The NBA Board of Governors convened Friday to discuss the still-unknown plan for next season.
The highlight of the day were the reported discussions that the league was aiming to start the 2020-21 campaign just before Christmas Day, but plenty more was discussed between the NBA’s decision-makers.
Here’s a quick look at how some of what has been put out there may impact the future of the league — and the Toronto Raptors, in particular, who are in an even more unique situation as Canada’s lone NBA team.
Impact of a near-Christmas Day start
Should the season start just before Christmas it would have wide-reaching impact on every team in the league, most notably on decisions teams need to make now.
The next big event on the NBA calendar is the NBA Draft on Nov. 18, but after that it’s a blank slate.
This includes free agency and the start of training camp and if the season were to start on Dec. 22 as reported, that would leave a very short window for free agency to get done and probably a truncated training camp.
Neither of these situations are ideal. Sometimes free agency can drag a bit as players usually wait for the big fish to set the market first before committing afterwards, not to mention the fact that this would be a pretty short turnaround on a season that lasted, essentially, a full calendar year before and guys might need more time off to rest and recover before diving back into the grind.
Still, though, it would make a lot of financial sense to start the season at the end of December, in time for the 25th. Christmas Day is historically among the NBA’s biggest days, one that usually features a five-game slate of high-profile matchups. Over the years, even just being chosen to play on the day has been dressed up into something of a prestigious accomplishment.
More than anything, it would be good for the NBA to try to please their TV partners after a season that saw the league lose a lot of money.
On the other hand, the Lakers just won the title not even two weeks ago. Would the Players’ Association be willing to sign off on allowing the players to return so quickly after the season ended? There’s speculation that the PA will push for a later start date — perhaps on Martin Luther King Day weekend in mid-January.
And in regards to the Raptors, specifically, the sooner the NBA season starts, the sooner the team will have to figure out its own unique situation of being a team in Canada.
Both Toronto FC and the Toronto Blue Jays were forced to find temporary homes for themselves down in the United States — as the government didn’t allow them to play in Toronto because of the COVID-mandated travel restrictions — and the Raptors probably won’t be seeing any special treatment themselves in this regard, either.
As such, if the NBA elects not to go with a bubble, the Raptors will need to find a home away from home for themselves. And if the season is actually starting just before Christmas, then that search will need to get started immediately – if it hasn’t started already, that is.
Season ends before the Olympic Games?
According to reporting from both The Athletic’s Shams Charania and ESPN‘s Adrian Wojnarowski, the league’s target date is Dec. 22, with the season lasting just 72 regular-season games and concluding before the Summer Olympic Games — assuming they can be held.
If you’re a fan of Canadian basketball, that last part about the Olympics is a pretty good argument for starting the season at that early date and knocking off those 10 games from the schedule.
This would allow NBA players a window to play in the Tokyo 2021 Games and might even open up the possibility of Canadian NBA players suiting up for their country in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Victoria, B.C.
The OQT would start on June 29, so there’s a chance that enough of the Canada’s NBA contingent may be free to play for the country and help it qualify for the Olympics later on down the road when, presumably, Canada’s full complement will be available.
Of course, this is just looking at things purely from the perspective of Canada Basketball and, more generally, FIBA basketball. The NBA’s view of things likely differs in that truncating the season and starting it as early as possible would be made in an effort to return to a normal schedule as best as it can, and if that means sacrificing the Olympics to do just that, expect the league to do so.
Possibly no All-Star Game
Another sacrifice that may need to be made next season is the 2021 NBA All-Star Game in Indianapolis.
According to Wojnarowski, the event may need to be cancelled, though no decision has been made yet.
Cancelling All-Star weekend makes sense because the event — a big, fun exhibition weekend — would be strange without the captive sold-out audience in attendance to take it all in. Not to mention, the weekend isn’t just limited to what happens in the arena with a convention-like fan zone and parties happening all over the city in honour of the league’s finest.
In other words, a bunch of things that involve getting a large group of people together — something that would be too risky in this COVID-climate.
The cancellation of the event would be another way to accelerate the season and try to get things back to a normal schedule as the traditional All-Star break could then be eliminated and games could just be played straight through. The Players’ Association may have something to say about that, but it’s still an option that could be tabled.
A potentially bigger headache of cancelling All-Star weekend would be what to do with players who may have performance incentives and bonuses in their contracts tied to the All-Star Game such as being named an All-Star or winning All-Star Game MVP?
For example, let’s say Pascal Siakam gets a nice bonus for being voted in as an All-Star starter again next season. But if there’s no All-Star Game, would a vote even still happen? Would All-Star teams even be selected?
There’s a workaround for this to have mid-season awards and mid-season Eastern and Western Conference teams selected, perhaps, but it would have to be something else the league considers before moving forward on a decision.
To bubble or not to bubble
As Charania reported, “The NBA continues to prefer in-market play for the 2020-21 season — instead of a bubble or multiple bubbles.”
That’s well and good to say, but the question of feasibility is still in the air — especially with the holiday season upon us when people are more likely to travel and see friends and family in tighter spaces indoors.
Still, the argument against a bubble isn’t to be dismissed, either. The three-month Disney World experiment, while successful, took a huge mental-health toll on players and it’s unlikely they’ll want to subject themselves to that kind of isolation again — particularly for a longer period of time.
Instead, as Wojnarowski reported, the league may be looking into scheduling baseball-like series of games to keep teams in one spot for longer periods of time in an effort to reduce travel.
It sounds good in theory, but there’s a big difference between ball-parking an idea and actually executing. Given the exploding cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., any amount of travel will be risky.
And for that matter, any option on the table is a risk while trying to play pro sports in the middle of a global pandemic, it’s just a matter of what risks you’re willing to live with.
We’re still waiting to see what the NBA is willing to live with now.