NBA players dealt with injuries, the coronavirus pandemic, and the shortest offseason in modern league history during the 2020-21 campaign.
With how strange the sport has looked since the league took a hiatus in March 2020, it makes sense that the NBA wants a return to some form of normalcy when the 2021-22 season starts in October. But the league needs to look no further than Chris Paul and Kevin Durant before it sticks to any rigid plans.
The NBA stubbornly insists on starting its 2021-22 season on time
If the 2021 NBA Finals goes all seven games, the 2020-21 season will officially end on Thursday, July 22. Over two months later, the league will be back in action.
The NBA intends to begin training camp on Tuesday, September 28, and play preseason games before starting the regular season in mid-October. Barring any changes, the 2021-22 season will start on Tuesday, October 19, which fits the standard Opening Night range the league had before the coronavirus pandemic.
The league’s official website re-published an Associated Press report regarding the 2021-22 season. According to the AP, the 2022 NBA Finals would end on June 19, and the NBA draft would be four days later.
For comparison, let’s look back at the 2018-19 season. Opening Night occurred on Oct. 16, 2018, and the season ended on June 13, 2019, when Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors defeated Stephen Curry’s Warriors in the NBA Finals. The league held its annual draft seven days later.
Paul and Durant each show why the league needs to re-adjust its plans
One can’t exactly fault the NBA for jumping on the “return to normalcy” bandwagon that society as a whole has parroted for months.
However, the league cannot and should not start the 2021-22 season in mid-October. As it stands, this season’s conference champions are already guaranteed to have fewer than 100 days between the end of the NBA Finals and the start of training camp. If the NBA Finals goes seven games and ends on July 22, that would give this season’s finalists only 68 days of rest.
Don’t forget that many active NBA players have committed to play in the 2020 (technically 2021) Summer Olympics. Three of the U.S. team’s 12 players — Phoenix’s Devin Booker and Milwaukee’s Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton — played on NBA teams that reached the conference finals.
The league’s TV ratings struggled in part because so many superstars missed time this past season with injuries. Imagine Booker or Durant, two of the game’s most electric players, suffering a severe injury early next season because of the lack of rest.
Suns guard Chris Paul, who missed time in the 2021 playoffs after testing positive for COVID-19, opted out of the Olympics. Although Paul didn’t cite the schedule, Nuggets star Nikola Jokic did when he told Serbian state news agency Tanjug that he needed more time away from the court to recover from lingering injuries.
Players already miss games for “rest” or because of phantom injuries. Beginning the 2021-22 season in October after so many stars will have participated in the Olympics will only increase the total of inactive players.
When should the NBA’s 2021-22 season realistically start?
The NBA clearly wants to start its 2021-22 season at some point before winter officially begins on Tuesday, December 21.
Let’s assume the league wants to continue starting its season on a Tuesday. Perhaps having Opening Night take place two weeks later, on November 2, is the safest and smartest move. If the NBA pushes every event back by two weeks, they’d end the Finals in early July and have the draft in that same timeframe.
From there, the league could move back to its regular schedule for the 2022-23 season. Teams will have had more than enough rest between the end of the Finals — Game 7 in this situation would be July 3, nearly three full months before training camps open — for a mid-October tipoff to be fair and realistic.
All of this means the NBA would need to be adjustable, and they’ve certainly shown a willingness to do so under Silver. But unfortunately for the fans and players, expect stubbornness and greed to win out here. If Durant misses most of next season and cites the poor planning as LeBron James did, he shouldn’t foresee much, if any, pushback.