With the NBA’s owners proposing to start next season around Christmas, should the players view it as an early holiday present? Or would they like to return the gift?
"I don’t know what I think yet," Michele Roberts, the executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, told USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday. "We are in the throes of discussing it and in the throes of evaluating what it means in terms of the revenue-related issues that have been raised. Frankly, we’re also spending some time trying to get information on what this means in respect to player health."
Some of that information varies by team.
The NBA Finals ended on Oct. 11, leaving the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat with just over two months to recover before the proposed start of next season. But eight teams have not played since the NBA suspended the 2019-20 season on March 11 because of the coronavirus outbreak. After the NBA resumed at the quarantined campus near Orlando, six more teams ended their season by mid-August and another eight by late August.
"The only thing that brings all of those different experiences the players had together is to have sufficient notice on when camp can open," Roberts said. "There are guys that haven’t played since the suspension of play in March and they may have a different attitude or not. Frankly, I’ve spoken to players that did stop playing at or about that time, and they’re banging down the doors to get back to the practice facility."
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As for Lakers and Heat players who ended their season just over two weeks ago?
"I don’t know how much rest guys just left the bubble need before they restart," Roberts said. "I also don’t know how much runway everybody needs in order to get into camp. I need to have the players and those people that deal with the physiology of the professional athlete help me understand that."
NBPA executive director Michele Roberts (Photo: David Dow, Getty Images)
Why has the NBA proposed an earlier start date after Commissioner Adam Silver had said January was a more likely target? The NBA lost $1.5 billion last season because of lost ticket and merchandise revenue as well as the cost of resuming the season at a quarantined site, a person familiar with the details told USA TODAY Sports. The person was granted anonymity because they were unauthorized to discuss league issues publicly.
The NBA also withheld 25% of player salaries beginning in mid-May in case the season was canceled.
The league wants to play next season in home arenas so it has flexibility either to hold games in empty venues or with limited fans, depending on how the pandemic plays out in the next few months. The league also wanted to set itself up to start the 2021-22 season in October, both to return to its traditional schedule and give players time off in the summer.
But the most pressing items Roberts wants to resolve include clarity on the league’s salary cap and when free agency will start.
"We’re probably closer toward resolving that issue," Roberts said. "Frankly, that is something we can’t hold off for deciding too much longer."
The NBA plans to hold a virtual draft on Nov. 18 and hopes to have free agency start shortly afterwards since that happens about a week after the draft in typical offseasons. But it remains unclear how quickly the NBA will calculate its salary cap, which will be impacted by the lost revenue from the disrupted season. The salary cap determines the amount of money teams can spend on their payroll.
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