitzman

Winner: Kawhi Leonard

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Kawhi Leonard's difficult decision to leave the Toronto Raptors in free agency for the Los Angeles Clippers will be judged by whether he wins a championship, especially with how good the Raptors have been this season without him.

    The Clippers also gave up a tremendous amount to bring in Paul George, sending Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, five first-round picks and two pick swaps to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

    Now, Leonard has the chance to make history.

    By winning Finals MVPs with the San Antonio Spurs and Raptors, Leonard joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and LeBron James as the only players in history to take home the award with two franchises.

    With the Clippers one of the front-runners for the 2020 title, Leonard has the opportunity to stand alone as the only player to win MVP honors with three separate teams.

    The reduced amount of games should also be a benefit to Leonard, as the Clippers were scheduled to play 18 more contests, a figure that has now been reduced to just eight. Sitting at second place in the Western Conference, Leonard and the Clippers should be just fine without finishing a full regular season, instead advancing to the playoffs while only having to play fewer than half of their remaining games.

    —Swartz

Maximum Health and Safety Takeaways

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    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    Though the proposed 22-team setup is a boon for several squads that probably weren't going to sniff the playoffs (mostly looking at you, Wizards and Suns), it's hard to get past the feeling that this isn't the most sensible way to restart the action.

    The Suns were six games back of the eighth spot in the West, and the Wizards were 24-40 when the season stalled. These are not playoff teams; their seasons were, effectively, as finished as the 15-50 Warriors'. But we're going to go to the trouble and added risk of shipping them (and scores of team staff) to Orlando for several weeks anyway?

    Those two are the extreme examples, but it would have been better if the league had simply sent the 16 teams currently in playoff position, thereby reducing the league's presence in Orlando by hundreds of people. Sure, the clubs that were relatively close to a playoff seed would have complained.

    But it would have been so easy for the league to cite the increased health risk of so many extra people participating and say, essentially, "nah, we're doing everything possible to mitigate health risks." Any organization clapping back at such a reasonable explanation would look reckless, greedy or both.

    —Hughes