This is all somewhat tentative, but the NBA reportedly has a plan for the 2020-21 season.
The Athletic reports that the league plans on starting the 2020-21 season around Christmas, and is focused on a 72-game schedule that will conclude before the Olympics.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) October 23, 2020
December 22nd is a Tuesday, which would nicely lead into the league’s traditional Christmas Day showcase on Friday.
The typical break between NBA seasons is four months. The last game of the 2019 Finals was June 13th, and the first game of the 2019-20 regular season was October 22nd. Under this plan, the break between the end of the 2020 Finals and the start of the 2020-21 season would be cut to ten weeks.
As for ending by the Olympics, that puts the end date sometime before July 24th, when the basketball competition in Tokyo is scheduled to begin. Given the time needed to organize the team and coordinate practices and travel, that would likely put the 2021 NBA Finals sometime in June, much closer to the standard time on the calendar.
How the league sets up its schedule will be the real interesting thing, though. With the mid-October start to the season, teams typically end up playing somewhere between 30 and 35 games before Christmas each year. If ten games are chopped off of the schedule, that still leaves 20-25 games or so to be wedged into the existing schedule. Eliminating the All-Star Game and break could allow for maybe three games or four games per team. But in order to get the season done by the Olympics as expected, off days throughout the season would need to be eliminated (and let’s be honest – there are plenty of off days throughout the playoffs that can be cut).
The NBA also wants to continue the play-in tournament for the eighth seed, which could throw yet another wrench into scheduling. Additionally, it doesn’t seem likely that we’ll be seeing the league play in bubbles this season, instead playing games at each team’s arena as is standard in a normal season.
As for the creation of the schedule itself, that’s still up in there air. To cut down on travel, I suppose it would make sense to eliminate games against the opposite conference, allowing teams to play their own division eight times each (32 games) and the two other divisions in the conference four times each (40 games) and getting us to that mark of 72 pretty easily. But I’m no expert on the league, and I’m sure it’ll be more complicated than that.
We often discussed the fact that the pandemic’s fallout would affect sports far past their current seasons. The NBA (and NHL, for that matter) will start their next season later than usual with a shorter break between seasons. If the 2020-21 season can be wrapped up somewhere near the usual time (June, as opposed to September or October), the 2021-22 season could take things back to normal. For those sports whose seasons were dramatically hit by the pandemic in the spring and summer, full normalcy probably won’t return until 2022, and even then, a whole lot can happen between today and whenever they plan on starting their next season.