UPDATE: The NBA is targeting a December 22nd start to the 2020-21 season and is expected to play 72 games, rather than the normal amount of 82, per The Athletic’s Shams Charania. The NBA is attempting to get back to a normal season schedule and allow for players to play in the 2021 Olympics late in the year.
The 2019-20 NBA season was the longest in the history of the League. It came to an end on Sunday night when the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Miami Heat in Game 6 of the NBA Finals. The Lakers were crowned champions and got their celebration in the NBA bubble. With what should be a shortened offseason, we are going to take a look at how that might work out from a logistical perspective. We only know a few key dates and there’s still a lot that needs to be figured out.
Figuring out the Salary Cap
John Hollinger of The Athletic put up a road map for next season, which outlines a lot of this type of information. You can check it out here if you have an Athletic sub. The first thing Adam Silver and the NBA needs to figure out is what the salary cap will be heading into the NBA Draft on Nov. 18 and free agency shortly after. Usually, the cap is impacted by how well the NBA is doing to an extent, so with the pandemic creating a lot of issues, we could see the salary cap stay around the same or even go down. This is important to figure out before the draft and free agency for obvious reasons.
The pre-draft process is expected to begin on Oct. 16 and run through Nov. 16, with teams being allowed to conduct in-person interviews and workouts with draft prospects. Teams can have two visits per player with no more than 10 total among prospects, per Shams Charania. The prospects must be tested for Covid-19 and come up negative within 72 hours of their visit, with all individuals involved needing negative tests to conduct meetings.
So it would appear that NBA teams can’t get a look at every single prospects in-person, something that would be more available to them in a normal season. Teams are really going to have to pick and choose which prospects they like the most and bring them in initially. Of course, there’s plenty of tape and the ability to make phone calls throughout this process, as well as video conference calls to interview prospects. Still, there’s a difference between being in-person and being on video that can create some issues with evaluation.
When will Free Agency start?
So I’ve talked a lot about this and normally free agency starts the first week of July (usually July 1), right after the NBA Draft the last week of June. If that holds true, the most likely outcome is that free agency will begin on Dec. 1. If it’s more in-line with the timeline during a normal season, perhaps free agency will begin the week after the draft, which would be November 23rd. The issue with this type of thing is Thanksgiving would be that week, so some athletes (especially those who were in the bubble) may not want to be conducting free agent business after not seeing their families for so long.
It makes more sense to have it start Dec. 1 but that gives players and teams a very condensed window to make decisions if the season is expected to start in January. Remember, players usually have from July 1 until around September (and even October) to make a decision on their future before next season. This free agent class isn’t really stacked, which is a good thing. The only way things could get shook up a bit is if Anthony Davis opts out of his deal with the Lakers and goes into free agency again after winning a title. We’ll see what happens.
When will the 2020-21 season begin?
The last bit of info we received from Adam Silver was that next season won’t start until January at the earliest. Silver had mentioned Christmas Day as a potential target, but looking at the hypothetical timeline, that seems like a pipe dream. Hollinger floats around Jan. 18 as a good date to start things back up, it gives them a solid two-month window from the Draft until opening night. It would also make the schedule a little easier to figure out. The NBA needs to decide if it wants to alter the calendar completely or do another condensed season to try and realign the previous calendar. Because of the pandemic, we may see the NBA season calendar altered forever. If the season started in January and they ran all 82 games and the playoffs, the season would end around the end of September or early October.