Analysis: What are the NBA’s plans for the 2020-21 season?

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Yes, the current NBA season is not yet over. Not with the Lakers up 3-1 on the Heat in the NBA Finals and at least one more game left to play. That doesn’t mean, however, we aren’t already wondering what is going to come next for the league. This is not just because the Raptors were eliminated a few weeks ago, giving us at HQ far less to do, but because of the ongoing pandemic still raging across North America.

What will the NBA do next to plan for all of that? What will next season look like? When will it even begin?

Over at The Athletic, Shams Charania got the inside scoop — as is his wont — via an interview with the executive director of the league’s Players Association, Michele Roberts. If we can’t quite trust what league commissioner Adam Silver (who works for the owners) has to say, then we can listen to Roberts and maybe learn a thing or two about where we’re at with the NBA.

To that end, I’ll summarize:

  • As previously reported, the NBA Draft is locked in for November 18, which is still some ways away. But that’s the easy part.
  • With the basketball-related income (BRI) still to be determined — and sure to be a mess, given how COVID-19 has wreaked havoc and almost every industry — there’s no way for the league to settle yet on a salary cap or tax line.
  • As a result of that previous line, we still don’t know when free agency is set to begin — with only December 1 mentioned as the latest possible date it’s likely to go. What someone like Fred VanVleet could earn for next season may very well be dictated by how hard the salary cap gets hit.
  • As for the actual 2020-21 season, which was first envisioned with a return date around Christmas, it looks like January or February of next year are when we’ll most likely see the return of professional basketball. Robert says “the absolute earliest would be January,” so that’s that for that.
  • But what will will that season look like? According to Roberts, the NBA and NBPA want the same thing (as transcribed by Shams): “An 82-game season, in-market play, reduced travel and potentially a set amount of fans.”

This last item is a wild statement, one that really did stop me in my tracks. Part of me just assumed the league would try to turnaround a quick 2020-21 season along a semi-normal timeline so as to reset their usual calendar. In my mind’s scenario, this meant a shortened 50-60 games regular season ending in April, as per usual, with playoffs following a similar timing, a new champion in June, and the rest of the off-season flowing from there. That all goes out the window if the league and the players want an 82-game season — and that’s before we get to the pandemic-related health and safety concerns.

In any case, read the whole interview with Roberts here. She reflects on the NBA’s last sixth months, her work with the players, the league’s future, the above-noted return timing, and addresses the league’s new Social Justice Coalition, which hopefully can and will work as designed (or perhaps in ways not yet anticipated by the league’s power structure).

For now though, we return to the 2019-20 season, with LeBron James and the Lakers up 3-1 in the NBA Finals, and a great number of unknowns stretching out after that.