While the NBA remains hopeful it will be able to resume the season, the coronavirus stoppage is likely to last longer than originally expected.
In what NBA Commissioner Adam Silver titled “A Letter to NBA Fans” last week, he wrote: “The hiatus will last at least 30 days.” The stoppage started Thursday, pushing the 30-day mark out to April 10.
But on Sunday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidelines that will likely extend the league’s shutdown into May: “CDC, in accordance with its guidance for large events and mass gatherings, recommends that for the next 8 weeks, organizers [whether groups or individuals] cancel or postpone in-person events that consist of 50 people or more throughout the United States.”
Even in an arena with no fans, an NBA game would include 50 or more people when counting players, coaches, training staff, team security and other essential personnel. An eight-week timeline means the earliest date the league can resume the season is May 11.
The NBA regular season had been scheduled to end April 15, with the playoffs scheduled to begin the weekend of of April 18-19. The NBA Finals were set to start June 4.
NBA owners and executives are preparing for the possibility of mid-to-late June as a best-case scenario for the league’s return, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Under that timetable, the season could extend into August.
Also, ESPN reported teams have been directed to give the league potential dates at smaller nearby game venues, including team practice facilities, in the scenario the season resumes without fans in attendance.
However, there’s also the fear that this season could be completely lost. If the league isn’t able to resume the season, there are plenty of questions that will remain unanswered around the league.
Here are pending Heat questions that still need answers ...
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1. How would this team fare in the playoffs?
Miami has found success in the regular season, entering the hiatus with the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference at 41-24. The Heat has also found regular-season success against the East’s best teams, with a 9-3 record against the top-six teams in the conference.
But how would that translate to the playoffs? Miami owns the league’s seventh-best offensive rating and 14th-best defensive rating this season. There are legitimate questions whether that brand of basketball (relying on a top offense to make up for a mediocre defense) would work in the playoffs.
2. What does this roster look like with a healthy Tyler Herro and Meyers Leonard?
Since the Heat acquired Jae Crowder, Solomon Hill and Andre Iguodala in a trade on Feb. 6, it has played almost all of its games shorthanded without two key rotation players.
Leonard, who started the first 49 games of the season, has missed the past 16 games because of a sprained left ankle. And Herro had missed 15 consecutive games with right ankle soreness before playing in Miami’s final game before the league suspended the season, scoring two points in seven minutes in Wednesday’s loss to the Hornets.
3. What does the playoff version of Jimmy Butler look like in a Heat uniform?
Butler played his best basketball of the season in the playoffs last year with the 76ers. Those around Butler believe he was on track to do that again in his first season with the Heat.
In 54 games this season, the 30-year-old Butler is averaging 20.2 points while shooting 45.4 percent from the field and 24.8 percent on threes, 6.6 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 1.7 steals. He also has posted the second-best plus/minus on the team at plus-225.
4. Is the Heat’s young core playoff ready?
Miami has relied on its promising young core to win games, with rookies Kendrick Nunn and Herro playing big roles this season. Also, second-year forward Duncan Robinson, 22-year-old Bam Adebayo and 23-year-old Derrick Jones Jr. have turned in career-best seasons.
This season’s playoff appearance would mark the first NBA postseason experience for Nunn, Herro, Robinson and Jones. But, for now, that valuable experience has been put on hold.
5. Should the Heat bring back this roster for another run next season?
This question will need to be answered whether the season resumes or not. But if the season is completely lost, the decision will have to be made with much less data than expected. The final few weeks of the season was looked at as an opportunity for Heat management to determine what to do with its 2020-21 roster.
If Miami ended the season strong and was able to win a round or two in the playoffs, the conventional wisdom was the Heat would likely try to keep this roster together for another year and pass on using 2020 cap space. Goran Dragic, Jones Jr., Crowder and Leonard are among the Heat’s impending unrestricted free agents.
No playoff team would have more cap space than the Heat this summer if Miami opted to use that space, a move that would require renouncing most of its free agents and thus losing their Bird Rights.