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Majority of NBA GMs vote to restart season by going straight to playoffs

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As the NBA’s board of governors met Friday afternoon to assess options for how to restart the season, the league’s general managers have expressed their preference to go straight to the playoffs.

In a survey of all 30 general managers, which was viewed by ESPN, 16 said they would prefer the league come back with just the typical 16 playoff teams, with the teams and seedings based on the standings when the season was suspended March 12.

That was one of four potential return-to-play options presented, and it earned more votes than the other three options combined:

• Resume the regular season with all 30 teams followed by a play-in tournament (8 votes);

• Go straight to the playoffs with either a play-in tournament or a World Cup-style group stage (5 votes);

• Resume the regular season with all 30 teams and then go straight to the playoffs (1 vote).

This was one of more than 10 questions on the survey, which covered a variety of topics, ranging from roster sizes to how long the season should last. But, not surprisingly, most of the questions centered on what the league’s return to play should look like and how it should be formatted.

In addition to preferring a return with just playoff teams, there also was a slight preference to keep the traditional playoff format, which received 16 votes. An option to reseed the 16 playoff teams regardless of conferences received 14 votes.

There were also several questions about what a potential “playoff-plus” model might look like, in terms of how many teams would be involved and how it would be formatted. A play-in tournament for the seventh and eighth spots in each conference — with the top six advancing directly to the playoffs — received the most votes with 13. A play-in tournament for the eighth spot in each conference received nine votes, while a group stage format got eight votes.

When asked how many teams should participate in one of these expanded playoff formats, there were 15 votes for 20 teams, while seven voted for 24, five for 18 and three for 22.

One thing that achieved widespread consensus was the need for teams to have more flexibility with their rosters no matter how the league chooses to resume play. When asked if the playoffs should have expanded rosters or teams should have more of an ability to replace players sidelined by injury or illness, only two teams voted for neither option. Twelve voted for expanded rosters, and 16 voted for an increased ability to replace players who are injured or sick.

Meanwhile, when asked on a 1-5 scale for what extent they would support increasing the number of inactive roster spots available to teams, 13 voted for “5” (strongly support), while eight others voted for either 3 or 4.

There also was a strong preference to add two-way players to playoff rosters — something that previously wasn’t the case. Only three teams said they would vote against adding two-way players to playoff rosters, while 19 said they would support it if rosters remain the same size. The eight other teams said they would support adding two-way players even if rosters expanded beyond 15.

In addition, 16 teams said they preferred that the league add two roster spots for the playoffs, while nine voted for one extra spot and five voted for three.

Among questions regarding a return of all 30 teams and a resumption of the regular season, 18 of the 30 teams voted for getting all teams to 72 games — meaning all 30 teams would play 5-9 more games. Twelve teams voted for getting all teams to 76, which would require teams to play 9-13 games.

Those votes fell in line with a question asking what the minimum number of regular-season games needed for a return to play was, with 12 teams voting for five and nine voting for 10 or more.

The question that saw the most divided responses was one about when the season should end. Presented with five options — Labor Day, Sept. 15, Oct. 1, Oct. 15, and Nov. 1 — none received 10 votes. Oct. 1 led the way with nine votes, followed by Sept. 15 (seven), Nov. 1 (six), Oct. 15 (five) and Labor Day (three).

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Anthony Davis — Lakers’ NBA title chances are ‘higher’ after long rest

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LOS ANGELES — When the NBA season came to a screeching halt on March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic, a bucket of cold water was doused on both the Los Angeles Lakers‘ hot streak (they were 8-2 since the All-Star break) and Anthony Davis‘ birthday candles (he turned 27 that day).

At the time, Davis considered his team, with the No. 1 record in the West, a championship contender. He envisioned his first season in L.A. alongside LeBron James possibly peaking with him holding up the Larry O’Brien Trophy in June.

And how does he look at those championship chances now that he’s begun formal individual workouts at the Lakers’ practice facility before flying to Orlando, Florida, next week for the NBA restart?

“Actually, I think our chances are higher just because we’re all rested and we’re all ready to go,” Davis said Thursday on a videoconference call with reporters. “If anything, our chances got higher and it’s going to be about just who wants it more.”

The time off has benefited Davis, he said. After missing eight games in the regular season because of shoulder, elbow and tailbone injuries, his body has had ample time to heal.

“It’s been good for me to kind of let some of them lingering injuries I had towards the time when the NBA stopped to kind of recover and heal and get back into the best version of myself,” he said. “I feel 100 percent healthy. Well, I don’t feel, I am (100 percent healthy). I feel like I’m ready. Ready to go.”

Not that any of the wear and tear seemed to slow Davis down prior to the break. He was averaging 26.7 points on 51.1% shooting, 9.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 2.4 blocks and 1.5 steals while shooting a career best 84.5% from the free throw line. He anchored the Lakers’ defense — ranked third in the league in terms of efficiency, allowing a stingy 105.5 points per 100 possessions — and his teammates and coaching staff touted him as a leading candidate for Defensive Player of the Year.

