As the NBA Board of Governors prepares to vote Thursday on a proposal to restart the 2019-20 season, the bigger picture beyond this season is beginning to come into focus.
Thursday’s vote will center around a proposal that would see the regular season resume on July 31 in a controlled, fanless environment in Orlando, Florida, featuring a 22-team format that includes the current top 16 teams, plus the six teams within six games of the 8th seed in each conference, which would include the San Antonio Spurs. The vote will require a three-fourths passage from the 30 teams (or 23 “yays”), and it is expected that the Board will overwhelmingly support the proposal.
There will still be room for changes and negotiations to be made with the Players Association, but this will be the first major step towards the NBA returning from the Coronavirus pandemic. However, a new revelation ahead of the vote is the proposed date for Game 7 of the NBA Finals would be October 12, and the usual offseason activities such as the 2020 NBA Draft and free agency would subsequently follow in October. So far, the absolute earliest time mentioned for the start of the 2020-21 season is December.
When looking at the big picture, this places the end date of this season, draft and free agency after the start of football season (both college and the NFL), and perhaps most notably puts the NBA well into its own timeline of operations without much competition on key dates. Obviously, the process to get going again is very much “one step at a time”, but it begs the question how this will impact the NBA in future seasons beyond even 2020-21.
The NBA has discussed permanently shifting to a December starting date in the past, so is this the time to do that? It would also present an opportunity to completely reconfigure the regular season schedule, including lowering the number of or completely eliminating back-to-backs either via stretching out the regular season timeline or lowering the number of regular season games. (The current agreement only requires 70 regular season games for the NBA to fulfill its contract with TV networks.)
Another opportunity a complete restructuring of the NBA schedule presents is possible conference realignment, restructuring of playoff seeding, or even completely demolishing conferences to even the playing field throughout the league. If the opportunity was ever there to do that, this is it.
If the goal is to eventually get back to the usual time frame of beginning the season in October (therefore leaving the summer open for international competition), how would they go about it? Would they try to do it in one season, possibly by shortening the number of games next season to 70, let the playoffs run on a slightly later time frame (perhaps with the Finals in July), and get back to business-as-usual in fall of 2021?
All these questions are looking way ahead when the real goal here is to simply finish the current season, and technically none of these questions are even relevant until tomorrow’s vote, but if nothing else it’s interesting to speculate about.