The large winners and losers within the NBA's new proposed schedule
The NBA season ended just under two weeks ago with uncertainty as to when the 2020-21 season would begin. On Friday, ESPN reported that the league's board of governors is planning a start before Christmas. The move would mean the break between the end of the 2019-20 season and the start of the 2020-21 schedule would be around 10 weeks, which is roughly half the typical length of time.
Among other things, changes are discussed: a regular season with fewer than 82 games that does not wait for fans to be admitted to all league arenas, as well as tournament and warm-up scenarios.
Our NBA experts have weighed the first impressions of the proposal and its possible implications, as well as any other changes they would like to see.
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1. What was your first reaction to the report that the Board of Governors is considering postponing the scheduled start date for the season?
Kevin Pelton: I'm surprised that given the draft schedule and the NBA Free Agency, which probably can't start any earlier than November 23, the league aggressively thinks starting a month later before Christmas would be similar to shortened training camps mean the post-lockout versions in 1999 and 2011.
Bobby Marks: Not surprised. The goal of the NBA was to avoid playing playoff basketball in September and October. If the league takes on a pre-Christmas start and plays a season with 72 games, that goal would be achieved. Even if the standard 82 game schedule is played, the regular season should end in mid-June and the final in late August.
Kirk Goldsberry: Surprise. It seems like everything is either pushed back or canceled these days, and most of the people I spoke to in the NBA had expected a start date between January and March only to hear the news that December could start was a legitimate one Surprise .
Tim Bontemps: That it will be very difficult for the league to achieve this. The free agency is expected to begin around December 1st, leaving little time to turn things around without massive complications. That is, money speaks. If you avoid competing with the NFL during the NBA playoffs and take advantage of the massive crowd on Christmas Day, the NBA can make more money.
Eric Woodyard: Honestly, at this point in 2020, I wasn't surprised. While I was expecting the season to start right before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Christmas is a prime date so it definitely makes sense. But with the speed of action it will be interesting to see the reaction from players who would have to approve such a proposal.
2. Who would this decision help most?
Bontemps: teams that maintain the status quo. In a world where there is already so much uncertainty due to the pandemic, it will be a major challenge for many teams to set up a shortened training camp and call in free agents. So groups like the Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets, and Miami Heat, who are likely to return with minimal changes, will have a huge advantage.
Pelton: Teams with continuity would likely benefit from this. When I was researching the value of continuity last season, I found that it didn't seem to help teams start faster in general. That was different after the lockout in 2011, when teams with high continuity played significantly better in the first 10 games compared to the rest of the season.
Notes: The teams are not invited to Orlando (especially the Golden State Warriors). While the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets fought for a trip to the NBA final in late September and the LA Clippers sacked head coach Doc Rivers in early October, the Warriors have been leaning back since mid-March. There is sure to be some bubble playoff fatigue the Western Conference teams will endure early in the season and Golden State should be ready to capitalize on.
Woodyard: The NBA. Playing games as fast as possible is a smart move. Let's not forget that the NBA is a business.
Goldsberry: People who love to watch basketball. We expect tires all winter and the playoffs in spring. A pre-Christmas start date prepares us well for a possible return to normal on the calendar.
3. Who would be hurt most by this decision?
Goldsberry: A lot of people would moan about it, but as a former front office guy, I can't imagine pulling through a draft, a free agency period and a training camp between now and Christmas. Usually the time between the playoffs and the summer league is the wildest time of the year for a front office – this year could be crazy. If we start before Christmas, the front offices will be mixed up.
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Pelton: Teams looking to dramatically revise their rosters this off-season via trading may have to think twice if their new lineups are short of time to practice together. An accelerated training camp also seems to work against players returning from serious injuries – especially Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson.
Notes: The players. Agents are preparing for the possibility that up to 40% of the deed will be withheld from players, sources told ESPN. This money would make up for losses caused by a lack of income from home games. From a health perspective, 22 teams survived a strenuous stretch of basketball, both physically and mentally. I would think players who finished the playoffs in September or October won't be happy that the training camp is now weeks instead of months.
Woodyard: Teams that did a deep playoff run in the Orlando Bubble because they don't have much time to recover from such a high level. The Lakers and Heat in particular would have to get back into action immediately after the battle for a title.
Bontemps: Free agents as they would certainly have a slow start to the 2020-21 season due to their ongoing contract situation – especially for players who are not signed immediately.
Yes Morant and Damian Lillard met in a play-in game in the bubble. Jesse D. Garrabrant / NBAE / Getty Images
4. What would you change in the play-in scenario?
Bontemps: After being in the bubble at the seeding games, I thought the play-in game was a success. I might have some interest in expanding it to e.g. teams 7-10 in each conference, but that would require more thought as it would take several days to play out.
Marks: The restart games sold me in the play-in scenario, which I found very skeptical. For a normal regular season (82 games or shortened) I would like to see teams that are two games behind the leaderboard that are eligible for a warm-up. Leaving the four-game benchmark we saw this summer would certainly water down the regular season.
Pelton: Compared to what we saw last season, I like the idea of getting more than just the 8 seeds. I would keep the angle we saw of challengers having to be within a certain number of games to trigger the box office.
Goldsberry: Singles eliminations only. None of these 9 seeds need to hit 8 seeds twice. Just do it.
Woodyard: The NBA playoff play-in scenario was a great idea, but it worked for the bubble setting. If a team takes care of business during the regular season, they shouldn't have to play in for a place they've earned.
5. What other formats or tweaks would you like to see the NBA experiment in?
Pelton: In addition to the play-in tournament, I think the seeding games also showed how important it is to secure yourself at a certain point in the draft rating so that the teams don't have to worry about their chances affecting a late run. That worked well this season as the bottom eight teams didn't know beforehand that the season would end on March 11th. Randomly picking the date the leaderboard freezes would make for a better lottery system.
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Notes: A large number of conference games and only play East against West once. If the goal is to get out of the bubble and return to the teams' home market, the normal journey of a typical NBA season must be scaled back. I'm also in favor of playing a baseball schedule where a team like Philadelphia plays three out of four nights in Chicago.
Woodyard: I'd love to see the NBA experiment with a shortened schedule that may cut the season between 56 and 62 games. This format would keep the players fresh and give the fans a much better product as the guys don't have to worry as much about load management.
Bontemps: I've long been a proponent of a mid-season tournament similar to what happens in European football and basketball. I know everyone from fans to teams to players takes time to buy in, but in the long run it could be a really good thing for the sport as it would give teams another thing to shoot for . At a time when finance is an issue, it would give the league something else to sell as well.
Goldsberry: I would love a meaningful mid-season single elimination tournament. Basketball is best when individual games can increase or decrease a team's odds. This is why March Madness can be so exciting. Imagine filling out a bracket for a leaguewide single-elimination tournament – that would be great. Plus, it's time to eliminate conferences and get the top 16 teams into the playoffs, even if it means tweaking the schedule. I'm for a 58-game regular season where you play each opponent twice, an all-winners tournament in the midseason, and an even-seeded playoff bracket where conferences are irrelevant.
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