After spanning almost exactly a year, the 2019-20 NBA season is no more than four games from ending, and then possibly the most hectic offseason in league history will begin. The NBA Draft is set for November 18, and beyond that the league needs to decide when, where and how to start the 2021 NBA season.
The “where” part is the easiest to answer as it will likely be back in home arenas. “How” remains elusive in terms of whether it will be in front of fans or not, but “when” is most difficult to answer at this point. Playoff teams need time to recuperate, and yet eight teams haven’t played since March while another six, including the Spurs, have only played eight games since then.
If one thing is all-but-certain at this point, it appears the new season will not start until 2021, likely January. Christmas has been listed as the earliest possible date but continues to be considered a stretch. The possibility of the season not starting until next year while the league remains committed to an 82-game season has raised questions about the Tokyo Olympics, which was moved from 2020 to July 2021 due to COVID-19.
Would the league take a summer pause to allow players who want to represent their countries the chance do so? Would they allow players to take leave for the Olympics? Many questions remain, but NBA Commissioner Adam Silver recently said the former is unlikely due to the impracticalities.
“We’ll consider it. I think it’s unlikely, at the end of the day, that, if we start late, we would stop for the Olympics,” Silver said in an interview with NBA TV inside the league’s bubble at Walt Disney World Resort. “Because, as you know, it’s not just a function of stopping for the period in which they are competing over in Tokyo. But they require training camp, and then they require rest afterwards.”
For the reasons listed by Silver, it’s understandable why an extensive pause for the Olympics would be impractical, but what does that mean for the tournament itself? Most international teams have at least some NBA representation, and then there’s the United States, which not only features entirely NBA players, but Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich as well. He has been waiting for this moment basically his entire professional career, already had it delayed another year by the pandemic, and now he may miss these Olympics entirely.
His other option, if the league allowed it, would be to take leave from the Spurs while coaching what could possibly be an unfamiliar group of college and overseas players in Tokyo while leaving an assistant coach as interim head coach in his absence, but that opens a whole new can of worms like contractual obligations. (Is he is allowed to be coaching another team of any sort during the NBA season?)
Silver recognizes the complications the NBA season overlapping with the Olympics brings for all sides and how many people it impacts, but there really isn’t anything he can realistically do about it. His obligation is to the NBA alone, so time will tell how this all works out.
“There are so many incredible players, beginning with the USA team, we’ll be able to field a very competitive team. I am a bit worried about some of the international teams, because, as you know, some of their stars play in our league, and their absence would make a huge difference for those national teams.
“Having said that, I’d only say these are such extraordinary circumstances that, even if we set out to plan for the Olympics, how can they even know what the world is going to be like next summer and whether they can go forward? So I think during these extraordinary times, all the conventional rules are off the table, and everybody is going to have to make certain accommodations.”