The NBA is giving the gift of basketball this Christmas, for better or worse.
The National Basketball Players Association tentatively approved on Thursday the league’s plan for a 72-game season starting on Dec. 22 and ending prior to the Summer Olympics in mid-July, the union announced:
"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.”
The plan ignites a condensed timeline that will begin with lifting the moratorium on transactions before the Nov. 18 draft, followed by free agency and the start of training camp on Dec. 1. The 51-day span between the end of the NBA Finals on Oct. 11 and the start of training camp is less than half a traditional offseason.
The condensed schedule is expected to include baseball-style road trips to limit travel.
Players initially bristled at the thought of starting the 2020-21 campaign so soon after this past season ended, preferring to open closer to Martin Luther King Day on Jan. 18. Los Angeles Lakers guard Danny Green went so far as to suggest LeBron James and other veterans might sit out until January regardless.
Obama: "Let Anthony Davis do all the work, man." - LeBron: "That's what I got him for." pic.twitter.com/v5lMAjgclQ
— Main Team (@MainTeamSports) October 31, 2020
However, NBA commissioner Adam Silver informed executives from the league’s 30 teams earlier this week of the urgency behind its proposed pre-Christmas start, according to ESPN. If the season opens in January, the NBA reportedly projects between $500 million and $1 billion in revenue losses shared equally by owners and players. That is in addition to the reported shortfall of more than $1 billion last season and an estimated $4 billion in losses related to the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on game-night income in fan-less arenas.
That was seemingly enough to convince players — many of whom have not played since the suspension of the 2019-20 season in March — to approve the December start. Still in negotiations is a salary escrow. Per ESPN, the NBA has proposed placing 18 percent of player salaries into escrow, a portion of which would be returned to the owners if salaries exceed the players’ 50 percent share of all basketball-related income.
The NBA reportedly expects to conduct a play-in tournament between the Nos. 7, in both conferences that could recoup a portion of expected losses. That could recoup some of the expected revenue losses, along with loosened guidelines on income related to hard alcohol, sports betting and casinos, according to ESPN.
The Dec. 22 start increases the likelihood that the NBA can return to its normal 82-game schedule for the following season, beginning in October 2021. This all presumes the pandemic does not dictate otherwise.
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