2020 NBA offseasons could be shortest – and among longest – ever

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Kevin Durant went to the arena for one of the biggest games of his life on June 12, 2017. His Warriors up 3-1 on the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals, Durant was on the verge of his first championship. He capped his great series with a Game 5 victory and title. As he left the arena afterward, Durant exited a car, got mobbed by fans while holding the Finals MVP trophy then rode off into the night.

On Oct. 17, 2017, Durant drove back to the arena for Golden State’s 2017-18 opener. On the way, he recalled the magnitude of Game 5.

“You always have that feeling,” Durant said. “Especially riding down the same streets you ride to get to the games.”

No wonder everything felt familiar.

At just 18 weeks, the Warriors (and Cavs) in 2017 had the shortest offseasons in NBA history.

Teams’ 2020 offseasons could be far shorter – and longer. Coronavirus has completely disrupted the calendar.

Even the fist-eliminated of the 22 continuing teams would have an offseason of just about 15 weeks. For teams advancing deep in the playoffs, the offseason would be far shorter – as few as seven weeks.

On the flip side, the eight already-finished teams could have 38-week offseasons.

That’s based on the NBA’s tentative schedule. The league is slated to resume play July 31 with 16 days of seeding games. Play-in games and the playoffs are planned to run through Oct. 12 if the NBA Finals reach a Game 7. The target date for starting next season: Dec. 1.

Of course, that could all change. Coronavirus can ruin the best-laid plans. National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts expressed reservations about beginning next season so soon.

But that’s the timeline we have right now, and it’s the one I’m analyzing here.

The average NBA offseason has been nearly 27 weeks. It seems no teams will come close to that – on either side – in 2020.

Here are the shortest offseasons ever with projections for this offseason:

NBA offseason

In 2017, the NBA moved its start date from late October to mid October in order to add a week to the season. That’s why Golden State and Cleveland got such short offseasons after playing in the 2017 NBA Finals. The league wanted to increase rest days during the season.

Likewise, I’m assuming the NBA will schedule all 22 continuing teams for the first and last days of seeding games. That way, each team’s eight seeding games will spread over the longest possible range.

The projection also has all teams starting Dec. 1. Almost certainly, some teams will begin next season a day or two after the league’s opening night. However, the deepest-advancing playoff teams are the most likely to be featured on opening night. On the other hand, the NBA Finals won’t necessarily reach Game 7.

So, feel free to adjust by a few days in either direction.

But the picture is clear: All 22 continuing teams are set to have historically short offseasons. For each round a team advances in the playoffs, shave at least a week from its offseason.

And then there are the Warriors, Timberwolves, Cavaliers, Pistons, Hawks, Knicks, Bulls and Hornets. They played their last games March 10 or 11. For them, a Dec. 1 start is incredibly late.

Many of these eight teams are among the least likely to get an opening-night game. That could extend their offseasons another day or two.

When it’s all said and done, the eight finished teams could be idle for nearly 38 weeks.

The longest offseasons came with the 1999 and 2011 lockouts. The ranges:

  • 1999-00: 33 weeks and four days to 41 weeks and six days
  • 2011: 27 weeks and six days to 36 weeks and five days

Aside from that, the longest offseason was 34 weeks and five days by the Philadelphia Warriors in 1954. After missing the 1954 playoffs, the Warriors started the 1954-55 season two weeks after everyone else. That’s an outlier.

The next-longest offseasons were 33 weeks and four days (Philadelphia Warriors and St. Louis Hawks in 1955). Beyond that, all offseasons have been 32 weeks and six days or fewer.

What will this mean for the 2020-21 season?

People recall the 1999 lockout-shortened season as sloppy with players out of shape. The 2011-12 season was viewed as thrilling with a Christmas start and just 66 games.

Some of this is perception. All of it is unpredictable.

At least there’s some precedent for long offseasons. The short offseasons for continuing teams? There are no prior examples.

And the mix of teams coming off offseasons of such varying lengths? Forget about it. There has never been anything nearly like it. Add the start-stop-start of this season, and everything gets even further from the norm.

The 2020-21 season is setting up to be the ultimate rest-vs.-rust debate – but with far too many variables to draw conclusions. It’ll just be chaos.