Against the backdrop of a global pandemic, NBA owners and executives are bracing for the possibility of mid-to-late June as a best-case scenario for the league’s return, sources told ESPN on Sunday.
Fears exist of a season completely lost, especially based on what some experts see as the slow response of the United States to flatten the curve of the coronavirus and make testing available on a widespread basis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a recommendation on Sunday night that no events or gatherings should include more than 50 people for the next eight weeks.
The league office has given teams no guidance yet on a timeline for a resumption of play, but organizations themselves are preparing for the possibility of a long hiatus based upon the facts surrounding the coronavirus outbreak.
The NBA moved from the idea of games without fans in the arenas to suspending the season indefinitely within minutes of Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert testing positive for the coronavirus on Wednesday.
“Our world has changed since Wednesday’s [board of governors] call,” one team president told ESPN. “The reality isn’t lost on anyone right now.”
NBA owners are awaiting the league’s financial projections on lost revenues, which are expected to be shared with them soon, sources said. J.B. Lockhart, the NBA’s chief financial officer, has been leading the effort to deliver owners what all expect to be challenging financial projections on a short-term future that is thick with uncertainty and volatility.
The NBA likely will provide projections on three primary scenarios: the financial costs of shutting down the season, restarting with no fans in the arena, or playing playoff games with fans. Those losses will be reflected in next season’s salary cap and the players’ share of basketball-related income.
For now, there’s a working plan that games would return without fans, and teams have been told to search out arena dates well into August for the playoffs, sources said. Teams have been directed to give the league office potential dates at smaller nearby game venues, including team practice facilities, that could spare the use of empty, cavernous arenas and possibly provide backdrops to unique television viewing lines.
Organizations must evaluate the short- and long-term implications of this season’s stoppage, including future sponsorships and ticket renewals. Many owners are feeling the sting of not only the loss of NBA games, but the loss of concert dates and other events in darkened arenas.
Through it all, NBA commissioner Adam Silver is encouraging his league to be open to experimental ideas in every area — scheduling format, venues, television — on how to respond to an unprecedented crisis.
While there is growing concern about what’s coming and the health of American society, there remains some optimism that the season can be resumed. Mostly, there is uncertainty because no one — not owners, not Silver — can be certain based on the unfolding of the coronavirus impact and how dramatically the escalation of the crisis will impact the league’s ability to resume.