Lakers coach Frank Vogel said that part of Davis’ game that impressed him the most this season was his “mindset to play through minor nagging injuries.” It stands to reason if you take that same mindset and apply it with a healthier body, his impact could be even more noticeable.

“[When] you’re on the floor, you have an opportunity to grow and your team has an opportunity to grow,” Vogel said on a videoconference call Thursday. “When we get to Orlando, it’ll be the next step in that process and his journey in this season as a Laker. We look forward to seeing — hopefully the best is yet to come.”

Davis, James and Alex Caruso all took the court Wednesday at the start of the team’s “pre-training camp” before Orlando. Davis and Rajon Rondo were back in the gym Thursday, sources told ESPN.

Rondo will be one of the Lakers’ backup guards relied upon to make up for the absence of Avery Bradley, who opted out of Orlando for family reasons and to continue focusing his efforts on combating systemic racism in this country.

Davis said he considers Bradley a “key piece” they will be missing but added he never considered backing out of the season finale — even though he shared Bradley’s concerns — because he believes the NBA can address them as a united front from Florida.

“I think we’re stronger together,” Davis said. “Everyone in Orlando, we’re going to obviously be talking about everything that’s going on from a social injustice standpoint. And I think a platform of the NBA, where I think at that time, we’re going to be the only ones on TV.

“So, I think we’re able to have more people in the room from other teams and receive other ideas and figure out how we can change the world. What can we do individually and what can we do as a unit to make change, and I think the more people we have, the more minds we have, the more ideas and thoughts we can come up with to kind of change the world and change what’s going on.”

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Deandre Ayton — Suns welcome doubters in playoff chase

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Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton doesn’t care that his team faces long odds to make the playoffs when the NBA season resumes later this month, saying that hearing the doubts from those counting the Suns out just makes the team want to “shut them up even more.”

“We’re coming to work. We’ve been working,” Ayton told reporters on a video call Thursday afternoon. “We thank the league for choosing us as one of the teams. We’re grateful, and we’re coming to work. That’s about it. Whatever the media has to say, we’re just going to use that to add to the fuel.”

Phoenix is six games out of a playoff spot in the West and would have to pass at least four teams in eight games to be eligible for the play-in series for the No. 8 seed in the West. The latest projections from ESPN’s Kevin Pelton have the Suns making the playoffs just 0.4% of the time.

But the Suns had a better winning percentage on the road this season (.433) than they did at home (.371), so Ayton said they are looking forward to playing in Orlando, Florida, with a chance to bond and make history by coming back to make the playoffs.

“When we’re on the road, that’s where we have our best games. That’s where we come together,” Ayton said. “That’s where Coach has us thinking it’s us against the world. And that’s the best feeling to me. We know how the media is when it comes to the Suns, let’s be real here. We all know that feeling. It’s a feeling to where we know, we ain’t come to play games.”

After the NBA season was suspended in mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic, Ayton took his time getting back to basketball while recovering from a left ankle injury.

“I had a break. I was happy. I played 2K,” Ayton said. “I felt like I was back in high school. I played 2K all day. Skipped from sleep to playing the game all day. I didn’t really have a hard time [being away from basketball].

“Everybody was on me about going to the gym, but obviously I picked it up where I fit it into my schedule later on in quarantine. I definitely took advantage of taking that break, taking that load off. I think that’s why I have so much energy. I wasn’t thinking about it and just waiting for the world to get back to normal.”

Ayton suffered what he called a small bone bruise on his left ankle on March 3. He said the rehab process was tougher because things had to happen remotely.

“The rehab was tough because, you know, quarantine and reaching out to people who couldn’t come see me to help me physically,” Ayton said. “… The Suns, Cory [Schlesinger], our strength and conditioning coach, he sent me some things to help my ankle. I have a weight room at home, so I was working out there until it was time to open up the facility for individual workouts.”

During those individual workouts, Ayton said he worked on his 3-point shot. Ayton is 0-for-7 from deep in his NBA career, a bit of a disappointment after he flashed some ability to shoot from long range (12-of-35) in college at Arizona.

But now he feels confident in his 3-pointer.

“I’m shooting that 3-ball like it’s a middy [midrange shot],” Ayton said. “That’s a middy shot now.”

He has also been working with Suns assistant coach Mark Bryant on his shot-blocking. Ayton said he was trying to block “every shot” possible when he returned from his 25-game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance.

“Even on ball switches, I was trying my best to press up no matter what,” Ayton said. “Every opportunity I had to show my defense because I know everybody is watching me. I tried to prove everybody wrong coming back. It was a big chip.

“Coach [Bryant] has been on my back about reading defense, shot-blocking with different hands, how to avoid contact and just blocking the shot, how to not send it out of bounds so we can have extra possessions, stuff like that.”

