NBA, NBPA discussing plan for next season: Late January a potential start date; return of fans a possibility

NBA, NBPA discussing plan for next season: Late January a potential start date; return of fans a possibility

The 2020 NBA Finals are in full swing with the Lakers up 2-1 against the Heat, and while it’s incredibly strange to watch playoff basketball in October like this, there was a point in time where it didn’t even seem like a real possibility due to the coronavirus pandemic. The NBA bubble has gone off mostly without a hitch, though, and the league has done a tremendous job of keeping COVID-19 at bay. Commissioner Adam Silver and those who helped put this on certainly deserve a pat on the back, but this bubble is only temporary. After this season concludes, the league will have to figure out how to conduct next season without a bubble amid a pandemic that is still very prevalent.

Silver said recently that his best guess was that next season would start in 2021, as the NBA aims to play games in-market without a bubble present for the entirety of the upcoming season. Anything the league decides will have to be agreed upon by the National Basketball Players Association, and according to executive director of the NBPA, Michele Roberts, the players are seeing eye-to-eye on several topics regarding the start of next season.

“The latter part of January, February makes sense. If it’s later than that, if we have a terrible winter because the virus decides to reassert herself, that’s fine,” Roberts said via The Athletic. “The absolute earliest would be January, and that’s doable.” 

Both sides agree that the following season should be 82 games, played in-market with reduced travel, and explore the possibility of having a set amount of fans at each game, per Shams Charania. Free agency is expected to begin no later than Dec. 1, and the projected salary cap isn’t expected to fall much lower than what the league anticipated ($115 million) after COVID-19 shut everything down back in March. The league has already set a date for the 2020 NBA Draft, which is expected to take place on Nov. 18, but aside from that, nothing has been nailed down.

“Our players and the teams are on the same place here: We need to get a cap and we need to know what the tax is” Roberts said. “I think the teams want to … as quickly as possible after the draft and before free agency … plan and prepare. I don’t blame them. The worst positions for teams to be in is having no certainty. One of the first orders of business will have to be to agree on the cap, agree on the tax, so teams can draft intelligently, trade intelligently and deal with free agency. And our players want to know, too. It’s amazing what needs to be accomplished in the next six weeks, but it has to be done. I feel sooner rather than later.”

Sooner rather than later is key, especially considering the NBA and players union agreed that an eight-week notice would be given to the players ahead of when next season would start. The longer the league goes without making a decision, the further back the season will start in 2021. If the two sides can’t come to an agreement, a lockout for the upcoming season could be possible, although Roberts doesn’t think it will come to that. 

“I would bet there is not a chance of a lockout,” Roberts said. “If it happens, it will be absolutely because they are unreasonable and folks without any foresight are driving the train. I happen to think that Adam is neither of those. We’re going to resolve this.”

In relation to whether the league will ever get back to its typical fall-to-summer schedule, Roberts doesn’t think it’s possible, not just because of COVID-19, though, but because the owners see real value in pushing the start date of the season back permanently. 

“Even before COVID happened, there was a conversation about starting our season later,” Roberts said. “Why compete with football in the fall? Why don’t we start our season around Christmas? It may very well be that our regular schedule 
is going to change, not so much because of COVID, but because of the ability to experiment. I wouldn’t bet on returning to the old normal.”

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