Last night, as reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) voted to confirm the NBA’s plan to start the 2020-21 season on December 22 in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. This makes for a slightly reduced year of 72 regular season games (plus playoffs), while more clearly defining some other financial details still to work out.
The NBPA player rep vote has completed, approving a December 22 start/72-game regular season, source tells ESPN. Next up: NBA/NBPA finishes financial terms on amended CBA, which will take into next week. Expect trade moratorium to be lifted shortly prior to Nov. 18 Draft.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) November 6, 2020
As Woj writes in there, this move will allow league owners — and, sure, players on teams who haven’t played since March — to get in as many regular season games as they possibly can while still finishing the season in a reasonable time frame for the (delayed) Summer Olympics and the 2021-22 year. On paper, the plan makes some sense. As Woj parrots from some sources: there’s a lot of money to be lost here — for the owners and players — if the league doesn’t find a way to get things back on track as quickly as possible.
And they’ll have to get things moving fast to accommodate the schedule they’ve laid out for themselves. As noted, the NBA Draft is coming up on November 18, and then, as is tradition, we’re supposed to get the league’s free agency period. Of course, since revenue projections are down and the resultant salary cap hasn’t quite been decided yet — though as Shams Charania reports, we’re getting closer — a clear way forward on the typical free agency bonanza has not yet been decided. One thing is clear though: it likely will not be a bonanza. (Sorry, Fred VanVleet.) And it’ll all have to take place between Nov. 18 and December 1, the target date for the opening of training camps across the league.
The NBA and NBPA are expected to discuss moving up the start of free agency as early as possible to accommodate players joining new teams so close to a Dec. 1 start of training camps, sources tell ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) November 6, 2020
Now, if the NBA and the NBPA can’t work something out, you better believe the league’s owners will happily invoke the collective bargaining agreement’s (CBA) force majeure clause to tear up the existing agreement and hit the negotiating table hard to recoup as much money as they can. This would mean they could theoretically push to re-litigate the 50-50 split of basketball-related income (BRI) — the split the players won after the 2011 lockout — in a bid to stave off the losses that are almost surely coming over the next year. As Woj confirms: even with the return of “normal” league play, a lack of gate receipts at the arenas is going to mean less revenue for every team. That’s a fact.
Speaking of gate receipts, we’re also still not clear where exactly the Toronto Raptors, the league’s lone Canada-based team, will play their games this season. That goofy — and frankly, insulting — Louisville, Kentucky idea was almost immediately debunked as wishful thinking; and though there has been talk of Brooklyn as of late (presenting some fun irony: New York standing in for Toronto instead of the other way around!) nothing firm has been established. What we do know is that it is unlikely we’ll see the Raptors play in the Scotiabank Arena any time soon.
Unfortunately, because America’s federal government has done such a comical job of even pretending to manage the ongoing pandemic, the country is still figuratively radioactive. (To be clear, Canada has on the whole done a better job, but we’re still seeing an uptick in cases in Ontario and Manitoba, for example, because of proud anti-maskers and ongoing provincial mismanagement, so let’s not get too smug just yet.) This makes the work of planning an NBA season all the more difficult. While there is hope that a vaccine could start to make some of these concerns moot, that outcome isn’t on the table yet.
(We’ll also have to see if a Biden administration can or will do any better in 2021. As he’s made clear, ol’ Joe still opposes Medicare-for-all, leading one to wonder what will ultimately be different in America — besides having a President who can, when prompted, confirm that he believes science.)
The coronavirus pandemic has made life fluid, and a clinical vaccine will play a role in this too. NBA's goal is some amount of fans to start the season, depending on each market's restrictions. Courtside fans, for instance, would be about 10-to-12 feet away, sources said. https://t.co/9I9cdN1gN3— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) November 5, 2020
As reported by Dr. Charania above, the NBA clearly has plans for some fans to be in league arenas for the 2020-21 season, but much of this math has yet to be worked out. (It certainly sounds like a bad idea to me, but I don’t have millions or billions of dollars at stake.) Much like the decision to push for a 72-game season and to get teams back on the court for December 22, the push to have fans in arenas is being made primarily with the financial bottomline in mind.
In short, the league is trying to get its money right — which is why you’re going to hear more and more about escrow withholding and the like — and every option is being put on the table to do so.
Now we’ll see if — or how — it pays off.