As the NBA heads toward a return this summer, the league offices have reportedly sent out a questionnaire to every general manager asking how best to proceed with the season, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania.
Aside from assuring the safety of everyone that would be asked to return, the league’s biggest lingering question is how to fairly crown a 2020 NBA Champion.
When the NBA suspended play on March 11 there four teams that had clinched playoff spots — the Bucks, Lakers, Raptors, and Celtics — and only a handful of spots still up for grabs. Toronto sat 6.5 games back of Milwaukee for second in the Eastern Conference, three games up on Boston. Had the playoffs started that day, the Raptors would have played host to the Brooklyn Nets before taking on the winner of the Celtics-76ers series in the conference semifinals.
One idea the NBA has reportedly considered is doing away with the conferences this season and seeding every playoff team one through 16. Under this plan, the No. 3-seeded Raptors would take on the 14th-seeded Grizzlies in Round 1. Though Memphis’ speed and youth could give Toronto a little trouble, especially after an extended break, ultimately NBA history is littered with young teams exiting the playoffs early and Toronto’s playoff experience would be a big difference-maker here.
Assuming Toronto advanced, the Raptors would then play the winner of the Denver-Indiana series. This is probably the biggest difference between the two playoff formats as Toronto would likely take on Denver instead of Boston. Though both teams present tough matchups for Toronto, Marc Gasol is probably the difference-maker in this series. Against Boston, the Celtics would be able to take advantage of Gasol’s size and speed, whereas his defensive prowess down low would create serious headaches for Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets. It wasn’t long ago that Gasol held Joel Embiid in check as Toronto vanquished the 76ers in the playoffs. If Toronto took on Denver this year, things could look pretty similar.
After that, the Raptors would likely bring on a familiar foe in LeBron James and company. It’s no secret that James is the boogeyman for the Raptors, he’s 12-2 all-time against Toronto, but this is a different Raptors team and there’s no better time than now to vanquish those LeBron James demons.
In the Finals, Toronto would probably get a really interesting matchup either against Milwaukee or the Los Angeles Clippers. In the Bucks, the Giannis to the Raptors storyline would take centerstage as Giannis Antetokounmpo took on Toronto before heading into the offseason with his max contract extension looming. Does he sign the deal to stay with the Bucks or head into a 2020-21 season with his future unclear? If Toronto got the Clippers in the Finals, it’d be all about Kawhi Leonard. Did Leonard spurn Toronto to make a superteam in Los Angles only to find out his ex was doing better without him?
With better matchups and more interesting storylines, going 1-16 is what Raptors fans should be hoping for.