The news reported by our Shams Charania that the NBA is targeting a 72-game season that begins on Dec. 22 has everyone scrambling, because it’s a dramatic reversal of a trend in which the target date for starting 2020-21 steadily slipped backward. Until this week, the working assumption from league insiders was that the season might not begin play until mid-January or even later. Under that model, the 2020-21 season could drag deep into summer before declaring a champion.
I should note that the Players Association would have to agree with the NBA on any proposed season format. But, as always, the winner in any negotiation between the two parties is usually the almighty dollar, and it appears it will be here as well.
The unspoken piece is that having buildings full of fans is likely a pipe dream. The league is adjusting to the reality that the pandemic is nowhere close to under control in the U.S., and it may in fact be worse by the time the league tries to tip off. With basketball being an indoor sport, it may not even be able to have the few fans that the NFL, MLS and MLB have let into some stadiums.
The initial thinking was to push the start of the season back to allow a potential vaccine to permit a 2020-21 season with full arenas. As that hope becomes more distant, the logic has shifted. At this point, 2020-21 is a bit of a sunk cost. The league is unlikely to get much from it in terms of ticket revenue regardless of when games start, so it might as well bang it out quickly in the time frame that is most conducive to TV audiences.
The bubble is fine for fans and TV, but none of the participants are anxious to repeat it anytime soon. Certainly, it is a total non-starter for the regular season, plus the league now has the experience of in-market games in Major League Baseball, MLS and the NFL to learn from.
The NBA could always change course and move to a bubble format to ensure the integrity of the playoffs — and the Finals in particular — but doing so would be a last resort and it doesn’t need to make that call for several months. As for the regular season, the league-wide expectation is that teams will complete games in market, with the exception of Toronto.
No decisions have been finalized on next season and talks with the National Basketball Players Association remain ongoing on many matters, including the financial parameters for the coming year. Those talks, especially on the money issue, would have to be concluded before any real decisions about next season are made. The NBPA has not made any final decisions on how it wants to see the league proceed, either. But this plan, starting in December and ending in June, would get the 2021-22 season — virus-permitting — back to normal, with 82-game slates starting in October.
Shams Charania: NBA league office informed Board of Governors of projected value for teams and players with Dec. 22 start versus later: More than $500 million, sources tell @The Athletic @Stadium.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the NBA is proposing several changes to next season that includes a 72-game regular season, a play-in tournament and the likelihood of no All-Star Game and All-Star Weekend in Indianapolis, sources said. The league is considering a two-week break at the midway point of the season, sources said.
Around the league, there's support to be playing again by Christmas, but a realization that it's going to become a chaotic challenge coming out of a Nov. 18 draft, free agency and training camps that would need to be open shortly after Thanksgiving. Without a bubble environment, the NBA will be facing positive coronavirus tests for players and staff.
Josh Lewenberg: The Raptors remain hopeful they’ll be able to host games in Toronto next season, I'm told. Several contingency options have been discussed internally, in case thats not possible, but nothing's imminent. Much is still unknown. Louisville was never on the table for the organization
Chris Mannix: A concern several team executives have expressed to @SInow about a late December start: Free agency. With training camps needing to open in early December, free agency would have to be crammed into a couple of weeks.
Chris Mannix: Something league officials are wary of: There have been predictions from health officials of significant COVID spikes over the holidays, specifically Thanksgiving. Coming back in a non-bubble environment may not be feasible in some parts of the country.
This would mean a return close to the NBA’s normal schedule, significant financial ramifications to start early, a potential finish before the 2021 Summer Olympics, and allow a window for stars to play in the Olympics, sources said. The NBA wants to continue to incorporate the play-in tournament that was utilized in the Orlando restart to determine the eighth seed in the Eastern and Western Conference playoffs, according to sources. ESPN first reported that a Christmas start and playing fewer than 82 games would be discussed on Friday’s call.
The National Basketball Players Association would need to sign off on any plan to start the season on Dec. 22. Around the NBA, league governors and executives — as well as star players — have become aware of the league aiming toward a start around Christmas Day, which is quicker than expected following an Oct. 11. end to the season. An increasing amount of those people also have warmed to the possibility due to the fact that it is in the best interest of returning to the NBA’s typical schedule, generating revenue.
“It may be too quick, but it also makes too much sense,” one high-ranking team official told The Athletic. The NBA suspended its season on March 11 due to the coronavirus pandemic, restarted on July 30 and crowned the 2019-20 champion this month. The league had no players test positive for the coronavirus during the four-month resumption.
USA Basketball has begun reaching out to star players to gauge their interest in the Olympics, should the end date of the 2020-21 season provide ample time to prepare for the Games, sources said. The NBA continues to prefer in-market play for the 2020-21 season — instead of a bubble or multiple bubbles. The league is also looking into ways to reduce travel during the season, including possibly playing a team multiple times.
Shams Charania: The NBA is targeting Dec. 22 for the start of the 2020-21 season and a 72-game campaign that finishes before the ‘21 Olympics, sources tell @TheAthleticNBA @Stadium.
Marc Stein: The league had never taken a Christmas Day start off the table, but all signs coming out of the Bubble pointed to next season being pushed into 2021 Christmas is obviously a huge day for the NBA and its broadcast partners ... but MUCH must happen quickly quickly to preserve it
There has been some discussion among owners about starting as soon as Christmas Day to take advantage of that historically prime NBA showcase, sources said. Though numerous teams contacted by ESPN over the last several days weren't sure such a timeline was feasible. Others have been pushing for a start around Martin Luther King Day weekend in mid-January, sources said.
