Friday was supposed to mark the end of the delays between the NBA and the players' association, to at long last provide some clarity on the status of the 2020-21 Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Instead, what Friday actually brought was … another mutual delay, the fourth one agreed to this year.
And so, the waiting continues.
Which isn’t to say that we’re in a complete information vacuum. Some of the basketball world’s foremost insiders have been dropping little hints and tidbits in recent days about the discussions taking place behind the scenes.
Here’s what we know:
The big disagreement is the start date
Back when the 2020 restart plan was first unveiled, commissioner Adam Silver projected that the 2020-21 season would kick off in early December. But as time went along, he kept adjusting that timeline further and further into the future.
Soon, it was around Christmas. Then it wasn’t until after the new year. So, what’s changed?
It appears that the league and team owners were maintaining some hope that, by delaying the start of the subsequent season, the country would be better-equipped to have fans in the stands, thereby bolstering revenue. That now looks like a pipe dream.
Multiple reporters have put it out there in recent days that the league is aiming for a 72-game season beginning Dec. 22. But why move the start date up so much?
Shams Charania of The Athletic reported that the league office told the Board of Governors that moving the start date back could cost the teams a collective $500 million. Marc Stein of ESPN spelled it out pretty clearly Friday: “The league’s television partners do not want the 2020-21 season to stray past mid-July ... or clash with the Tokyo Olympics.”
So what’s the issue? Well, effectively, players are accustomed to having a certain amount of time to recuperate during the offseason, and given that some teams played into October, they view the next season beginning in December as untenable — “load management” would reach unparalleled levels. Beyond that, they argue, the logistics of smushing the NBA draft, free agency, training camps, and the start of the season all within a span of a month or so simply doesn’t work.
Yahoo’s Chris Haynes reported Wednesday that a “substantial faction of players and star players [are] pushing for [the] NBA season to start Jan. 18 — MLK Day.” And the union’s executive director, Michele Roberts, told Charania on Thursday, “Given all that has to be resolved between now and a Dec. 22 date … it defies common sense that it can all be done in time.”
Stein reported further that if players insist on a mid-January start, the league will likely push for a 50-game season, which will impact player salaries.
The cap probably won’t be a disaster
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe obtained financial figures the NBA shared with its 30 teams, revealing that as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and from lost advertising from China, revenue from the 2019-20 season declined by a whopping 10% down to $8.3 billion.
The potential fallout of that? “Had the league and players' union followed the normal formula to determine [the ’20-21] season’s salary cap — linking it to overall league revenue — sources told ESPN that it would have fallen to around $90 million — down from about $109 million in 2019-20,” they wrote.
However, as they and multiple other outlets have reported, the league and the players are looking for ways to artificially inflate the cap for this coming season, as a $19 million drop would cause further financial chaos. It’s widely expected the cap will wind up remaining around the $109M mark for 2020-21. ESPN’s Bobby Marks reported that sources told him the cap will be “at least $109 million.”
It remains to be seen where the luxury tax line will come in.
Some restrictions eased for team activities
The other big news to emerge Friday: It’s now easier for a team’s players to work out in a team format.
Per Charania: “The NBA has informed its 30 teams that they are now allowed to open practice facilities for group practices, workouts and scrimmages with up to 10 players.”
The other key detail to emerge from that memo, according to Wojnarowski, is that “players must be tested every day for the coronavirus and return a negative test each time to be allowed to participate in offseason workouts at team facilities.”
In effect, the NBA doesn’t want anything resembling the Justin Turner situation that MLB had to deal with in the aftermath of the Dodgers' World Series victory. You test positive, you’re not going near your teammates.