Report: NBA player reps approve Dec. 22 start, 72-game season

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As expected, the NBA players are officially on board with a 72-game NBA next season that will start on Dec. 22 because it makes everyone more money (an additional $500 million this season and $1 billion overall, by the owners’ estimates).

The 30 player representatives — one from each team — voted Thursday night to tentatively approve a deal with the NBA owners that had been negotiated over the past couple of weeks, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and confirmed by the NBPA itself.

“The Board of Player Representatives of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) has tentatively approved a start date of December 22, 2020 for the 2020-2021 NBA season and a 72-game schedule. Additional details remain to be negotiated and the NBPA is confident that the parties will reach agreement on these remaining issues relevant to the upcoming season.”

Wojnarowski threw is a well-timed joke.

This all but makes the Dec. 22 season start and this plan official. Other details to be finalized, such as the salary cap and luxury tax for next season, are not insignificant, but the sides seem on a path to work it out.

Here is what this means for the start of next season:

• The 2020 NBA Draft will take place on Nov. 18.
• As noted in the report, expect the trade moratorium to be lifted a few days before the draft.
• Free agency will begin a couple of days after the draft and run during Thanksgiving.
• Training camps will open on (or about) Dec. 1.
• Games will be played in team’s home arenas (with some fans in attendance, particularly in suites, where permitted).
• The NBA season will tip-off on Dec. 22 on TNT, which should include the Lakers’ ring night ceremony.
• There will be games on Christmas Day. This ultimately is what drove the early start, the NBA’s broadcast partners (who took a bath on the ratings from the bubble and playoffs) wanted games that day, and if they didn’t get it threatened to re-open their contracts with the league for negotiation. That pushed the players and league to reach a deal.
• With the short turnaround between seasons and a compressed schedule, expect a lot of load management for LeBron James and other stars early in the season.
• This is not finalized, but players will have about 18% of their salaries held back in escrow for the next two or three years (and likely not see that money returned), according to reports. That gets the league closer to the 50/50 split of Basketball Related Income the owners and players agreed to in the CBA. That is a win for the players; ownership had pushed for 40% withheld in escrow next season at one point, now that pain will be lessened but spread out over a few seasons.
• There will be no All-Star Game this season.
• There will be a six-day (or possibly slightly longer) break in the season for players.
• There will be a dramatic effort by the league to reduce travel for players, having teams stay in a city or region longer and possibly even playing the same team two or more times in a row.
• The season would run through May.
• The Finals could run as late as about July 22, ending them before the Tokyo Olympics start (something else the broadcast partners wanted, they did not want to have NBA games during the Olympics).
• It will allow a number of NBA players to take part in the Tokyo Olympics.
• Ending on that timeline allows the NBA to start next season in October, getting the league back on its traditional timeline right about when fans will (hopefully) be allowed back in arenas.

There are details to be hammered out on the health and safety protocols, which is no small matter.

But with this in place, things will get done and the season will tip-off before Christmas.