For many fans, Christmas Day is the unofficial start of the NBA season, or at least when they start paying attention. It’s a showcase day of the league’s biggest stars and best teams.
This year, it is looking more and more like the NBA is taking Christmas Day off. Instead, the start of next season may well be on another day the NBA has made a showcase — Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jan. 18.
Nothing is set in stone — and that cannot be emphasized enough, the league and players’ union are still negotiating everything about next season — but informed speculation has centered around that date. A couple of sources told NBC Sports that day is definitely in play to start the next NBA season.
John Hollinger — the former Grizzlies executive — wrote this for The Athletic about the Jan. 18 date.
For starters, I’ve heard people in the league talking about a potential MLK date for a while, even as the “official” word was targeting December.
Logistically, this seems about the limit of how far they want to push the date back. Going any later moves the bulk of the playoffs deeper into summer and perhaps even into competing with the NFL, like it did this year. Plus, there’s an accordion effect on the following season as well – at some point, the league needs to get back to something closer to its normal schedule.
On the (sadly, final edition of the) Full 48 podcast, three very connected reporters — Zach Lowe and Rachel Nichols of ESPN, and Howard Beck of Bleacher Report — all speculated that the season would start on Martin Luther King Day.
Hollinger added in his story that the league would need to give teams two-months warning at least of a season start date.
Starting the season on that day and playing a full 82 games — something some owners are pushing for if they can get fans in the stands — at the regular spacing (177 days) would take the season into the first week or two of July. If the league plays fewer games or compacts the schedule (no All-Star Game or break) — both real possibilities — then the regular season could end late June, meaning the playoffs would run into September. The NBA would like to avoid conflicts with the NFL start.
What this would mean for the Olympics is players whose team did not make the playoffs could participate. For the United States that would still mean a formidable team — last season, for example, the USA could have still rolled out a team with Stephen Curry, Trae Young, Klay Thompson, Bradley Beal, Devin Booker, Zion Williamson, and more. However, for countries with a smaller pool of talent, losing a handful of their top players severely damages their chances to medal.
What we know right now is the NBA Draft is locked in on Nov. 18. After that, nothing is set, everything is speculation. There is a lot of buzz about a Dec. 1 start date for free agency and training camps opening late December, allowing for that Jan. 18 start to the season, but nothing is close to locked down. If 2020 has taught us one thing, it’s to expect change with things we think are set, so expect changes with the schedule, too.