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NBA approves 22-team format to finish season

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What's next for NBA after approving return to play in Orlando? (2:12)

Adrian Wojnarowski breaks down the next steps for the NBA after the league's board of governors voted to approve a 22-team format to restart the 2019-20 season. (2:12)

The NBA board of governors voted Thursday to approve a 22-team format to restart the 2019-20 season July 31 in Orlando, Florida, the league announced.

Sources told ESPN that the vote was 29-1, with the Portland Trail Blazers voting against the proposal.

The National Basketball Players Association has been working closely with league officials on the plan, and the NBPA's team player representatives approved the proposal Friday, sources told ESPN.

"The Board's approval of the restart format is a necessary step toward resuming the NBA season," NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. "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."

Under the plan, 13 Western Conference teams and nine Eastern Conference teams will play eight regular-season "seeding" games, a possible play-in tournament for the eighth seed and playoffs at the Walt Disney World Resort.

The top 16 teams in the Eastern and Western conferences will be joined by teams currently within six games of eighth place in the two conferences -- New Orleans, Portland, San Antonio, Sacramento, Phoenix and Washington.

The play-in tournament will include the No. 8 and No. 9 teams in a conference -- if the ninth seed finishes the regular season within four games of the eighth. In that case, the No. 9 seed would need to beat the No. 8 seed twice to earn the playoff berth, while the No. 8 would need one win from the two potential games.

The NBA said the season's resumption is contingent on an agreement with The Walt Disney Co., which owns ESPN, to use the Walt Disney Resort for all games, practices and housing.

Teams will begin training in Orlando starting July 9-11, sources said.

The league also offered dates beyond the July 31-Oct. 12 season window, with the draft lottery set on Aug. 25, the NBA draft on Oct. 15 and the 2020-21 season likely beginning Dec. 1. Sources told ESPN that free agency could begin Oct. 18, with training camps starting Nov. 10, though teams were told to consider the free-agency date as flexible.

Some members of the board of governors whose teams were left out of the Orlando restart disagreed with the 22-team format but decided to cast "yes" votes.

Sources told ESPN the preliminary expectations on the league's plans for the 22-team format in Orlando include:

  • The regular season will extend 16 days, with five to six games per day.

  • There will be four hours between games on each individual court to accommodate overtimes, cleanings and warm-ups. The league will be using three courts in the complex for games.

  • In the eight-game regular-season format, each team is expected to play one back-to-back.

  • The NBA is expected to be aggressive in moving up the dates to start playoff series when the previous round's series come to an end.

  • The NBA Finals format is expected to include games every other day.

Despite being the lone dissenter Thursday, the Trail Blazers remain eager to resume the season but voted "no" based on a belief of the organization and players' input that there were more competitive and innovative formats on the table, including those that addressed 2020 draft lottery odds based on regular-season results in Orlando, sources said.

The NBA froze lottery-odds positions based on records when the season was suspended on March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic. The 14 teams in the Aug. 25 lottery will include the eight left out of the season's resumption in Orlando and the six that participate in the restart but don't qualify for the playoffs, the league said.

The Trail Blazers were hopeful that the full regular-season body of work would be reflected in the percentages used in the league's draft percentage odds, sources said.

"We play for an ownership group that actually listens to its players and has a backbone," Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum tweeted. "We voiced what we felt was the best option and they followed our lead. I commend our front office and [team chair] Jody Allen."

Sources told ESPN's Bobby Marks that players will continue to see a 25% reduction in their paychecks on June 15, with the deductions set to end sometime in mid-September when the full number of games lost is recouped.

Players like LeBron James and Stephen Curry would see their 2020-21 salary reduced starting Nov. 15 since both players already have been paid in full.

Life in the NBA bubble will be governed by a set of safety protocols. While players and coaches will be allowed to golf or eat at outdoor restaurants, they also will need to maintain social distancing, sources told ESPN's Ramona Shelburne.

The NBA is planning to have uniform daily testing for the coronavirus within the Disney campus environment, sources told ESPN.

If a player tests positive for the virus, the league's intent would be to remove that player from the team to quarantine and receive treatment individually -- and continue to test other team members as they play on, sources said.

Employees at the Disney resort will have to maintain similar protocols. For example, no staff will be allowed into players' rooms, and hallways will be carefully managed to avoid crowding, sources told Shelburne.