Are you ready for the NBA Finals in August?
It’s one scenario teams are being asked to explore. With the Centers for Disease control recommending no events for with more than 50 people for the next two months — which would eliminate the possibility of an NBA game — teams are exploring finding arena space out into July and August. These are not all major venue spaces, such as where teams play now, but smaller venues where games could be played without fans, just for television. From Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:
For now, there’s a working plan that games would return without fans, and teams have been told to search out arena dates well into August for the playoffs, sources said. Teams have been directed to give the league office potential dates at smaller nearby game venues, including team practice facilities, that could spare the use of empty, cavernous arenas and possibly provide backdrops to unique television viewing lines.
Playing into August leads to a host of other scheduling questions. What happens with the NBA Draft Combine in May (not yet officially canceled) and the Draft itself in June? Would Summer League take place per usual in July? Would NBA players involved in the playoffs not be able to participate in the Olympics starting July 24 in Tokyo (assuming those still go on as planned, something still up in the air)? When would NBA free agency start?
And, would the NBA play the Finals in August then open training camps for next season in September? Would next season be shortened or pushed back? Many supporters of the idea of pushing back the NBA schedule and starting it mid-December have seen this as an opportunity for the league to shift its schedule, but that is an incredibly complex challenge with a lot of unknowns. The push for a later start date has almost always been part of a plan to shrink the length of the NBA regular season, something that would require agreements with the NBA players union, plus reworked deals with all of the league’s broadcast partners, national and local.
Atlanta Hawks CEO Steve Koonin, speaking at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston less than two weeks ago (before the league was shut down) suggested the NBA should permanently shift its schedule to a mid-December start and run the Finals into August. His logic was to avoid having the early part of its season up against football.
Interesting when you lay it out:
Mid-June- start of the NBA playoffs
Early August- NBA Finals
End of August- Draft
Sept. 1- Start of FA
Sept. 10- Summer/fall league
Dec. 10- training camp opens
Dec. 25- regular season opens (82 games)
Mid-June- NBA season ends
— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) March 16, 2020
The challenges there is that July and August are usually considered down months for television ratings because people are on vacations, or just out and not sitting in front of the television in the same way. Lower Finals ratings would kill this idea for the league. Also, it would put the Finals during the NFL preseason.
At this point, there are no answers, and everything is on the table for the NBA season, this one and beyond. This is uncharted territory. It is possible that this season does not resume and the next time we see any NBA players on a court is for preseason games next September. The league is trying to avoid that scenario, but it depends more on how the United States’ ongoing steps to limit the spread of the coronavirus than on anything the league itself can do.