The NBA on Friday informed the league’s Board of Governors it is targeting a Dec. 22 start to the 2020-21 season, with games played in home markets rather than a bubble, a league source confirmed. According to the source, the league likely will condense the season to 72 games, although the goal is still to find a way to play all 82.
The plan would need the approval of the NBA Players Association.
The Lakers won the championship less than two weeks ago, and if the next season opened Dec. 22, training camps would have to begin soon after Thanksgiving. The draft is currently set for Nov. 18, and an abbreviated free agency period would begin soon after, with teams scrambling to set their rosters in time for the start.
Typically, there are about three months between the end of the NBA Finals and the start of the next season, but there is nothing typical about this year. Also, while the Lakers and Heat just concluded the Finals, eight other teams — nearly a third of the league — have not played since the NBA was shuttered because of COVID-19 March 11.
Earlier this fall, there was momentum for starting the season later in hopes that a vaccine or even mass rapid testing would allow more fans to attend games. But as the virus continues to rage across the country, there are no guarantees that waiting would even make a difference, so the preference appears to be to get the games started sooner to allow for a longer season.
Also, the earlier start would make it possible for players to take part in the Tokyo Olympics in July, if those Games are held.
According to ESPN, the league is proposing several other tweaks, including the return of the play-in format to determine the eighth playoff spot in each conference, and possibly canceling the All-Star Game and putting a two-week break in its place.
Players Association executives and members of the Board of Governors are still working to finalize changes to the collective bargaining agreement, as the league attempts to work around a severe reduction in revenue without disturbing the salary-cap system extensively.
The cap is generally set based on revenue projections and was expected to be about $115 million this year. But those projected figures have cratered, so it is likely that the sides will just agree to maintain last year’s $109 million cap, with teams holding a larger portion of players' salaries in escrow.
Players receive 49-51 percent of all basketball-related income, so they would essentially take a one-year pay cut.