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Now What?

Our favorite pastime has been put on hold. What basketball implications does this have?

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Denver Nuggets Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

First of all, please ensure that you’ve taken any necessary precautions for yourself and your loved ones before reading this article. Maintaining your handle on the Milwaukee Bucks and the rest of the pro basketball world is secondary at this point...but we all might find ourselves with some extra time on our hands, so if your priorities are handled, we can at least have something else to focus on.

Last night, the NBA season was put on an indefinite hiatus. Members of the Milwaukee Bucks organization were, as of this moment, not known to have any direct involvement with any individuals thought to be at risk of contracting COVID-19. The Bucks were in Milwaukee preparing to take on the visiting Boston Celtics (who were also already in Milwaukee) on Thursday night, but instead they are waiting to hear more from the league office. Just like us. So while we wait, let’s focus on what we do know; Tim Bontemps and Brian Windhorst of ESPN put together an excellent primer last night, so we’ll draw from that as a starting point.

Why is the season suspended?

Infectious diseases spread when large numbers of people gather together in a small space. Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz was the first NBA player to test positive for COVID-19, so now that we know somebody in the league has contracted the illness, the responsible decision is to simply stop holding gatherings (i.e. postpone or cancel games, practices, events, etc.) until further notice.

So that’s it? Are we not having any more basketball this year?

It’s still too early to tell, but at this point the term has been “suspended” or “postponed,” rather than “cancelled.” All that means is that the league will look at when to resume the season, rather than if.

Great, so when is the NBA resuming the season?

At a bare minimum, my assumption would be that the season is on hold for 14 days (which is the incubation period for COVID-19). However, it’s likely that the hiatus will last longer than that. From ESPN:

The regular-season stoppage will be at least two weeks so all players affected can go through quarantine and, one hopes, be cleared of the virus. In reality, it probably will be longer. By comparison, when the virus broke out in China, the Chinese Basketball Association suspended play in late January. The CBA is in the process of resuming play in early April, roughly a 10-week layoff.

What about the remaining 20ish games and the NBA Playoffs, which start in April?

At this point, we simply don’t know. The NBA is obviously going to have to rework the schedule, since we already have two games (Jazz/Thunder and Pelicans/Kings) from yesterday that were postponed, and there were dozens of games on the schedule between now and Monday, March 16 that simply aren’t there anymore. In my estimation, the league could go one of three ways on this. They could:

  1. Resume the season and play all remaining games on a new schedule, then proceeding to start the postseason directly afterwards. This would simply extend the amount of time of the basketball calendar and push the end from June to July or August.
  2. Resume the season and play a reduced number of regular season games before proceeding to start the playoffs closer to the normal time. This would look something like the 2011-12 lockout-shortened season, which was 66 games instead of the customary 82, but could close out the league year around the same time.
  3. Cancel the remainder of the regular season and resume games with the postseason, using current seeding. This is a fairly extreme solution, but would allow the league to have a chance to get back on a normal schedule (playoffs could start in mid/late-April and conclude in early June).

How does that affect the Bucks?

It sort of doesn’t, not in any way that the rest of the league isn’t also experiencing. The extra time off is universal; everybody is getting a chance to recuperate, and nobody’s playing in any games. Even with a 1-4 record in their last five games, Milwaukee still sits atop the league at 53-12. They lead the Eastern Conference by 6.5 games and have a 2 game lead on the Los Angeles Lakers in the loss column to maintain the advantage for home court throughout the playoffs. If the season resumes, or we skip ahead to the playoffs, the Bucks are still the league’s top team in the standings.

On top of that, this extra break is, in strictly basketball terms, sort of a boon for Milwaukee. Nobody on the team has suffered a serious injury, but guys are banged up. Giannis Antetokounmpo now has plenty of time to rest his knee sprain suffered in Los Angeles. Khris Middleton has a chance to fully recover from his neck injury that appeared to put him into a slump. Eric Bledsoe had some knee swelling, Kyle Korver had back soreness, George Hill was still dealing from the Goran Dragic-delivered shot to the wallabies, and any other unknown bumps and bruises now have a chance to heal.

Furthermore, the timing of the break is...I’m not gonna say “great” because none of this is great, but if you were going to select a window of time to magically gift the team time off, now would be a decent time. Since the beginning of March, the Bucks played six games in nine days, and overall just looked sluggish. The defense had held up but the offense looked bad, and only part of that was the absence of Giannis and Khris, or the strong defensive showings from the Lakers and Miami Heat.

What about the summer? If the season is pushed back, will the offseason be delayed too?

Without knowing what path the league is going to choose for the current season, there’s no way to know for sure. What we can safely assume is that the league calendar is going to be shifted evenly; if the season takes longer, the offseason will start later, and if the season ends on-time, the offseason will probably begin on-time too. The dates might be in question, but the NBA Draft will follow the NBA Finals, and then will come free agency, so on and so forth.

That covers the question of “when,” but not the question of “what.” The potential loss of revenue will absolutely have salary cap implications, and while that effect is still even across the league, teams like the Bucks who operate over the cap but under the tax may find their wiggle room further restricted. The cap number and luxury tax line is going to drop, and the Bucks’ contracts are mostly static (in that they don’t have many deals that are reportedly tied to percentages of the cap).

Giannis’ presumed supermax extension (remember that?) is actually not likely to change. It’ll still be a huge amount of money no matter what (the Designated Veteran Extension is 35% of the cap), but if the cap is affected for next season (2020-21) and not the season after (2021-22), any Giannis extension would not take effect until the summer of 2021.

So what happens next?

Man, I don’t know. Sit tight, the league is going to eventually figure out what’s the best way to proceed without presenting additional risk to players, staff, and fans. In the meantime, Rudy Gobert is no longer the only confirmed case of COVID-19 in the NBA; teammate Donovan Mitchell also tested positive.

With any luck, nobody else will join them.