As with so much during the current COVID-19 pandemic, such plans are constantly in flux. That course could ultimately be still followed, but in recent days some governors have pivoted and begun considering the quicker timeline. Others continue to want to hold out for fans to be permitted into more arenas.
The league also continues to discuss tournament and play-in scenarios. The NBA has long-planned to use this upcoming 75th anniversary season to experiment with new revenue-generating formats.
Any agreement between the governors on a course for next season would have to be taken to the National Basketball Players Association for approval. The two sides have met several times since the conclusion of the Finals to discuss the financial and scheduling challenges ahead. Oct. 30 is setting up to be a key date. The NBA and NBPA agreed that day would be the deadline to complete ongoing discussions on modifications to the collective bargaining agreement for the 2020-21 season, a date that requires the league or union to provide 45 days notice if either decides to terminate the CBA -- a scenario that sources continue to believe is a remote possibility.
It would also mark roughly eight weeks until Christmas. Silver has told the union that there would be at least eight weeks between an agreement and the formal starting of next season. Talks between the NBA and union have been productive on making the necessary financial allowances on 2020-2021 salary cap and luxury tax thresholds to account for the massive losses in revenues from the pandemic, sources said.
Ongoing talks are centering on increased escrow taken from players' salaries, sources said. The league and union are still awaiting full audits on the Basketball Related Income that accounts for the league's 51-49 revenue split with players. The NBA and NBPA are working on resetting of the 2020-21 salary-cap and luxury-tax numbers based upon those audits and financial projections for the next year. This allows for teams, agents and players to have more time to prepare for the financial realities of the pandemic's impact on the league. As the NBA Draft approaches on Nov. 18 -- and free agency expected to start soon after -- teams are anxious for the league to reach an agreement with the union and deliver them more certainty on the cap and tax bills.
November 27, 2020 | 6:18 am EST Update
Real Madrid lost star guard Facu Campazzo to the NBA (the Denver Nuggets to be specific) and there is a reported possibility that this may also happen with another player of the team. According to Marca, Real Madrid forward Gabriel Deck will be using the exit clause on his contract with “Blancos” and sign with an NBA club even next week if his team doesn’t present him with an extension offer really soon. There are some NBA teams that have “shown an interest” for the Argentinian player and he’s ready to make the jump, unless something changes with his contract situation with Real.
One longtime league executive said the past week was the most hectic of his career. In addition to the draft and free agency crammed together in an abbreviated offseason, there are so many other less-publicized tasks that teams are trying to sort through, from COVID-19 protocols to fans possibly attending games to scheduling. It’s wild to think that regular-season games are scheduled to tip off in less than a month.
Olgun Uluc: An interesting development: Brisbane Bullets big-man, Tyrell Harrison, has been classified by the NBPA as eligible for the 2021 NBA Draft, his agent tells ESPN. The Kiwi is 21 years old, a legit 7-foot, and should get a minutes bump with Magnay gone. An intriguing, raw prospect.
For example, every day at 5 a.m., inside room 950 in the Gran Destino (where all the top-seeded teams stayed), Masai Ujiri would wake up, read his book, hop on the Peloton, and work out before heading down for breakfast. He thought nothing of his daily ritual until one morning, several weeks into the bubble, when he got a text from another former player of his: “Morning boss, you good up there?” The text was from Kawhi Leonard—Finals MVP with the Raptors, now a star on the Clippers—who was staying in room 850, directly below his old boss. Ujiri had been waking Kawhi up with his noisy workouts for weeks, but Kawhi was reluctant to say anything.
Ujiri told Kawhi that he would stop for the time being and joked that he would continue again when the Raptors met the Clippers in the Finals, messing with Kawhi’s sleep. Kawhi responded with the kind of trash talk that’s best read aloud in Kawhi’s dry monotone: “Haha, you know the saying ‘Don’t poke the bear’? I’m gonna call the NBA on you…get you out the bubble.”
NBA star Markelle Fultz is taking Wakanda Forever literally … he just got a foot-long image of the Black Panther tattooed on his thigh — and it’s AMAZING!! TMZ Sports has learned back in the summer, Fultz hit up “Ink Master” star Roly T-Rex about getting some ink done. And, with Chadwick Boseman’s death and the Black Lives Matter movement at its peak … the two got to thinking a “Black Panther” piece would be perfect.
November 27, 2020 | 1:58 am EST Update
And as is usually the case when the Celtics don’t turn a highly publicized rumor into a reality, we’re getting a reason why that deal never went through. According to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, the Celtics were never really that high on Turner. Boston apparently didn’t see him as a very big upgrade to their frontcourt, and was even exploring other deals to trade Turner had the deal with Indiana come to fruition. “Talking to people and reading the tea leaves as best I could, it really comes down to the Celtics didn’t want Myles Turner,” Lowe said on The Lowe Post Podcast. “I did hear from some teams around the league that the Celtics have done some preliminary research on what Myles Turner’s trade value would have been to them had they acquired him either in this deal or in a separate deal, and obviously didn’t like what they saw.”
For quite some time during his 2020 offseason, Marc Gasol was rumored to be considering a return to Europe and his native Spain by joining Barcelona. Now a player of the Los Angeles Lakers, Gasol shut down those rumors as pure speculation, saying that there wasn’t even a talk with Barcelona. “That was not accurate at all,” Gasol said when asked how close he was to going back to Spain during first official presser by the Los Angeles Lakers. “I think someone made that assumption just because I’m not very ‘out there’ and communicate on things. I think people just try to make that decision for me and thought that was a very good time to try it. I never stated that. I was never close to that. I never even spoke to Barcelona about it.” “That came as surprise to me but that’s the world we’re living now. You’re hearing something and everybody runs with it,” Gasol added.