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As recently reported by The Athletic’s, Shams Charania, the NBA is looking to start the 2021-22 season this December, on the 22nd. This would dispute original reports that the NBA was looking to start somewhere between January (likely MLK day) and March. This report is picking up a lot of traction and I’m getting the vibe it’s all but confirmed. Let’s have a look at what that means for the league and why this date is likely to go ahead.

COVID isn’t going anywhere in a hurry, especially not in the United States. Even if the NBA delays the season until March, there is no guarantee that fans would be allowed to attend games. The safety of players and fans are of paramount importance. So, if we can’t have fans in December or March, why bother waiting?

The league needs revenue and the sooner they start, the more games they can play. More televised games equals more money, which is a win for everyone involved in the league. According to the league office, a December 22nd start will lead to more than $500 million in extra revenue.

One (of many) things the bubble taught us was that TV viewership declined during the summer. With no fans in the buildings, TV ratings are going to be important. With a December 22nd start, the NBA will be able to avoid a summer ratings decline. The NBA will be able to put on their usual slate of Christmas Day games, which is also a big draw on television. I know I wake up at 3am every year to watch every single Christmas Day game.

How will the schedule work? For starters, we are cutting 10 games from the season, dropping from 82 games to 72. Less is more, I always say. Forget about All-Star weekend/break, that is not going to be able to go ahead safely. That gives us a little extra time to play with. So we have roughly 4 months to play a 72 game season. It sounds like it will be crazy and heavily compacted, but it’s not that bad.

I don’t have the exact dates, but there was the lockout season in 2011-12. From memory the league played 66 games that year in roughly a 4 month span. They also still had the All-Star festivities that season. So they played 6 less games, but they also wasted a week. It’ll be tight and we will see more back to backs, but it is doable. Just.

To make it achievable, travel is going to have to be minimised. This is important from a safety standpoint as well. From my understanding, this means that there will be no cross conference games until the playoffs. The playoffs could still be held in a bubble environment, but that is a discussion for another time. On that note, the league is also still looking into a play in tournament for the 8th and 9th seed. Again, that’s a conversation for another time. The season is still going to take place in all the different arenas, just minus the fans.

Actually, before I move onto the schedule, let’s talk about the fan situation briefly. I keep getting distracted! Fans are obviously not going to be permitted at games when the season starts in December. However, this doesn’t mean that they have been ruled out for the entirety of the 20-21 campaign. We don’t know where we will stand with COVID in a few months time. Depending on the availability of a cure or a vaccine, fans could be back in seats by the end of the season. Even without a vaccine, if some sort of rapid in arena testing becomes available, it is still possible that we will see fans in seats.

Back to the schedule. So, we are removing cross conference games. No Portland vs Miami matchups to organise travel for. Do you remember what division your team is in? I sure as heck didn’t. Here is a quick reference table :

CentralSoutheastPacificSouthwestNorthwestAtlantic
ChicagoAtlantaGolden StateNew OrleansMinnesotaBoston
ClevelandWashingtonL.A.MemphisDenverBrooklyn
DetroitMiamiL.A.San AntonioOKCNew York
IndianaOrlandoPhoenixDallasPortlandPhiladelphia
MilwaukeeCharlotteSacramentoHoustonUtahToronto
NBA Divisions

Why is this important? Within a division, the teams are all relatively close. The plan is for the 72 games to work like this. You will play each team in your division 8 teams, totalling 32 games. This leaves 40 games to play, which nicely works out to be 4 games against everyone else in your conference. Got it?

This is helpful because in such a condensed season, there will be lots of back to backs. This way, they will be taking place in the same arena, so travel won’t be as big of a factor. Also, in the event a game needs to be cancelled, it is easier to reschedule it and fit it in later.

If the NBA can pull this off, it means we are back on track for a completely normal (from a scheduling standpoint) season for the 2021-22 campaign. It also means that this season will be finished a couple weeks before the Olympics are due to start. The NBA doesn’t really care much about the Olympics, but this frees up any player who wants to compete for Olympic Gold.

So, that’s the plan. It is important to note that this hasn’t been confirmed yet. It has been proposed and needs to be signed off by the players association as well. I suspect they will. I think everyone wants to get back to a normal routine and this is the fastest way to achieve it. It will be a hectic and fast paced season (and off season) but we’ve done it before. Admittedly, never in these circumstances, but it is doable.

The draft is locked in for November 18th. Free agency will likely be a week or two after that, let’s say December 1st. It won’t be long because of how close the season is, so let’s give that a week. A week and a half maybe. Free agency ends December 10th? That gives players 12 days before their first game with a new team. See what I mean about a tight schedule? You can kiss preseason games goodbye. I’m sure the “Delete Eight” teams won’t be happy without a preseason, but it’s just bad luck for them, unfortunately. Maybe, the delete eight teams can have a game or two against one another to shake off the rust. I’m getting into too many hypotheticals now though, I suppose that means it is time to sign off!

I hope that cleared up the plans for the NBA moving forward. If you have any questions or comments, do it below! Or as always, feel free to email in any questions.

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