After the 2019/20 NBA season was suspended in mid-March and the coronavirus crisis went from bad to worse, there were fears the campaign would be cancelled entirely. And while there were a few months of uncertainty, the season resumed in late July after a comprehensive restart plan was agreed by the NBA and National Basketball Players Association.
Involving playing in a single-site bubble at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida and stringent health and safety protocols, the arrangements have largely gone off without a hitch. Unlike leagues such as the MLB, the restart hasn’t been plagued by any COVID-19-related postponements, and the 19/20 season is nearly at its conclusion.
After the success of basketball’s return to action, attention has now turned to what will happen next season. Unlike usual, there is no chance the 20/21 campaign will begin in October owing to the fact the current season won’t end until then. Question marks also remain as to how exactly games will be played, with a reluctance to do so inside a bubble again. What do we know so far, and how might things play out?
The NBA Draft date is all that’s been confirmed
Very little is known about the 2020/21 season, though that hasn’t stopped sportsbooks from releasing NBA odds for the 2021 Championship winners, listing the Clippers and the Bucks as the joint favorites. The only thing that is set in stone at the moment is the NBA Draft date. The league recently announced that this would take place on November 18th, after being pushed back from October 16th. With the 19/20 season set to end on October 13th, teams asked for the draft to be delayed for a month to give them more time to assess players and negotiate the salary cap during the postseason.
As part of the draft process, the 2020 NBA Draft Combine started on the 28th September and will run through until early to mid November. This involves drafted players gathering for drills, workouts and medical examinations, as well conducting team and league interviews, giving NBA sides the opportunity to assess these free agents. Usually taking place in Chicago, this year’s NBA Draft Combine is located in San Antonio and various NBA team facilities, as well being conducted in part virtually.
The NBA wants the return of fans and an 82-game season
According to league commissioner Adam Silver, the NBA is aiming to play the 2020/21 campaign in front of fans. Speaking with Bob Costas on CNN, he cited the progress of rapid testing as a potential breakthrough in making this a possibility, while there is also hope that a COVID-19 vaccine will be available by this point. However, relying on these solutions is clearly a speculative strategy, and whether or not the NBA can actually get fans into stadiums by then is in the balance.
As it stands, it looks like there won’t be a return to the Walt Disney style bubble in 2020/21 and teams will go back to playing in their own arenas. Though, in order to limit travel between different parts of the US and reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, the league could create regional bubbles instead, following the lead of the MLB.
In addition, Silver has stated that the new season will be a full 82-game campaign, rather than the truncated season we’ve seen in 19/20. Not only were eight teams left out of the bubble entirely, meaning they played just 63 to 67 games during the regular campaign, but the way the season resumed meant that the remaining 22 sides only played between 71 and 75 games each themselves. Under current plans, teams will therefore be able to reap the financial rewards of playing a full campaign again. But the lack of certainty around the 2020/21 NBA season start date means this proposal may not be feasible either.
The 2020/21 start date is up in the air
While the NBA was originally pushing for a December 1st launch, the league office reportedly told the Board of Governors in early September that the season won’t start before Christmas Day. Then, just a couple of weeks later, Silver stated in the CNN interview that his “best guess” was that the season now wouldn’t begin until 2021 in an attempt to ensure fans can be in stadiums from the beginning. He said: “The more I’m learning, I continue to believe we’ll be better getting into January. Our No. 1 goal is to get fans back in our arenas. My sense is, in working with the Players Association, if we could push back even a little longer and increase the likelihood of having fans in arenas, that’s what we would be targeting.” Whether the league can keep pushing the date back and still play a full 82-game season remains to be seen, however.