NBA takes aim at next season starting before Christmas

Broderick Turner, Dan Woike
·3 min read
Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James (23) dribbles the ball against Los Angeles Clippers' Reggie Jackson.
Lakers star LeBron James brings the ball up court against Clippers guard Reggie Jackson during the NBA's restart to last season. (Mike Ehrmann / Associated Press)

The NBA, which is in ongoing talks with the players union, has proposed starting the 2020-21 season before the marquee Christmas Day games while using an abbreviated schedule that would allow players to compete in the delayed Tokyo Olympics.

People with knowledge of the negotiations who requested anonymity said Friday that one scenario popular with owners would be to start the season on Dec. 22 with a 72-game season that would conclude in time for players to travel to Tokyo for the Summer Games and allow the 2021-22 season to return on its traditional calendar. That would include the draft in late June and free agency in early July.

The National Basketball Players Assn., the union that represents players, has not agreed to any proposals from the league's Board of Governors, according to one person familiar with the talks, which are expected to continue into next week.

Several people not authorized to speak publicly on the matter said the season starting on or near Christmas would be unlikely since it greatly shortens the offseason, but that it is an ideal time if players agree.

If the season were to start before Christmas, the Lakers, who won the franchise's 17th championship on Oct. 11, and Finals opponent Miami would have less than 11 weeks between concluding one season and tipping off another, and less than eight weeks before training camps presumably would open.

Typically the offseason is more than three months before training camps open and four months before the next season starts.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in late September, as the NBA Finals were about to begin, that the next season likely would start in 2021 but did not rule out Christmas.

“My best guess is that … that season won’t start until ’21,” Silver said Sept. 23.

The date most often mentioned for the start of the season is around the Martin Luther King Day weekend in January, according to multiple people.

One scenario being discussed, one person said, was another bubble situation, but much different from the one just completed in Florida.

That proposal would set up five bubbles around the country with six teams in each bubble playing a series of games. There hasn’t been any discussion about specific locations of the bubbles.

The only date on the calendar that’s set is the draft, which will be held virtually Nov. 18.

The NBA and union are expected to negotiate into next week, when the sides will have to reach agreement on the framework for the league’s immediate financial future. Before next season can begin, the NBA will have to set the salary cap while determining dates to conduct business, including when players can accept and decline contract options, trades can be consummated and free agents can be recruited and signed.

The salary cap is the biggest issue. That figure is derived from revenues, but the pandemic cost the NBA an estimated $1.5 billion, according to people not authorized to speak publicly, so that formula is untenable. A massive salary cap drop would push the overwhelming majority of the NBA deep into the luxury tax while drying up the free-agent market.

To avoid a significant reduction in the cap, the two sides will have to negotiate how much of player salaries will be deferred and put into an escrow account. Last year, the salary cap was set at $109.1 million with the luxury tax kicking in at $132.6 million.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.