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NBA clears another hurdle as players’ union approves plan for season to resume

National Basketball Players Association President Chris Paul and his fellow board members voted to approve the NBA's 22-team return-to-play plan. (Sue Ogrocki/AP)

The NBA’s return-to-play plan, which would have 22 teams resume the season in late July, cleared another hurdle Friday when the National Basketball Players Association’s board voted to approve further negotiations with the league.

On Thursday, the NBA announced that its Board of Governors approved a proposal that would bring nine teams from the Eastern Conference, including the Washington Wizards, and 13 teams from the Western Conference to a single-site campus near Orlando. The eight remaining teams will not participate, given that they were well outside the playoff picture when Commissioner Adam Silver indefinitely suspended the season March 11 as the novel coronavirus spread through the country.

The NBA’s return-to-play plan and playoff format explained

The NBPA, led by Executive Director Michele Roberts and President Chris Paul of the Oklahoma City Thunder, approved the basic framework of the plan, in which games would resume in a bubblelike environment at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World, where contact with outsiders would be limited. Each team will play eight additional regular season games as tuneups and to help determine playoff seeding and matchups. Games will begin July 31 and continue into October without fans. Teams will gather for training camps in their home markets this month.

“Various details remain to be negotiated and the acceptance of the scenario would still require that all parties reach agreement on all issues relevant to resuming play,” the NBPA said in a statement announcing its approval.

The NBA and NBPA will continue conversations about the details of the bubble, including health and safety protocols and procedures, how strictly player movement will be limited within the campus and the timelines governing this season and the 2020-21 season, which is set to open Dec. 1.

People with knowledge of the NBPA’s internal thinking said the union’s members continue to have many questions about what day-to-day life will be like within the bubble, including how and when family members might join players, what type of non-basketball activities will be allowed and how the league would respond if a player tests positive.

Other details, such as guidelines for coaches who are old enough to be in higher-risk categories for the coronavirus, remain unresolved. Silver suggested Thursday in an interview with TNT that perhaps extra accommodations would need to be made for older coaches, though the Dallas Mavericks’ Rick Carlisle, head of the National Basketball Coaches Association, told ESPN “the conversation should never be solely about a person’s age.”

At least 10 players, including Nets star Kevin Durant, and New York Knicks owner James Dolan tested positive for the coronavirus. The NBA, which provided extensive instructions to teams on how to safely reopen their practice facilities, has yet to reveal details of its health protocols for the resumed season. In a statement Thursday, the league said it was “working with infectious-disease specialists, public health experts and government officials to establish a rigorous program to prevent and mitigate the risk related to COVID-19, including a regular testing protocol and stringent safety practices.”

Multiple people with knowledge of the situation expect those guidelines to be revealed in the near future, though players have been left with the impression that a positive test would require a player to self-isolate while play continued without him.

“While the COVID-19 pandemic presents formidable challenges, we are hopeful of finishing the season in a safe and responsible manner based on strict protocols now being finalized with public health officials and medical experts,” Silver said in a statement Thursday. “We also recognize that as we prepare to resume play, our society is reeling from recent tragedies of racial violence and injustice, and we will continue to work closely with our teams and players to use our collective resources and influence to address these issues in very real and concrete ways.”

The NBA will use its standard 16-team playoff format that features the top eight teams from each conference competing in four best-of-seven rounds to crown a champion. However, in a new wrinkle, the league could use a play-in round to finalize the field.

At the end of the additional eight regular season games, the top seven teams from each conference will have their seeds locked. If the eighth-place team in either conference holds more than a four-game lead over the ninth-place team, it, too, will advance automatically. If not, the eighth-place team will proceed to a play-in round against the ninth-place team to claim the final playoff spot. To advance, the eighth-place team would need to beat the ninth-place team only once; the ninth-place team would need to win two consecutive games.

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