Sources: NBA eyes pre-Xmas start, 72 games

The NBA is pursuing a pre-Christmas Day start and a reduced regular-season schedule for the 2020-2021 season, abandoning plans to delay the opening with hopes of incorporating fans back into arenas, sources told ESPN.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the NBA is proposing several changes to next season that includes a 72-game regular season, a play-in tournament and the likelihood of no All-Star Game or All-Star Weekend in Indianapolis, sources said. The league is considering a two-week break at the midway point of the season, sources said.

The NBA shared these plans in a call with the league’s board of governors on Friday afternoon, and the league plans to move quickly to complete negotiations with the National Basketball Players Association to implement the plan, sources said.

The reduction in regular-season games — which would help accommodate a play-in tournament format for both conferences — allows the NBA to finish the season prior to the Summer Olympics in Japan.

A pre-Christmas start also allows the NBA’s television partners — ESPN and Turner — to further realize the value of broadcast partnerships.

As the coronavirus continues to rage largely unchecked across the country. the NBA strongly prefers to stay out of a bubble format and continues discussing travel and game schedules that would keep teams longer and playing multiple games in marketplaces, similar to Major League Baseball series, sources said.

Two-thirds of the league’s local jurisdictions aren’t currently allowing for public gatherings of more than 500 people, and ominous public health projections for the trajectory of the virus’ spread have limited the league’s hope of safely returning fans to arenas in the next few months, sources said.

Around the league, there’s support to be playing again by Christmas, but a realization that it’s going to become a chaotic challenge coming out of a Nov. 18 draft, free agency and training camps that would need to be open shortly after Thanksgiving. Without a bubble environment, the NBA will be facing positive coronavirus tests for players and staff.

Oct. 30 is setting up to be a key date. The NBA and NBPA agreed that day would be the deadline to complete ongoing discussions on modifications to the collective bargaining agreement for the 2020-21 season, a deadline date that requires the league or union to provide 45 days notice if either decides to terminate the CBA — a scenario that sources continue to believe is a remote possibility.

It would also mark roughly eight weeks until Christmas week. Silver has told the union that there would be at least eight weeks between an agreement and the formal start of next season.

The loss of fan revenue on game nights — which commissioner Adam Silver says is 40% of the league’s revenues — is causing the NBA and NBPA to make significant financial allowances in salary caps and player escrows.

Talks between the NBA and union have been productive on making the necessary financial allowances on 2020-2021 salary-cap and luxury-tax thresholds to account for the massive losses in revenues from the pandemic, sources said.

Ongoing talks are centering on increased escrow taken from players’ salaries, sources said. The league and union are still awaiting full audits on the Basketball Related Income that accounts for the league’s 51-49 revenue split with players.

The NBA and NBPA are working on resetting the 2020-21 salary-cap and luxury-tax numbers based upon those audits and financial projections for the next year. This allows for teams, agents and players to have more time to prepare for the financial realities of the pandemic’s impact on the league. As the NBA draft approaches on Nov. 18 — and free agency expected to start soon after — teams are anxious for the league to reach an agreement with the union and deliver them more certainty on the cap and tax bills.

ESPN’s Zach Lowe and Tim MacMahon contributed to this report.

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