When the NBA Finals ended in the middle of October, there was a significant amount of doubt about when the next season would take place. Given fears over the coronavirus pandemic and a league-wide desire to get fans back into arenas, some expected delays until March or April before we’d see professional basketball again. But as the idea of getting fans back in buildings has grown less and less likely, the NBA has seemingly reversed course.
Reports last week suggested that the league views Dec. 22 as its preferred opening night. And if that turns out to be true, it would condense the offseason schedule quite a bit, because according to Marc Stein of The New York Times, Dec. 1 has emerged as the likeliest date for the beginning of training camps.
This would theoretically raise a number of concerns. Teams that made deep runs in the playoffs would have a significantly shorter offseason than they normally would. For the Lakers and Heat, it would be roughly half as long as they’d typically expect. But it would also force the bulk of the offseason’s player movement to fit into a very short span. The NBA Draft is scheduled for Nov. 18. Previous reports had suggested that Dec. 1 was the expected date for the opening of free agency, but if the plan is to start training camp by then, free agency would have to be crammed into that brief period after the draft.
Teams will lose meaningful planning time on this schedule, but players will face the brunt of the impact here. Free agency will move so quickly that players might be pressured to accept one of the first offers they receive or risk being left on the outside looking in. Normally, some minimum-salary free agents have to wait weeks into July or even August to get deals. On this timeline, waiting that long would cost them training camp with their new teams.
Nothing is final yet. The Player’s Association has not committed to this schedule, and negotiations over other crucial matters such as the salary cap and how many games will be played are still ongoing. But the more that leaks out of those negotiations, the more the NBA’s agenda becomes clear: The league wants to get started as quickly as humanly possible.