CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Cavaliers’ eventful season is over.
The NBA’s Board of Governors approved a 22-team plan to restart the 2019-20 season July 31 in Walt Disney World. Based on the setup, the 16 teams from each conference currently occupying playoff positions have been invited. Six others (Portland, Sacramento, Phoenix, San Antonio, New Orleans and Washington) will also be included, as they are within six games of the final seed in their respective conferences. The Cavaliers aren’t part of that group, currently 11 games behind the Orlando Magic for eighth in the Eastern Conference.
The 22 teams will play eight “seeding games” and there’s a possibility of a play-in tournament for the eighth and final playoff seed in each conference depending on combined records across regular-season games and seeding games. The seeding games will give some of the teams currently outside the playoff picture time to make up ground while also allowing higher seeds a chance to regain their form following a long layoff. Once the 16-team postseason field is set, the NBA Playoffs will proceed in the usual conference-based format with four rounds and best-of-seven series in each round. The NBA Finals would end no later than Oct. 12.
“The Board’s approval of the restart format is a necessary step toward resuming the NBA season,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. “While the COVID-19 pandemic presents formidable challenges, we are hopeful of finishing the season in a safe and responsible manner based on strict protocols now being finalized with public health officials and medical experts. We also recognize that as we prepare to resume play, our society is reeling from recent tragedies of racial violence and injustice, and we will continue to work closely with our teams and players to use our collective resources and influence to address these issues in very real and concrete ways.”
Pending approval of the players’ union, which is expected to happen as soon as Friday, the Cavs’ abbreviated season ends with a 19-46 record, worst in the East and second-worst overall.
With college lifer John Beilein trying to make the NBA leap and a favorable early schedule, Cleveland got off to fast start, winning four of its first nine games. But the play — and attitude — quickly deteriorated, forcing Beilein to step down during the All-Star break. Under J.B. Bickerstaff, the Cavs went 5-6, picking up wins against playoff-bound Denver, Philadelphia and Miami. They were hoping to use the final few weeks of the regular season to implement Bickerstaff’s system, build a foundation, continue the development of their young players and play spoiler.
Turns out, their final game was a 108-103 loss to the Chicago Bulls on March 10, one day before Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19, freezing the season indefinitely.
“While we are disappointed that the announced return-to-play proposal excludes the Cleveland Cavaliers, we understand all of the unprecedented factors that contributed to this outcome and we accept the hard decisions Commissioner Adam Silver and the NBA’s Board of Governors had to make. We also respect the exhaustive and life-altering measures that were considered as a result of COVID-19, but as a team, we greatly desired to be a part of the season’s resumption,” Bickerstaff and general manager Koby Altman said in a joint statement.
“We were hopeful to be granted the opportunity to continue the 2019-20 season and join our counterparts in Orlando to further the development of our young team in meaningful basketball games, and also feed off the positive momentum we had built prior to the league shutdown on March 11. Collectively, our players want to compete at the highest level and we will unquestionably use this as added motivation as we continue working towards a sustainable culture of winning.
“Although the time away from our incredible fanbase in Cleveland and across Northeast Ohio is unfortunate, we look forward to finding ways to continue utilizing our platform and available resources to reach out in our community to help affect change and take sustainable action in the fight against racial injustice. We are looking forward to returning to the court for the 2020-21 NBA season.”
Cleveland is one of eight teams left out of the comeback plan, joining New York, Atlanta, Minnesota, Golden State, Charlotte, Chicago and Detroit. Despite initial hopes of an all-30 team format, it became clear that the NBA didn’t feel comfortable with that much involvement given the widespread coronavirus concerns.
According to reports, the 22-team plan passed with a 29-1 vote. The Cavs were in favor, sources say, wanting to throw support behind Silver during a challenging time with no great options.
During Thursday’s call with the Board of Governors, the NBA also arrived at a fluid date of Dec. 1 for the start of the 2020-21 season, with training camp opening Nov. 10.