Just a few days from Thursday’s vote from the NBA’s board to approve a plan to start the season again with 22 teams in Orlando, Florida, several of the franchisees considered title favorites internally discuss how to retain some of the home court advantage as they struggled to earn through 60-plus games in the regular season.
No plan has been formally proposed, and it is unlikely that it will be approved as it requires a two-thirds board to vote in addition to an agreement from the players’ union. Nonetheless, teams that traditionally had a home game have been trying to figure out incentives to reproduce the lineup to host four games in a seven-game series, sources told ESPN.
If nothing else, the league has learned in recent months that innovation and creative thinking are its lifeblood to navigate a global pandemic that threatens to cancel the NBA playoffs and prevent a champion from being crowned for the first time in the league̵
And so in a Hail Mary, some teams are trying to invent a way to replace the court advantage they lost for an alternative benefit down in Orlando.
Leaders from the team who would host a series in the first round of the playoffs told ESPN that they had internal discussions within their own front office about reviving their advantage at home in some way, and that some have already shared ideas with other teams in the same situation with the hope of getting an ally when appealing to the league.
Yes, some of the very teams that could soon try to eliminate each other during the season have recently worked together in a common endeavor to regain the advantage they would have had at home.
Strange times make for strange bed fields.
Some of the scenarios discussed, sources told by ESPN, include:
The team with higher seed is assigned the first possession of the second, third and fourth quarters after the traditional jump ball to start the match
The team with higher seed allows to select a player to be whistled in seven fouls instead of six before fouling out
The team with higher seeds gets an extra coach’s challenge
The team with higher seeds that can transport their actual wooden path from their home arenas to Orlando to try to preserve the feeling of their home experience
A court feature where playoff teams, with a view to seeding 1-16, get first dibs when choosing which hotel they will be staying in at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex and Disney World Resort. ESPN is owned by Walt Disney Co.
“I think the NBA cares about that,” an Eastern Conference executive told ESPN when asked to compensate for benefits in court. “I don’t think it’s a top priority for them.”
The NBA’s competition committee – made up of owners, managers, players and coaches – held a meeting Tuesday and none of the potential benefits of home grounding were listed, sources told ESPN.
The competition committee acts as the league’s incubator to discuss the benefits of incorporating competition rule changes into the game. It is a brain trust that serves as a buffer for the league, discussing new ideas before recommending them to the board of directors for a formal vote.
Among the questions that league executives asked ESPN when discussing the remuneration options included wondering how many of the proposed benefits would be roughly equivalent to the increase the home court provides. They also questioned whether the tweaks could come off as too gimmicky and compromise the legitimacy of the possible champion in a post season that is already atypical.
An executive suggested to ESPN that the NBA would present the higher-seeded team a menu of league-approved options before each game – or possibly each series – and let them pick one. On the one hand, it can be an extra wrinkle to the home viewing experience for fans to look for when tuning in. On the other hand, it could come from a contestant in the game “Who wants to become a millionaire?” Choosing between lifelines to help with a definitive answer.
Another “radical” idea hovered pessimistically in the background discussions, an executive at the Western Conference told ESPN, would allow the higher seed to choose his opponent in the first round.
The executive didn’t think the league would go for it.
An Eastern Conference member, who worked for a team currently scheduled for the playoffs, did not like the radical idea either.
“Choosing your opponent can lead to bad karma,” he told ESPN, noting that previous experiments in the G League led to riots. “You can offend the basketball gods.”
Of course, as a league director warned ESPN, the league could decide that any first time rule change in an endgame setting would only cause more damage to the game’s integrity than it would be worth.
“For every problem you try to solve,” he said, “you create other problems.”
ESPN’s Malika Andrews and Tim Bontemps contributed to this report