The 2020-21 NBA season already stands to be an unprecedented one — and it hasn’t even begun yet.
Few, if any, will dispute last season was the strangest in league history. The coronavirus pandemic forced a four-month shutdown, and the league completed its season in a bubble in Orlando, Fla.
The 2020-21 NBA season might start fairly soon
When the NBA season ended on October 11, it wasn’t unrealistic to think the 2020-21 NBA season would simply be the 2021 season.
Because the NBA isn’t holding its draft until mid-November and isn’t opening free agency until after the draft, a January start made the most sense. Teams realistically couldn’t open free agency at the beginning of December and play regular-season games later that month, right?
That take, although it made sense, may have been wrong. Numerous outlets reported the league is eyeing starting next season either on December 22 or on Christmas Day.
The NBA opened its 2011-12 season on Christmas Day, but they had a late start because of the lockout. Unlike this season, the 2010-11 season had at least ended on time in June.
Next season could look quite different than regular years
It appears the NBA has three main goals that apply to the 2020-21 season.
First, the NBA understandably wants to get through the year without any shutdowns. The success of the bubble, coupled with the steps the league can take to avoid superspreader events, should prevent an extended shutdown from happening anytime soon.
Next, the NBA wants to make money. The league also hopes to end its season before the Olympics, scheduled to begin on July 23, 2021.
To accomplish all three goals, there could be numerous substantial changes to the NBA’s typical plan. The All-Star Game could be on the chopping block, possibly replaced by a play-in tournament similar to what happened in the bubble this summer.
Instead of playing 82 games, NBA teams might only play 72. If that sounds like a large percentage of games, remember that Major League Baseball played 60 regular-season games instead of the standard 162 outings.
The 2020-21 NBA season already stands to be an unprecedented one
If the NBA is stuck on starting its season in late-December, the 2020-21 season will have a rapid turnaround from when last season ended.
If next season begins on December 22, there would have been 72 days between the end of the NBA Finals and the next season’s start. That number climbs to 75 if the league starts play on Christmas Day.
Consider this fact. There were 109 days between the end of the 2019 NBA Finals (June 13) and the start of the preseason (September 30).
The NHL is currently hoping to start its season on Jan. 1, 2021. The 2020 Stanley Cup Finals ended on September 28, giving the league 95 days between the end of one season and the start of another.
“Unprecedented” truly is the best word to describe the 2020-21 NBA season. However, if they get through the entire year and accomplish all of their goals, the strangeness will have been worth it.