The NBA is discussing a potential plan to begin the new season just before Christmas and playing a 72-game season that wraps up before the beginning of the 2021 Olympics, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.
The plan was presented to the Board of Governors on Friday and the NBA Players Association would need to sign off on any agreement. Other than the league calendar, issues also discussed include a play-in tournament similar to the one used in the Orlando bubble and how much money will go into an escrow account as the league and players (who split basketball related income close to 50-50) deal with the financial ramifications wrought by the pandemic.
There is also a sense that the league would prefer teams to play games in their own arenas instead of a central bubble or regional bubble pods. Other professional leagues have executed in-market play to varying success. The NBA’s locked down Orlando bubble produced zero positive COVID-19 cases, but was extremely expensive.
So what does all this mean for the Detroit Pistons?
If the first game was Dec. 22 as proposed, that means the Pistons would have gone 286 days between meaningful basketball games. That is more than 100 days longer than the gap between the team’s playoff loss in 2019 and its first game of the following season.
It also means that the team, and the rest of the league, has only eight weeks to prepare to step on the court and play competitive basketball again. Teams like the Lakers and the Heat just played their final game of the year a week ago, and they will have the problem of not getting adequate time to recover their bodies and minds after months spent in the bubble.
There is also the sense of if there would be any sort of preseason to shake the rust off, especially for the eight teams who did not get a chance to resume their seasons in the bubble at the end of July.
Nearly 300 days is a long time between playing another team. Typically, there is a five-game preseason lasting roughly two weeks, not to mention training camp. Last season, the first day of training camp was Oct. 2 — three weeks before the first game of the season.
If they followed the same timeline, just by way of comparison, would mean the Pistons open training camp on Dec. 1 — 39 days from now.
In that time, the league needs to finalize all the salary cap, vesting option and other info teams need so they know what room they have to maneuver to add via free agency and the draft.
The draft is scheduled for Nov. 18, which would be less than two weeks before the “opening” of a normal training camp and 34 days before the first game of the season.
The Pistons also have the minor issue of having just eight players under contract for next season — Blake Griffin, Tony Snell, Derrick Rose, Luke Kennard, Sekout Doumbouya, Bruce Brown, Svi Mykhailiuk and Khyri Thomas.
They could bring back Thon Maker, though that’s no sure thing, and hope to re-sign Christian Wood. They also have options on Justin Patton, Jordan Bone and Louis King, but it’s obvious, even as a rebuilding team, the Pistons will be adding a lot of fresh bodies this offseason.
Detroit is tentatively scheduled to be one of the few teams this offseason with significant cash on hand — up to $32 million but that might be adjusted once the league finally announces the salary cap. The Pistons and new GM Troy Weaver could shop for some impact players (Fred Van Vleet) or could look to use their cap space to take on an albatross contract in exchange for a draft pick (Taurean Prince from Brooklyn for the No. 19 pick being just one semi-realistic example).
This aggressive timeline doesn’t bode well for the league’s confidence in federal or local government coronavirus response. The league not too long ago was talking about being willing to delay the beginning of the season all the way into March if it meant being able to have arenas full of fans (and the revenue they generate).
Pushing aggressively for a Dec. 22 start means the league sees little hope in fans attending games and simply wants to muddle through the next full season with an eye toward the 2021-22 season starting on time in October with full arenas and a sense of normalcy.