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NBA schedule debate: Good and Bad of a pre-Christmas start to the season

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The NBA season ended just under a couple of weeks ago with doubt around when the 2020-21 year would begin. On Friday, ESPN reported that the league’s Board of Governors is following a pre-Christmas Day start. The move could mean that the break between the end of this 2019-20 season and the beginning of this 2020-21 game schedule would be approximately 10 weeks, about half the typical quantity of time.

Among other modifications being discussed: a regular season with over 82 games, not waiting for fans to be permitted in most league arenas, in addition to tournament and play-in scenarios. Our NBA pros weighed in with initial impressions of the proposition and what its effects might be, and what other changes they want to see.

1. What other tweaks or formats would you prefer to see that the NBA experiment with?

Pelton: Besides the play-in tournament, I think the playoff matches also showed the value of locking in draft standings at a certain point so teams do not have to worry about damaging their chances with a late run. That worked nicely this season since the bottom eight teams didn’t understand beforehand the season would end on March 11. Randomizing the date on which the standings freeze would make for a much better lottery system.

Marks: A heavy dose of conference games and enjoying East vs. West only 1 time. If the target is to get out of the bubble setting and back to the housing market of teams, the normal travel of a normal NBA season will have to be scaled back. I’m also in favor of playing a baseball-type program where a team like Philadelphia would play in Chicago on three out of four nights.

Woodyard: I would like to find the NBA experiment using a condensed schedule, maybe shortening the season between 56 and 62 games. That format will keep players clean and give fans a far better product because guys won’t need to worry so much about load direction.

Bontemps: I have long been a proponent of a midseason tournament of some sort, along the lines of that which occurs in European soccer and basketball. I understand this would take everybody from fans to groups to players time to buy into, but long term it could be a really good thing for the sport, as it would give groups another thing to shoot for. At a time in which finances are a problem, in addition, it would provide the Celtics something else to market.

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Goldsberry: I would love a purposeful single-elimination midseason tournament. Basketball is at its best when single games can make or break a team’s chances. That’s why March Madness could be so exciting. Imagine filling out the amount to get a leaguewide single-elimination tournament — which would be amazing. In addition, it’s time to eliminate conferences and put the best 16 teams in the playoffs, even though it means tweaking the program. I am in favor of a 58-game regular season in which you play every opponent double, a midseason winner-take-all tourney, and a straight-seeded playoff mount where conventions are immaterial.

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2. What would you change about the play-in scenario?

Bontemps: Having been at the bubble to the seeding matches, I believed the play-in game was a success. I would potentially have some curiosity about enlarging it to, say, teams 7-10 in every conference, but that would require more thought, as that would take several times to perform.

Marks: The restart games sold me about the play-in situation, something I was highly skeptical of. For a typical regular season (82 matches or shortened), I would like to find groups that are just two games behind in the standings qualified for a play-in game. Leaving the four-game benchmark we witnessed this summer could surely dilute the regular season.

Pelton: Compared to what we saw last season, I enjoy the concept of needing more than only the 8-seed up for grabs. I would keep the angle we watched at which challengers needed to be within a certain number of games to activate the play-in possibility.

Goldsberry: Single-elimination matches just. None of this 9-seed has to conquer 8-seed double stuff. Just make it easy.

Woodyard: The NBA playoff play-in situation proved to be a great concept, but it functioned for its bubble setting. If a team takes care of business during the regular season, it shouldn’t have to participate in a play-in for a place it has already made.


3.Who will be hurt most by that choice?

Goldsberry: A lot of people would groan about this, but as a former front-office man, I can’t imagine attempting to pull a draft, a free-agency span, and coaching camp between today and Christmas. Normally, the time between the play and summer league would be the most bizarre time of year to get front office — this season, it might be bonkers. When we race into a pre-Christmas beginning, front offices will likely be scrambling.

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Pelton: Teams that are looking to radically overhaul their rosters via trade this offseason may have to think twice about doing this with little time for their new lineups to practice together. An accelerated training camp also seems to work against players returning from serious injuries — most notably Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson.

Marks: The players. Agents are bracing for the possibility of up to 40 percent of the escrow being withheld by players, sources told ESPN. That cash would offset losses incurred with a scarcity of earnings coming in from home games. And from a health standpoint, 22 teams just suffered a grueling stretch of basketball, both physically and mentally. I’d think that players who completed the playoffs in September or October will not be happy that the training camp is now weeks rather than months away.

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Woodyard: Teams who made a deep playoff streak in the Orlando bubble, because it doesn’t allow much time for retrieval after competing on this high degree. The Lakers and Heat, in particular, would need to jump right into action after fighting for a name.

Bontemps: Free brokers, as they would all but have a slow beginning to this 2020-21 season because of their ongoing financial situations — particularly for gamers who aren’t signed instantly.

4. Who’d be helped most by this choice?

Bontemps: Teams that are keeping the status quo. In a world where there is so much uncertainty due to the pandemic, throwing in a truncated training camp and completely free agents coming in across the way will make trying to get the new season began a massive challenge for several teams. So collections that are likely to come back with minimal modifications — such as the Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets and Miami Heat — will probably be in a large advantage.

Pelton: Teams with persistence would likely benefit. When I studied the value of continuity last season, I discovered it didn’t normally seem to help teams start faster. That was different after the 2011 lockout when teams using high continuity played noticeably better within the first ten games when compared with the remainder of the season.

Marks: The teams not invited to Orlando (notably the Golden State Warriors). While the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets were fighting it out for a trip to the NBA Finals in late September and the LA Clippers were shooting head coach Doc Rivers in early October, the Warriors have been sitting back since mid-March. There’ll surely be a few bubble playoff fatigue that Western Conference teams will survive at the start of the season and Golden State should be prepared to capitalize.

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Woodyard: The NBA. It is a smart business move to play games whenever possible. Let’s not forget that the NBA is a business.

Goldsberry: People who like to watch basketball. We hope to see hoops all winter along with also the playoffs in the spring. A pre-Christmas start date sets us up nicely for a potential return to normalcy on the calendar.

5. What was the first reaction to the report the board of governors is contemplating moving up the year’s goal start date?

Kevin Pelton: I am surprised the league is believing that harshly given the timetable for the draft and NBA free agency, which likely can’t start any sooner than Nov. 23. Starting a month after before Christmas would imply abbreviated training camps like the post-lockout variations in 1999 and 2011.

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Bobby Marks: Not amazed. The aim of the NBA has been to avoid playing playoff basketball in September and October. In the event the team adopts a pre-Christmas start and plays with a 72-game year, then that goal could be done. Even when the typical 82-game schedule is performed, the regular season must end in mid-June together with the Finals ending in late August.

Kirk Goldsberry: Surprise. It seems everything is being pushed back or canceled these days, and most people I spoke to around the NBA had been expecting a start date between January and March, so to hear the news that it might start when December was a valid surprise.

Tim Bontemps: That this is going to be very tricky for the league to pull away. Free agency is anticipated to begin around Dec. 1 so there’s minimal time to turn things around without massive complications. Nevertheless, money talks. Avoiding competing with the NFL during the NBA playoffs and using this enormous Christmas Day audience will allow the NBA to make more money.

Eric Woodyard: Honestly, now in 2020, I wasn’t surprised. While I was anticipating the season to start close to Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Christmas is a prime date so it surely is reasonable. But with the quick turnaround, it is going to be interesting to see the reaction from players, who’d need to approve such a proposal.

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