What December start, shortened schedule in '21 means for NBA

USA Today

When will the 2020-21 NBA season begin? And what will it look like?

The NBA is targeting a Dec. 22 start date and a 72-game schedule that would conclude before the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, The Athletic's Shams Charania reported Friday afternoon.

Such a scenario would, according to Charania, save the league quite a chunk of change:

Soon after, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported the league and NBPA are planning to continue discussions around a 70-72 game regular season that would start in the days leading up to Christmas and include a play-in tournament.

Such a scenario, of course, could jeopardize the 2021 All-Star game that Indianapolis is scheduled to host, Wojnarowski noted:

Both added to a flurry of reports from earlier in the day related to the 2020-21 season. ESPN previously reported that Christmas Day was on the table as a start date as owners convened to discuss scheduling options, because of Christmas'  status as a "historically prime NBA showcase." Marc Stein of the New York Times later reported that a Christmas start date was "gaining momentum," citing league sources.

Commissioner Adam Silver has said publicly in the past that an 82-game slate fans in arenas are league goals for the 2021 season — even recently predicting that the season likely won't start until 2021. But from the league's side, this acceleration makes sense. Starting the season as soon as possible and shortening it to finish in June could allow the NBA to get back on its October - June track starting with the 2021-22 campaign. Such a shift would lessen competition with other leagues like the NFL, NCAA (football) and MLB (playoffs) as the league attempts a bounceback from a revenue perspective. Freeing players up in time to compete internationally in the Tokyo Olympics rescheduled for next summer has appeal too. Potentially punting on fans for the time being would be a sacrifice, but not without benefits.


Plus, something similar has been pulled off before. Before the 2011-12 lockout-shortened season, NBA free agency opened on Dec. 9. Opening night that year, as Bulls fans will remember, also started on Christmas. 

But the NBPA will have to agree to any scheduling decision made, and two months is a breakneck turnaround with the NBA playoffs having just concluded Oct. 11. As the NFL is finding out, injury risk can increase in the wake of an abridged offseason. Though there are eight teams — the Bulls included — who haven't played competitive basketball since March and might be itching to return to play, that will be a difficult hurdle to overcome. 

If they do, basketball might just be back sooner than was once expected.

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