The NBA – with next season likely to be highly impacted by coronavirus with even the longest of delays – is reportedly prioritizing a normal mid-October star for the 2021-22 season.
Which means the league is already behind.
Typically, the NBA takes 12 months to complete its calendar – regular season, playoffs, offseason (including draft in free agency). But it’s already mid-/late-October, and the regular season hasn’t begun. It won’t begin until Christmas at the earliest, and Martin Luther King Day (Jan. 18) has been a more common estimate.
How will the league cram its “annual” calendar into fewer than 10 months to be on track for a mid-October start in 2021?
The NBA’s Board of Governors is meeting Friday and are discussing possible changes to plans for the 2020-21 season, including starting as quickly as possible, playing fewer than 82 games and not waiting for fans to be permitted to all league arenas, sources told ESPN.
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.
The most dramatic aspect of this potential plan is playing fewer than 82 games. A full 82-game season has always been prioritized, maybe even especially now. Maximizing the number of games is the most direct path to revenue. But coronavirus forces difficult tradeoffs.
Next season could mirror 2011-12, which began on Christmas and included just 66 regular-season games. Most agree that worked well.
This will probably get chalked up to extreme circumstances, like that lockout-shortened 2011-12 season. But could this open the door to permanently reducing the number of games? There is some appetite for making the product (games) scarcer and, by allowing players to rest more, better. At minimum, next season provides opportunity for experimentation.
The NBA will give eight weeks notice ahead of next season, according to John Hollinger of The Athletic. A Christmas start would require a decision by Oct. 30. Is that possible? The league and players’ union are still haggling over financial details.
But everyone is incentivized to resume play and earn revenue as quickly as possible – especially as it becomes clear waiting won’t be worthwhile and could even screw up the following season.