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Moore: NBA Executives Concerned Over Rapid Start to 2020-21 Season

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Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images. Pictured: A general view of the NBA logo.

Everyone in the NBA knows and understands the extraordinary circumstances involving this upcoming season. Everyone is on board that it’s going to be difficult and everyone’s going to have to figure out the new normal on the fly, as the rest of the United States is, and as the NBA did in the Orlando bubble.

That being said, league executives are being pretty straightforward with how they think the upcoming NBA 2020-21 season is going to go.

“It’s going to be a bit of a s**t show. That’s just how things are now,” one executive told Action Network this week.

From the cap ramifications and the lack of planning on future offseasons to the rush of starting a new season, there isn’t a sense of excitement or anticipation about the NBA’s future, but the understanding that things are going to be tough for the unforeseeable future.

The Start of the 2020-21 Season

When the season ended, there were various projections on when the next season would begin. March was a more common refrain spoken than reports closer to the start of the year. That all turned in the month of October.

Corporate partners made clear to the league several factors, including various deadlines and thresholds for games played and capitalizing on Christmas exposure, along with a direct mandate to finish before the Olympics begin, for some reason.

“Who cares about the Olympics?” one executive asked. “Yes, it’s a big event, if it happens, but trying to cram all this in to avoid it seems like making 10 problems in an effort to solve one.”

However, the league appears resolute in the financial differences in starting on Christmas or in January.

The reported difference in starting at or around Christmas instead of January is estimated to be nearly $500 million, according to Tim Reynolds of the AP.

This is why every executive polled on the matter said they expect a December start, despite pushback last week from the NBPA towards a January start.

“Like it is with everything, there’s the top-end guys who can afford to make those decisions and the majority of guys who can’t,” one league source familiar with talks commented.

Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured (R-L): Los Angeles Lakers LeBron James and his agent Rich Paul of Klutch Sports.

Players like LeBron James, who has been most vocal about not attempting to start with roughly 45 days of an offseason, can afford to take a financial hit of a few million.

But players who might see their salaries go down from $7 million to $5 million likely won’t feel the same and will get in line with an earlier start to preserve their paychecks. That’s the expectation, anyway.

The differential in available BRI and cap space this offseason will be made up from taking up to 40% from the players’ escrow.

This season won’t be remarkably different, is the expectation, in terms of the cap. The question is what happens going forward.

The Uncertain Future

Two league sources cited frustration with a lack of plausible scenarios from the league about what a future offseason might look like. Given the constantly changing and uncertain forecasts regarding not only COVID-19 in the United States, but, well, pretty much everything in American life, the league understandably hasn’t been able to fill in the gaps.

But the result is teams being uncertain about re-signing players to contracts that might not be tenable going forward.

“You don’t want to be the guy giving out massive deals this summer because you have no idea what the impact is going to be in future years, alongside what you’re already committed to,” a league source said.

Other executives expressed concern over possible changes to the CBA structure that might alleviate the luxury tax.

The NBA already operates on two different frequencies, with the haves and have-to-stick-to-a-budget. It’s not that the big market owners are unwilling to take losses to win, they just aren’t presented with having to choose. The possibility of the teams that will already be operating with financial advantages having lesser or no penalties for spending causes anxiety in the smaller markets, be it this season or upcoming seasons.

Meanwhile, with a truncated season regular season on the horizon after a shortened offseason and no sense of what potential disruptions may lie ahead due to the pandemic, there’s not great optimism that this season will carry with it the same energy and high level of play that we saw in the bubble.

The risk of injury will be high not only for players with a shortened offseason, but for those with long layoffs as well. The schedule will be condensed. Meanwhile, the games continue in a still long, drawn-out season. This is all against a background of social events never before experienced in the history of the country let alone the league.

So, yes, there’s some uncertainty as to how this is going to go.

But there will be basketball, and for that, every source queried was grateful, no matter when or how it comes to tip off.

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