The Whiteboard: Lets add another wrinkle to the NBA playoffs

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Damian Lillard has been arguably the best player in the NBA bubble and undoubtedly the most exciting. He has a 61-point game and a 51-point game. In the restart opener, he put up 30 points and 16 assists. Two games later he went for 45 and 12, hitting 11-of-18 3-pointers. He has his Trail Blazers on the brink of an unlikely NBA playoff berth but, as good as he’s been, it’s probably not going too much further.

If the Trail Blazers can hold onto the No. 8 seed their prize is a first-round series against LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Lakers. Now, Los Angeles has struggled in the bubble so far but they’d be heavily favored in a series against Portland. FiveThirtyEight’s NBA predictions give the Lakers a 36 percent chance of making the Finals, with the Clippers at 41 percent and the Rockets at 16 percent. The Blazers, as fun as they’ve been, have a chance below one percent.

That means there’s a very good chance we only get two more weeks of Lillard’s heroics, which is a damn shame.

The NBA has already made some novel tweaks to the season structure and while they’ve left the playoffs intact, everyone acknowledges that this postseason will exist as something ‘other’, regardless of whether or not it’s given an official asterisk. So, as long as change is in the air, why not add one more tweak to maximize excitement. What if the winner of each playoff series got to select one player from the opposing roster to keep for the rest of the postseason? That means Lillard doesn’t just get eliminated by the Lakers, he gets to join them and keep it rolling.

What would this NBA playoffs wrinkle actually look like?

Assuming the Blazers do hold on to the No. 8 seed and we get mostly chalk in the first round, here’s what we could see:

Bucks beat Magic (add Terrence Ross)
Raptors beat Nets (add Caris LeVert)
Celtics beat 76ers (add Tobias Harris)
Heat beat Pacers (add Myles Turner)

Lakers beat Trail Blazers (add Damian Lillard)
Clippers beat Mavericks (add Luka Doncic)
Nuggets beat Jazz (add Donovan Mitchell)
Rockets beat Thunder (add Shai Gilgeous-Alexander)

In the East, I think we’d see teams mostly adding complementary role players but the star power in the West is too good to pass up, even if it’s potentially a chaotic addition to the current chemistry.

From here, we get:

Bucks beat Heat (add Jimmy Butler)
Raptors beat Celtics (add Jayson Tatum)

Lakers beat Rockets (add James Harden)
Clippers beat Nuggets (add Nikola Jokic)

We’re deep enough in hypotheticals here that I won’t try to project who advances but with two additions to each squad we’re nearly look at All-Star teams all around in the Conference Finals.

The Bucks could be running their regular starters — Eric Bledsoe, Wes Matthew, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez — but with Jimmy Butler and Terrence Ross added to a bench that already featured George Hill, Robin Lopez and Marvin Williams and Donte DiVincenzo. The Raptors similarly would probably keep their starters — Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam and Marc Gasol — but add Jayson Tatum and Caris LeVert as offensive engines for the second-unit, with Serge Ibaka, Terrence Davis and Norman Powell.

In the West, the Lakers would have a Big 4 of LeBron, Davis, Harden and Lillard. The Clippers, meanwhile, could counter with Nikola Jokic, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Luka Doncic and Patrick Beverley. It sounds crazy, but also crazy fun. What’s a few more asterisks among friends?

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