Let the leverage jockeying begin.
The week after the NBA spammed out that it is pushing for a Dec. 22 start date for the 2020-21 season, a “substantial faction” of players are pushing for a Jan. 18 opener, Yahoo! Sports’ Chris Haynes reported Wednesday:
Under the league-preferred proposal, teams were reportedly preparing for free agency to start two or three days after the Nov. 18 draft, and for training camps to open as soon as Dec. 1. In the Haynes-reported proposal, Dec. 1 was noted as a possible opening day of free agency.
Reportedly key to the former plan is the NBA’s desire to correct course and get back on its October - June schedule track for the 2021-22 season, which has been widely buzzed about as a comeback year from a revenue perspective.
Ratings suffered during the 2019-20 season restart for a variety of reasons, chief among them competing for eyeballs with the NFL regular season, MLB playoffs and other prominent sporting events through the late summer/early fall months. The loss of gate revenue for the latter part of the regular season and postseason undoubtedly stung as well. There is no current indication as to when or how teams will get spectators back in the near future.
While there’s precedent for the NBA executing a quick free-agency-to-opening-night turnaround (the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season began Dec. 25 after a new CBA was finalized on Dec. 8 and free agency opened Dec. 9), there’s little precedent for such a quick season-to-season flip. The NBA Finals concluded Oct. 11, leaving players on teams that made deep playoff runs at higher risk for injury and fatigue while playing a jam-packed schedule. There also remains a global pandemic to contend with — and without the benefit of bubbling the league a la the 2019-20 restart.
Pushing back to Martin Luther King Day would allow teams an extra few weeks to acclimate potential new signings and draft picks, and players extra time to recuperate. It would also nix the league’s Christmas Day showcase and shift the 2020-21 season’s end date deeper into the summer — where ratings are historically tenuous and the playoffs could overlap with the Tokyo Olympics scheduled to begin July 23.
Meanwhile, negotiations to modify the current CBA are scheduled to conclude Oct. 30 at the latest. When common ground is reached on that front, the league will want all else to fall in line behind it, and quickly.