Predicting how the NBA will move forward if and when it restarts following its COVID-19 pandemic is awfully hard, if only because so many options appear to be on the table. One that has been speculated is for teams to come back — likely in some sort of bubble league — get to 70 games, and then jump right into the playoffs.
It’s something that makes sense financially, but logistically, it would be strange for teams that have no shot at making the postseason to go to Orlando, go through a weeks-long camp, play four or five games as a formality, and then go home. One player who would find themselves in a situation where this could be a waste of time is Damian Lillard, as the Portland Trail Blazers are 3.5 games behind the 8-seed in the Western Conference and have played 66 games on the year.
As such, Lillard explained to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports that he would show up, but unless there’s a clear pathway to make it to the postseason, he would not play.
“If we come back and they’re just like, ‘We’re adding a few games to finish the regular season,’ and they’re throwing us out there for meaningless games and we don’t have a true opportunity to get into the playoffs, I’m going to be with my team because I’m a part of the team,” Lillard said. “But I’m not going to be participating. I’m telling you that right now. And you can put that [expletive] in there.”
Lillard was on a call earlier this month with a collection of superstars, which wanted to present a “united front” in support of returning to play. Having said that, while Lillard would not want to take the floor under normal circumstances, he did lay out a plan that he believes is “perfect.”
“If we come back and I don’t have an opportunity to make the playoffs, I will show up to work, I’ll be at practice and I’ll be with my team. I’m going to do all that [expletive] and then I’m going to be sitting right on that bench during the games,” Lillard said. “If they come back and say it’s something like a tournament, play-in style, between the No. 7 and No. 12 seeds, if we’re playing for playoff spots, then I think that’s perfect.”
Of course, a skeptic wonders whether Lillard would advocate for this plan if Portland was securely in the playoffs, but given the circumstances, going with a more creative solution that gets more teams into some version of a postseason does make sense. The Blazers are something of a unique situation — they’ve been banged up for much of this season, and once games start back up, they’ll be mostly healthy (save, presumably, for Zach Collins) and will have Jusuf Nurkic ready to make his 2019-20 debut. They’re a team no one would want to play if they could make the postseason, and if Lillard has his way, they’d make it in.