As Tony Kornheiser of ESPN said when asked about news that the NBA is planning a December 22 re-start ... “That’s an hour from now!”
Maybe not an hour, but a lot quicker than most pundits and fans thought. Such an accelerated schedule would also mean a rapid-fire off-season, with the Draft on November 18, free agency beginning a week later then an almost immediate start to training camp ... which would have to be abbreviated.
Nothing is settled of course and next Friday’s Board of Governors meeting is the likely deadline for firming things up. One big incentive for the league. according to reports, is that a late December start, to include the traditional Christmas Day extravaganza on ABC, would mean an additional $500 million in revenue compared to a later start around Martin Luther King Day on January 18 or later.
—First things first, the NBA and the NBPA, the players union, will have to agree to modifications to Collective Bargaining Agreement that would take into account various revenue scenarios. Adam Silver has told the union that there would be roughly eight weeks between an agreement between the two sides and the formal start of next season. A new salary cap and luxury tax threshold would have to be set.
—The season would be 72 games but with a play-in tournament like the seeding games in the Orlando “bubble.” It’s likely there will be no All-Star Game or All-Star Weekend in Indianapolis as planned, sources said. The league is considering a two-week break at the midway point of the season.
—Owners want to avoid “bubbles” and get their teams back home. They are reportedly considering baseball-style series where teams play each other multiple times in one location to limit travel and the possibility of infection. The problem with the formats adopted by the MLB and NFL is that it’s lead to haphazard cancellations and re-schedulings.
—At least initially, there would be no fans in the NBA’s 29 venues. Most of the 22 jurisdictions governing the arenas are still not permitting any more than 500 fans at an event. The NBA was able to get around that in Orlando with the “bubble” format but that was for a defined time with a defined area. If the virus begins to fade with the wide availability of vaccines not likely until the second quarter, meaning March 31, it’s uncertain when, if ever, fans will be able to take up seats. Currently, the reverse is true. The U.S. has had daily records for caseloads the last two days.
Joe Tsai, at a virtual sports conference at the University of Michigan Thursday, painted a picture of what would be needed for the return of fans ... but he did not sound optimistic.
Of the “bubble” and “wubble” experiences, Tsai said Thursday, “What the NBA did was great but we need to get fans in the building. We can control behavioral things to do that. Wearing masks, fan testing, social distancing. Other countries have mastered this, the US has not.”
Previously, Tsai had suggested that with a vaccine and rapid coronavirus testing, things could change,
“We know there is going to be vaccine. You can have rapid testing programs before people coming into the building that at some point is going to be coming back to normal,” he told CNBC three weeks ago. He noted that half of NBA team revenues come from ticket sales and other revenue associated with the arena experience.
There are other issues that need to be dealt with like whether the Raptors may have to set up shop in another city in the United States because of international travel restrictions. Louisville is one city that’s been suggested but there are other venues closer to Toronto like the Prudential Center. Then, there’s the issue of the G League.
Assuming a December 22 start date, how would that effect the Nets? On one hand, their roster is stable and may not need much tinkering before the season starts. Big moves could wait until the trade deadline, whenever that is. On the other hand, the team has several players returning from injuries —Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving— or COVID-19 —Spencer Dinwiddie, DeAndre Jordan and Taurean Prince. Getting back into rhythm is going to take some time. The Nets also have to round out their coaching staff.
Of course, those five along with Jaylen Hands of the Long Island Nets have been working out together in Los Angeles over the last several weeks.