Adam Silver

Christmas Day start for 2020-21 NBA season reportedly discussed as uncertainty reigns

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USA Today

Christmas Day start for 2020-21 NBA season reportedly discussed as uncertainty reigns

The question looms large in wake of the NBA suspending its season due to the COVID-19 pandemic: When will play resume, and what will it look like when (or if) it does?

The sobering reality is that it’s still too soon to say. Commissioner Adam Silver said as much in a sitdown with ESPN's Rachel Nichols last week.

"I honestly don't know just because I don't have a good enough sense of how long a period this is going to be,” Silver said when asked the most likely options for resuming the season. Silver did express optimism that some part of the season could be salvaged, but he maintained that the safety and health of players and fans would always be paramount.

Despite the uncertainty, it has become clear from credible reports that the league is driven to carry out the 2019-20 season to some sort of conclusion.

Take Marc Stein’s latest “On Basketball” newsletter as an example. Stein cites a prevailing desire to avoid an unresolved conclusion to the season, (for philosophic reasons) along with severe financial losses as motivators for finding a way to resume play.

The latter impetus is key. As Stein notes, even before the COVID-19 outbreak, Silver estimated multiple hundreds of millions of dollars in losses as a result of the preseason Daryl Morey-China controversy. And if the NBA decided to simply continue without fans, NBC Sports’ Tom Haberstroh estimated $500 million in lost ticket revenue, which doesn't take into account TV and advertising considerations. Recent projections have the total damage as high as $1 billion or more.

Those figures are certainly front of mind for owners as they navigate these uncharted waters. Stein also reported that, “key NBA figures welcome an experiment with radical changes, such as contesting the NBA Finals in August, pushing free agency into September and starting the 2020-21 season on Christmas Day.”

Here, financial considerations reign again. Sure, there’s a cost to shaving off a quarter of the 2020-21 regular season, but owners would surely choose that over losing an entire postseason’s worth of games (especially a postseason as anticipated as this one). Plus, as far as alternative schedules go, a league calendar year running from December to September mitigates competition with the NFL regular season. 

According to Stein, discussions on this timeline have increased to a point where the league is directing teams to actively seek out dates and venues (G League arenas, etc.) for potential games deep into the summer.

But what can’t go undiscussed is the strain that a hyper-shortened  season would put on players. Bulls fans should remember that the 2011-12 lockout-shortened season also started on Dec. 25. It began with a Derrick Rose game-winning buzzer-beater at Staples Center on Christmas Day and ended with injuries (Rose’s torn ACL and Noah’s left ankle sprain) cutting a potentially deep playoff run short.

“The schedule in that lockout year was stupid. We played 66 games in, like, 90 days,” Kyle Korver recently told NBC Sports Chicago. “That was bad for our team.”

Resuming this season after a months-long hiatus could introduce conditioning concerns, especially because players are currently barred from utilizing team facilities until further notice.

These precautions, while necessary, only scratch the surface of the complexities before us. Multiple WNBA teams share arenas with NBA clubs. What happens if or when schedules overlap? Top prospects (Anthony Edwards and Tre Jones, so far) are starting to declare for the draft. How will the hiatus impact pre-draft protocols? When will the draft even be held? What will the salary cap look like when free agency rolls around? The list goes on.

A little over a week has passed and there are still way more questions than answers. That’s not likely to change any time soon. But at least we can hold out hope that the 2019-20 playoffs might be played. Count on the NBA to be creative, but it’s crucial to make sure it’s done safely for all.

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More NBA teams receive news of players testing positive for COVID-19

More NBA teams receive news of players testing positive for COVID-19

The NBA sent out a memo to all 30 teams in the league on Thursday, updating them on new policies amid the league's current hiatus. All team facilities are closed starting March 20 and the league has also encouraged players to stay at home and quarantine during this time. On that same day, various reports came out indicating that several NBA players had tested positive for COVID-19.

ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Thursday that a member of the Denver Nuggets organization tested positive for the coronavirus.

Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium reported that three members of the Philadelphia 76ers organization tested positive for the coronavirus.

Later on Thursday evening, it was reported that two Los Angeles Lakers players and one Boston Celtic—later on, revealed to be Marcus Smart—tested positive for the coronavirus. Smart took to social media to tell his followers that he was tested for COVID-19 several days ago and has been self-quarantined since he was tested. He warned his followers that COVID-19 should be taken with the "highest of seriousness" and stated, "we must get more testing ASAP."

With Thursday's news, there are now are a significant amount of NBA personnel who have tested positive for COVID-19. The increasing concern for the safety of the league and the fans was what initially led the NBA to update its policies and put he 2019-20 season on indefinite suspension.

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How new CDC recommendation could impact the NBA's timeline for resuming play

How new CDC recommendation could impact the NBA's timeline for resuming play

On Sunday, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC hereafter) issued a statement recommending the cancellation of all events consisting of 50 or more people for the next eight weeks.

This is obviously a massive development as it relates to suspended American sports leagues returning to play — especially the NBA. Last week, commissioner Adam Silver said the league’s current hiatus would last for “at least” 30 days, but that timeline always felt optimistic. The CDC’s newest update cements that feeling.

Should the league abide by the CDC's recommendation, the earliest feasible return to action would be in mid-May, pushing play well back into the summer.

But according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, even a return in the middle of May might be wishful thinking. Per Wojnarowski, the current sentiment around the league is that a “best-case scenario” would be resuming in mid-to-late June without fans. Teams are reportedly preparing to play through as late as August:

 

The ramifications of that timeline are widespread, from scheduling gymnastics (where will teams play deep into the summer with arenas more than likely double-booked? What about the '20-21 season?) to potential financial losses (how will players be compensated if play extends past the end of their contracts? How will the salary cap be impacted?). 

According to Wojnarowski and ESPN’s Malika Andrews, the cancellation of the remainder of the G League’s schedule is currently on the table:

 

Taking that action — while unfortunate — could go some way towards assuaging the financial consequences of this hiatus. Wojnarowski did add that if the rest of the G League season is cancelled, all players will be compensated.

 

The more layers of this story that are peeled back, the more it becomes apparent that this is only the beginning.

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