The NBA season ended just under a month ago with uncertainty around when the 2020-21 season would begin. On Thursday night, the National Basketball Players Association player representatives completed a vote approving a Dec. 22 start date for a 72-game regular season.
Per a report by Adrian Wojnarowski, the NBA and the NBPA will now will finish negotiating the financial terms on an amended collective bargaining agreement, which will take into next week. The trade moratorium is expected to be lifted shortly prior to the 2020 NBA draft on Nov. 18.
Our NBA experts weighed in with who is helped and hurt most by the decision, as well as what other changes they’d like to see.
Who benefits most from the Dec. 22 start date?
Tim Bontemps: Teams that are keeping the status quo. In a world where there already is so much uncertainty because of the pandemic, throwing in a truncated training camp and free agents coming in along the way will make trying to get the new season started a huge challenge for many teams. So groups that are likely to return with minimal changes — such as the Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets and Miami Heat — will be at a big advantage.
Kevin Pelton: Teams with continuity will likely benefit. When I studied the value of continuity last season, I found it didn’t generally seem to help teams start faster. That was different after the 2011 lockout, when teams with high continuity played noticeably better over the first 10 games compared to the rest of the season.
Bobby Marks: The teams not invited to the bubble in Orlando, Florida (especially the Golden State Warriors). While the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets were battling it out for a trip to the NBA Finals in late September and the LA Clippers were firing coach Doc Rivers in early October, the Warriors have been sitting back since mid-March. There will certainly be some bubble playoff fatigue that Western Conference teams will endure at the start of the season, and Golden State should be ready to capitalize.
Eric Woodyard: The league. It’s a smart move to play games as soon as possible. Let’s not forget that the NBA is a business.
Kirk Goldsberry: People who love to watch basketball. We expect to see hoops all winter and the playoffs in the spring. A pre-Christmas start date sets us up nicely for a return to normalcy on the calendar.
Who is hurt most by the Dec. 22 start date?
Goldsberry: A lot of folks will groan about this, but as a former front-office guy, I can’t imagine trying to pull off a draft, a free-agency period and training camp between now and Christmas. Normally, the time between the playoffs and summer league is the wildest time of year for a front office — this year, it could be bonkers. By racing into a pre-Christmas start, front offices will be scrambling.
Pelton: Teams that want to dramatically overhaul their rosters via trade this offseason might have to think twice about doing that with little time for their new lineups to practice together. An accelerated training camp also seems to work against players returning from serious injuries — most notably Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson.
Marks: This decision made too much sense financially for the players to reject, but 22 teams just endured a grueling stretch of basketball, both physically and mentally. I would think that the players who finished the playoffs in September or October will not be happy that training camp is now weeks instead of months away.
Woodyard: Teams who made a deep playoff run in the Orlando bubble, because it doesn’t allow much time for recovery after competing on such a high level. The Lakers and Heat, in particular, will have to jump right back into action after fighting for a title.
Bontemps: Free agents, as they will all but certainly have a slow start to the 2020-21 season because of their ongoing contractual situations — particularly for players who aren’t signed immediately.
What would you change about a potential playoff play-in scenario?
Bontemps: Having been in the bubble for the seeding games, I thought the play-in game was a success. I’d potentially have some interest in expanding it to, say, teams 7-10 in each conference, but that would require more thought, as that would take several days to play out.
Marks: The restart games sold me on the play-in scenario, something that I was highly skeptical of. In a 72 game schedule, I would like to see teams that are two games behind in the standings eligible for a play-in game. Leaving the four-game benchmark that we witnessed this summer would certainly dilute the regular season.
Pelton: Compared to what we saw last season, I like the idea of having more than just the 8-seed up for grabs. I would maintain the angle we saw where challengers had to be within a certain number of games to trigger the play-in possibility.
Goldsberry: Single-elimination games only. None of this 9-seed has to beat 8-seed twice stuff. Just make it simple.
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, it shouldn’t have to participate in a play-in for a spot it has already earned.
What other formats or tweaks would you like to see the NBA experiment with?
Pelton: Beside the play-in tournament, I think the seeding games also showed the value of locking in draft standings at a certain point so teams don’t have to worry about hurting their chances with a late run. That worked well this season because the bottom eight teams didn’t know beforehand the season would end on March 11. Randomizing the date on which the standings freeze would make for a better lottery system.
Marks: A heavy dose of conference games and playing East vs. West only one time. If the goal is to get out of the bubble setting and back into the home market of teams, the normal travel of a typical NBA season will need to be scaled back. I am also in favor of playing a baseball-type schedule where a team like Philadelphia would play in Chicago on three out of four nights.
Woodyard: I would like to see the NBA experiment with a condensed schedule, possibly shortening the season between 56 and 62 games. That format would keep players fresh and give fans a much better product because guys won’t have to worry so much about load management.
Bontemps: I’ve long been a proponent of a midseason tournament of some kind, along the lines of what takes place in European soccer and basketball. I know this would take everyone from fans to teams to players time to buy into, but long term it could be a really good thing for the sport, as it would give teams another thing to shoot for. In a time where finances are an issue, it also would give the league something else to sell.
Goldsberry: I would love a meaningful single-elimination midseason tournament. Basketball is at its best when single games can make or break a team’s chances. That’s why the NCAA tournament can be so exciting. Imagine filling out a bracket for a leaguewide single-elimination tournament — that would be awesome. In addition, it’s time to eliminate conferences and put the best 16 teams in the playoffs, even if it means tweaking the schedule. I’m in favor of a 58-game regular season where you play every opponent twice, a midseason winner-take-all tourney and a straight-seeded playoff bracket where conferences are irrelevant.