When the Suns make it to Orlando, Ayton said it won’t be weird to play games in front of no fans. He mentioned having to do so at times while in high school. He also said his familiarity with playing in Orlando will help.

“Me, I already know Orlando. I know the gym we’re going to play in. It’s just going to take me back to AAU season,” Ayton said. “I feel like we’re playing for the semifinals of Peach Jam right now.”

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Sources — NBA discussing second ‘bubble’ for non-playoff teams in Chicago

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The NBA is close to signing off on a second “bubble” in Chicago for the eight teams that were not invited to play in Florida, enabling them to participate in a mini-training camp and subsequent games against other clubs with a target date of September, sources told ESPN on Thursday.

The details are still being hammered out, and teams continue to push for an alternative plan that would enable them to hold mini-camps within their local markets and to explore the idea of establishing regional sites where teams could scrimmage against each other.

Multiple team sources said union leader Michele Roberts has been steadfast in her insistence that the non-playoff teams follow the same protocol as the 22 teams that will be quarantined in Orlando and competing for the NBA championship. Commissioner Adam Silver supports Roberts on this issue, it was confirmed by those who were on the call.

“Michele has made it clear that’s how it’s going to be,” said one front-office member whose team pushed to create a mini-camp within its own market. “Adam is going along with it. I understand their point, but it’s frustrating for us that we can’t loosen the restrictions a bit so we can get some work done in our own gyms.”

Seven of the eight non-playoff teams participated in a call Thursday with league officials, with the New York Knicks as the lone team without a representative on the call, sources told ESPN. On that call, the league sought assurances from teams they will send their players if they move forward with the bubble format, sources told ESPN.

Play would be similar to a summer league format, with the specific parameters still being discussed.

The Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets, Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons, Golden State Warriors, Minnesota Timberwolves and the Knicks were the eight teams not invited to Orlando for the league’s restart.

“How they frame it is almost irrelevant to us,” one general manager told ESPN. “It’s more a chance to get our young guys out there working with some game simulation.”

Pistons coach Dwane Casey said he took an informal poll among the coaches who are not in Orlando, and he says the majority of them prefer holding their own mini-camps.

“We’d rather do that than go to the bubble,” Casey said, “because unlike those teams in Orlando, we wouldn’t be playing for the same reason.

“The reason we want these mini-camps is to get our team together, to have that camaraderie, to improve and enjoy some competition. We feel we can do that safely in our own environment. We can’t let these guys sit around from March 11 to December without something. It’s going to hurt their careers. It’s too long of a layoff.”

Some teams have pushed for a two-week delay before signing off on the second bubble, as concerns heighten over the number of NBA players testing positive for the coronavirus and as cases spike in Florida.

“A few of us would like to see how things go in Orlando,” one team official told ESPN.

Other teams feel a two-week delay would potentially torpedo chances of the bubble altogether.

“Look how long it’s taken to work out all the details for Orlando,” one team GM said. “We don’t have that kind of time.”

The Warriors, who have notable veterans with championship pedigree, among them Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, have agreed to participate if the bubble concept comes to pass, said general manager Bob Myers, although he did not specify who would be on the roster.

“Our position is, ‘Let us know what’s possible,”‘ Myers said. “Until we really know, it’s hard to say. If we can get the majority of our players to go, and if it’s beneficial, then we’ll do that. If we can’t, we’ll take what we can get. This whole thing is about balancing health and safety. From a team standpoint, what solutions check as many boxes as it can?

“One of the things is, you try not to judge. Everybody is right in a certain sense. Whether we pursue the opportunity to get our young players some work in some safe environment locally or in a second bubble, we’re in support of the pursuit. Now whether we get there or not is really a health and safety thing.”

While it’s highly unlikely Curry or Thompson would play in Chicago, there are a number of young players — such as Hawks star Trae Young and Cavaliers star Collin Sexton — who would likely welcome the opportunity.

The second bubble will be created at a substantial cost that will be split among the 30 teams, sources confirmed to ESPN.

The idea to provide the eight non-playoff teams with options to play arose out of concern that the long layoff would adversely impact young players whose ongoing development is critical to their franchises. Most teams did favor a mini-camp within their own market and then a week or two of games against other NBA clubs.

Roberts pushed back, insisting it was not fair to treat 22 teams one way, with stringent daily testing, quarantine requirements and personal sacrifice, and allow the other eight teams to design their own rules.

One general manager reported his players were actually relieved to learn their bubble would also require daily testing, like in Orlando.

The NBA has discussed setting up the bubble in Chicago with approximately two weeks of practice, then four games for each team. Participation in the bubble would be voluntary, sources said.

“You probably won’t see Blake Griffin and guys like that,” one GM said, “but I bet some veterans will show. These guys miss basketball. They’re itching to play.”

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