Atlanta Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk said Tuesday morning that the NBA has told the league’s general managers that the 2020-21 NBA schedule could be condensed in order to allow the league to remain as close as possible to its current schedule format.
“Because of this circumstance, I think the league wants to stay as close to its original schedule as possible,” Schlenk said on a conference call with reporters. Atlanta’s season was ended last week when the league approved a plan for 22 of the 30 teams to go to Orlando to resume play next month. “There’s a lot of different reasons for that — the college season, the draft and how all of that plays out. So that’s why they’ve laid out a timeline where it would be a very quick turnaround from the NBA Finals to the start of the season.
“If you’re going from the middle of October to starting the season [on] the 1st of December, if you are one of the teams in the Finals, that’s quick,” Schlenk said. “But they want to try to stay as close to the historical timing as possible. So I don’t think this is something you’ll see stick. They’ve talked to us on one of our GM calls that it might be a condensed schedule next year. More so than in the past. As you know, there’s been a big drive to avoid back-to-backs and certainly four in five nights, but we might find ourselves in a situation next year where it would be much more condensed.”
The NBA has set a tentative timeline of opening training camp on Nov. 10, and starting next season on Dec. 1 — both of which were unexpected, said Michele Roberts, the executive director of the National Basketball Players Association.
“I was surprised by it,” Roberts told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski last week.
The potential Dec. 1 start date is less than two months after the potential final day of the NBA Finals — Oct. 12 — making for an extraordinarily short offseason. Starting that quickly, however, would at least give the NBA the possibility of finishing its regular season and playoffs before the Olympics in Tokyo, which have been postponed until next summer.
The Olympics are a huge television draw, and the NBA wouldn’t want the final rounds of the league’s playoffs — its showcase event — to conflict with them. There’s also the fact that the NBA had 108 international players on its rosters at the start of this season — with many of them in contention to represent their countries in the Olympics, on top of Team USA being composed of NBA talent.
If the NBA uses the same 177-day time frame to play out the regular season that it did this year, beginning on Dec. 1, the final day of the regular season would take place on Wednesday, May 26. If the playoffs started the following Saturday, May 29, and went the same 65 days that this year’s playoffs were scheduled to, they would potentially end on Sunday, Aug. 1 — more than a week after the scheduled July 23 start date of the Olympics.
In recent seasons, the NBA has made a concerted effort to move away from back-to-backs, and beginning with the 2017-18 season completely eliminated four-game-in-five-night sets from its schedule. While the league has absolutely no intention of reintroducing four-in-fives, there would have to be an increase in back-to-backs in order to fit in the season before the Olympics — even if it does ultimately wind up condensing its schedule.
At this point, however, nothing has been agreed to. For the league to start the season on Dec. 1, it would need to be signed off on by the NBPA, which hasn’t happened yet, sources said. Both sides remain focused on the myriad issues left to be resolved before the league can begin play at Walt Disney World next month.
The idea of shifting the NBA calendar from its current, long-standing schedule of beginning the regular season in October and ending its playoffs in June to going from December until August — and, by extension, avoiding conflicting with the NFL as much as possible — has been something that Hawks CEO Steve Koonin has publicly pushed for, including on a panel at February’s Sloan Sports Analytics Conference that was moderated by ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz.
Koonin’s argument is that it would be better for the NBA to compete against only Major League Baseball for relevancy in the summer, as opposed to spending the first few months of its season fighting with the NFL regular season and playoffs for relevance.
“A big piece is you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to enhance ratings,” Koonin said. “Sometimes, moving away from competition is a great way to grow ratings.
“If King Kong is at your door, you might go out the back door, rather than go out the front and engage in a hand-to-hand fight with King Kong. Many times, at the start of the NBA season, we are competing with arguably the best Thursday Night Football game with the NBA on TNT, our marquee broadcast, and we get crushed and we wonder why.
“It’s because at the beginning of the season, there’s very little relevance for the NBA. The relevance is now. That’s when people are talking about it.”