For weeks, the prevailing theory from league officials is there would be no more NBA basketball until at least January 2021 after the NBA Finals wrapped up in Orlando on October 11th.
However, with coronavirus outbreaks around the country reducing the odds of any fans being allowed in most NBA arenas for the foreseeable future, the league seems set on getting things going on a 2020-21 NBA season quickly, a slate that is likely to be played in mostly empty arenas for a large chunk of the year.
A league source confirmed to BostonSportsJournal.com that the NBA league office told the Board of Governors on Friday that a start date around Christmas is the new target for the league. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.com was first to report the news.
Nothing yet has been set in stone since any shift in the schedule has to be approved by the National Basketball Players Association. The league and players association are currently negotiating a number of issues, including adjustments to the salary cap and luxury tax in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, increased escrow holding for players next season and safety procedures for NBA players taking part in a season that is unlikely to be held in a bubble.
The two sides are hoping to come to terms on those arrangements along with a new-look NBA calendar in the next two weeks, which would in effect kick off offseason movement ahead of the NBA Draft on November 18th. While the players association could understandably push for a longer break in their offseason, the fact that there could be so much money on the line (up to $500 million) dependent on the league getting started in December, that should provide some added incentive for both sides to approve a quick offseason turnaround.
So what could the 2020-21 NBA season look like? Let’s take a look at some of the proposed ideas at play and their potential impact on the Celtics.
—Late December start date: Seeing that the Celtics were one of the last four teams playing during the bubble, they will only be looking at two full months of rest before training camp gets going at the beginning of December. Daniel Theis underwent minor knee surgery this week but is expected to be ready for the start of training camp. The same can’t be said for the rest of the injured players on the roster. Romeo Langford underwent surgery to repair a torn ligament back in September and Danny Ainge did not commit to him being healthy for the start of next season, an indication that his recovery and rehab could extend into 2021.
Elsewhere, Kemba Walker’s recovery from recurring knee pain during the second half of last season will come into greater focus. The two months off the Celtics get after they were eliminated in the East Finals will be far shorter than the nearly four months off the C’s got from the regular stoppage and that extended time off didn't cure Walker's knee woes. A longer period of rest would have probably been a welcome development for the All-Star point guard heading into next season and his offseason regimen now gains even greater importance. The same goes for Gordon Hayward after he played on a severely sprained ankle before it was fully healed.
--72 game regular season: The 10-game reduction from a normal regular season is being proposed to help the league compress the schedule and ensure they can get back on their normal October-June calendar in time for the 2021-22 season. 72 games will allow the league to meet their local and national TV contracts to ensure the maximum possible revenue for teams to collect on. The shorter schedule will likely benefit Boston on the whole since they are a team that figures to be top-heavy again on their roster in 2021. Walker and Hayward will likely see their minutes managed to some degree next year and that becomes easier when an 82-game grind is trimmed by 12 percent or so. The condensed timeframe of the season probably won’t fully eliminate the need for back-to-backs but there will certainly be fewer on the schedule in this format, along with likely a lengthy midseason break in place of an All-Star Game (an event that is expected to be canceled for 2021)
--Baseball style series schedule: This is perhaps the wrinkle that could impact the Celtics the most. With the league hoping to minimize travel as much as possible, there remains a possibility that a schedule will place a heavy emphasis on regional matchups and could feature teams playing the same team on consecutive nights, something that is normally a rarity in the NBA schedule.
League sources tell BostonSportsJournal.com that the NBA has stayed away from back-to-back games with the same opponents