NBA is targeting start date of Dec. 22 for the 2020-21 season

Detroit Free Press

Jeff Zillgitt

The NBA is targeting a Dec. 22 start date for the 2020-21 season, two people with knowledge of the situation told USA TODAY Sports on Friday.

The people requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the discussions.

The season would include 72 games and finish before the Tokyo Olympics, allowing the NBA to get back on its normal 82-game, October-June schedule for the 2021-22 season, they said.

There is not a formal proposal yet, and owners and players would have to approve it. Given the timing (the draft is Nov. 18 and free agency would start shortly after), getting this done within the next two weeks is paramount.

While NBA commissioner Adam Silver had said that January was the more likely month to begin next season, he also kept open the idea that the league could start around Christmas.

“I’ve said previously that the earliest we would start at this point is Christmas,” Silver said before Game 1 of the Finals on Sept. 30. “That’s been a traditional tent-pole date for the league, but it may come and go.”

Playing games on Christmas and during the holiday week would also generate substantial revenue. Silver also said the league’s goal was to have fans in arenas.

“All our efforts now are directed at returning our teams to NBA cities and NBA arenas, with the next step of moving fans into arenas,” he told USA TODAY Sports last week. “We also have the benefit of additional learning from other leagues, namely baseball and NFL, that have been playing in front of fans at least in some markets. We continue to work with municipal authorities and the CDC on designing an acceptable protocol.”

But Silver also acknowledged the rising number of COVID-19 cases and said a majority of NBA teams were located in jurisdictions where fans are not allowed in indoor arenas. The league may have to begin the season without fans.

The league was in a bind last season and did what it had to so it could finish the 2019-20 season. It didn’t overreact to lower TV ratings, but Silver also paid attention.

“The question is when do we get back on cycle,” he said. “And I think even though there’s been discussions about us potentially on a regular basis post-COVID playing well into the summer, I think we’re learning a little bit more about our television audience as we are experimenting, and part of it is fewer people are watching television in the summer, different competition, especially when you get into the fall with the NFL, college football and all that. So that’s all into the mix, as well.”

A Dec. 22 start date would be a short turnaround time for the four teams that played in the conference finals. Eight teams haven’t played a game since March 11, another six teams were finished playing by mid-August, and another eight were done playing by early September. Outside of Denver, the Los Angeles Lakers, Miami and Boston, teams will have had at least a couple of months off.

Free agency would have to start shortly after the Nov. 18 draft in time for what likely would be a truncated training camp, similar to the 2011 lockout season, which commenced on Dec. 25 with a 66-game schedule.

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