The National Basketball Players Association board of representatives voted on Thursday night in a favor of an NBA proposal to start the 2020/21 regular season on December 22 and play a 72-game schedule, according to reports from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Shams Charania of The Athletic.
A number of players had been advocating for a later opening night, given how long the 2019/20 season ran, and January 18 was the other start date being considered. However, the NBA estimated that a pre-Christmas start would save up to $500MM and $1 billion in revenue, and a mid-January start would have resulted in a shorter season (around 60 games). As a result, the players ultimately came around on the league’s plan.
The result of the NBPA’s vote doesn’t make the December 22 start date official. As the union indicated in a statement confirming the news, there are still additional financial and logistical details to be negotiated. However, both sides are confident that agreements can be reached on those issues.
As Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press writes, determining what portion of player salaries will be placed into escrow is one important issue the NBA and NBPA need to resolve. According to Charania, the two sides are discussing an escrow in the 17-18% range for player salaries over the next two years, in the hopes that that amount can be reduced to the usual 10% by 2022/23. That would help cushion the blow of the lost revenues for players, spreading the hit over multiple seasons rather than having them bear the brunt of it in ’20/21.
Negotiations between the NBA and NBPA on that subject and other financial issues are expected to extend into next week, sources tell Wojnarowski. Once the two sides reach a formal agreement, the league can lift its moratorium on transactions, allowing teams to conduct trades and other roster moves before the November 18 draft. The transaction freeze is expected to end by November 16, per Charania.
The league and the union hope to open free agency as quickly as possible after the draft, since there will be a very short window before teams have to open training camps on December 1, says Wojnarowski. The start date for free agency still isn’t official, but seems likely to fall within two or three days of the draft.
The salary cap for the 2020/21 season is expected to remain unchanged, with the NBA and NBPA artificially setting at $109.141MM despite projected revenue losses. The league and the union are discussing the possibility of agreeing to have the cap increase by 2% annually for the remainder of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, per Charania (Twitter link). That would mean a cap of $111.324MM for the ’21/22 campaign.
Meanwhile, the league and the union will also have to agree to a set of safety and health protocols as they look to play the 2020/21 season in teams’ respective home arenas rather than in a single-site bubble, even as the number of coronavirus cases around the U.S. continues to rise. Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook were among the players who said on Thursday’s call that they want to view the official health and safety measures before fully committing to the season, sources tell Charania.
According to a Thursday report, there’s hope that – at least in some markets – fans will be able to attend games in person with limited capacities and strict safety regulations in place. If that’s possible, it would help offset some of the league’s projected revenue losses.
The NBA will have to decide soon where the Raptors will be playing in ’20/21, since there are still significant restrictions in place on cross-border travel between the U.S. and Canada. Newark has been one of several cities discussed as a possibility.
While the league hasn’t yet finalized a schedule for 2020/21, Charania previously reported that the expectation is the season will run from December 22 through mid-May, with the NBA Finals finishing around July 22, just in time for the start of the Tokyo Olympics.
The league is expected to reduce teams’ travel by 25% and there will likely be a six-day All-Star break in early March, though it’s not clear if an All-Star Game will actually be played. The NBA is also hoping to conduct a play-in tournament for the final two seeds in each conference.