NBA commissioner Adam Silver does not expect the 2020-21 season to begin in 2020.
Silver told CNN’s Bob Costas on Tuesday that his “best guess” is the NBA will not begin next season until at least January. A Christmas start date is still the ideal scenario, but that scenario is increasingly unlikely.
Silver is operating with the goal to play a standard 82-game season in front of fans at NBA arenas in 2021.
The NBA’s plan to restart the 2019-20 season in Orlando originally came with the news that the league intended to begin the following season on Dec. 1 — a window of seven weeks between the end of one campaign and the beginning of the next that seemed awfully optimistic at the time. Silver told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols late last month that the Dec. 1 start date had begun “feeling a little bit early to me.”
Silver has now pushed projections back at least another month. Christmas is one of two signature regular-season days for the league, along with Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which falls on Jan. 18 in 2021. For Silver to remove Christmas from the 2020-21 calendar is demonstrative of the hurdles the NBA is currently facing.
The NBA last week moved its annual draft back a month, from its rescheduled date of Oct. 15 to Nov. 18.
The coronavirus has cost the league hundreds of millions of dollars already, and playing a full season in front of fans is the best way to avoid losing similar revenue in 2021. But ensuring the safety of players, personnel and fans in attendance at home arenas during the pandemic is a massive obstacle for which the NBA will first have to develop a plan and then negotiate it with the National Basketball Players Association.
A deal between the NBA and its players’ union could see several bumps along the way. The league’s owners will have the option of opting out of the current collective bargaining agreement at the end of this season, which could lead to financial conversations with the players’ union that could cause further delays.
The 2019-20 season began on Oct. 22 and was originally scheduled to end no later than June 24 — a span of 247 days. The same timeline on a January start date would push the 2021 Finals into at least September.
Would the NBA attempt to condense its schedule in order to return to an October start in 2021? The league has worked hard to lessen the number of back-to-backs on its schedule, an acknowledgement that taxing players increases the likelihood of injury and waters down the product. And the NBA might also be open to the idea of starting ensuing seasons closer to Christmas moving forward, a concept it has long considered.
These are all questions Silver must answer before announcing a 2021 start date, whenever that may be.
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