The issue of what becomes of the NBA’s also-rans has been somewhat lost in the excitement and media coverage of the league returning on July 31st.
The league announced that its restart would include 22 teams – every team currently in a playoff spot and any team within six games of a spot. That left eight teams whose seasons unceremoniously ended via paperwork. The Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets, Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons, Golden State Warriors, Minnesota Timberwolves, and New York Knicks will all sit home and watch the season’s conclusion.
Not that anyone would exactly be clamoring to watch more of teams who were only playing for better draft position at the time the season was suspended, but there are implications that could hinder each franchise moving forward.
Namely, they’ll have lost precious time to evaluate young talent currently on their rosters. The remaining teams fall into two basic categories: teams that tried to compete and had things go terribly wrong, and teams that had no illusion of competing this season and planned to develop their young players.
In the former group, the Golden State Warriors were sunk as soon as Steph Curry and Klay Thompson were lost with long-term injuries. They’ve relied on a collection of G-League prospects to play out the string this season.
The Pistons lost Blake Griffin and couldn’t recover, eventually waiving the white flag and trading Andre Drummond for salary relief.
The Timberwolves couldn’t make things work with a Karl-Anthony Towns/Andrew Wiggins partnership, eventually shipping out Wiggins to try and reshuffle the pieces around Towns.
The Bulls players completely tuned out their overbearing coach by the time the season was suspended.
The Knicks are, well, the Knicks and struck out on their star free agent targets, settled for a collection of ill-fitting veterans, and finally realized they’re in a rebuild around midseason or so.
The Hawks, Cavs, and Hornets at least seemed to know they’d be in talent evaluation mode from the start of the season.
But along with losing the remainder of this season, and having the draft and free agency pushed further into the fall, next NBA season’s start could be delayed until Christmas Day. That means those young players will have nearly a nine-month layoff from real game action.
The layoff could also lead to players playing in less structured environments – non-sanctioned summer league or pickup games, for example. It’s common for NBA players to show up in their hometowns or popular summer leagues during the offseason. However, with the COVID-19 risk still present, the risk is much greater, not to mention the potential for injuries playing on surfaces or in gyms that are not NBA quality.
The NBA is expected to formulate some organized team activities and mandatory workouts and scrimmages for these teams to follow. The eight non-invited teams are already among the league’s worst, so the longer layoff could worsen an already wide competitive disadvantage they have with the rest of the league.