Examining The NBA’s Plan For The 2020/21 Season

The NBA’s proposal to start next season on December 22 is an admission that league officials don’t expect to be able to fill arenas with fans any time soon, writes John Hollinger of The Athletic.

There had been rumors that the league was looking at Martin Luther King Day or possibly later as a start date to maximize the chances of having a COVID-19 vaccine that would allow large gatherings to resume. Hollinger believes the NBA is now considering the 2020/21 season a “sunk cost” and is focusing on having a normal timetable for 2021/22.

To make that happen, the league needs to fit in a shortened 72-game season in roughly four months — from late December through the end of April. That would leave time for a play-in tournament that’s also included in the league’s plans, followed by two months of playoffs that would finish by early July.

Hollinger notes that a precedent of sorts was set in the 2011/12 season when labor strife forced the league to adopt a 66-game schedule that ran from Christmas Day to April 26. He envisions something similar this year, but without teams being asked to play on three straight nights. Hollinger suggests that non-conference games might be eliminated, cutting down travel significantly, and leaving each team with eight games against each division rival and four games against each conference opponent from outside the division.

All-Star Weekend might be canceled this year, not only for the scheduling benefits but to eliminate the risks of bringing together players from all parts of the country and then sending them back to their teams. The league may also skip the preseason because of the tight window to get ready for games that count.

Hollinger addresses a few other topics the league will have to consider:

  • There’s virtually no desire to recreate a “bubble” atmosphere like the one in Orlando. It could be done in an emergency to preserve the playoffs or the NBA Finals, but the sentiment throughout the league is that teams should play in their own markets. The one exception may be the Raptors if travel into Canada remains limited. Hollinger suggests KeyBank Center in Buffalo or the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, as possible temporary homes.
  • The 72-game schedule is enough to for teams to satisfy their regional sports network contracts — most of which call for 65 to 70 televised games — and ensure that stream of revenue won’t be affected. There are also plenty of national television opportunities without stretching the playoffs past Independence Day and risking low ratings again.
  • Free agency will be more condensed than usual, with November 23, the Monday after the draft, appearing to be a likely starting point. That leaves about a week and a half before the expected opening of training camps.
  • The proposed changes give NBA players a much better chance of participating in the Olympics if they are able to be held. The Olympic basketball tournament is scheduled to begin July 24, which is at least two weeks after the end of the NBA Finals. Nations seeking the remaining four spots, such as Canada, Lithuania, Serbia, Greece, Croatia and Slovenia, stand a better chance of having their NBA players available when the qualifying tournaments get under way in late June.
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11 thoughts on “Examining The NBA’s Plan For The 2020/21 Season

  1. harden-westbrook-mvps

    There probably won’t be a lot of players changing teams with such a short period for free agency. We should expect a lot guys with player options choosing to opt in, while most teams concentrate on re-signing their own free agents rather than looking at those on other teams.

    • That would make next offseason a total Bonanza for free agents if all these guys opt-in this year. Going to be pretty exciting and then with the free agents already set up for 2022.., wow can’t wait.

  2. emac22

    They shouldn’t get caught up in making sure teams all have breaks at the same time. The should start ASAP and plan on a long season where each team gets 2 or 3 weeks off at some point but wait until we see how things go before you decide. It might end up where teams lose a week here or there for coronavirus reason and if that doesn’t happen they just get a break.

    You can have TV games every day even when a half dozen teams are on vacation.

  3. stevep-4

    If Canada keeps restricting travel, they are asking the NBA to relocate the franchise. I suppose they can just rename it the Buffalo Braves.

  4. stevep-4

    Oh, and if COVID ends up eliminating the NBA All-Star Game permanently, there is a silver lining.

    • The Human Rain Delay

      Game was great last year-

      Best ASG in all 4 major sports lies in basketball

      • I agree. Specially that fourth-quarter was very exciting to watch with all the different guys matched up in different ways aside from the regular season. Very interesting. And competitive.

  5. x%sure

    So the seasonal timing is being blamed for low ratings, officially. Yet nobody will say Silver got the wheels turning too late. Sounds like a desperate need to blame the low viewership on some untreatable ether and move on. The NBA could have blamed it on for instance disapproval over boosting the racial divide with the passive/aggressive motto #BLM… or other problems where no debate was allowed.

    • HubcapDiamondStarHalo

      I think there’s also a pretty significant chance that sports has taken a HUGE back seat in a lot of lives… A lot of people have other things to concern themselves with. I haven’t bothered to look it up, but I also wonder if a lot of people cancelled cable and the like, due to financial concerns.

  6. Meadowlark

    The league has made steps toward reducing and now eliminating the pre-season, at least for a year. No ho hum all star game too? Now that’s progress!

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