The NBA season ended just under two weeks ago with uncertainty around when the 2020-21 season would begin. On Friday, ESPN reported that the league’s Board of Governors is discussing starting the season as soon as Christmas Day. The move would mean that the end of the 2019-20 season and schedule for games for the 2020-21 season would be just over 10 weeks, about half the typical amount of time.
Among other changes being discussed: a regular season with fewer than 82 games, not waiting for fans to be permitted in all league arenas, as well as tournament and play-in scenarios.
Our NBA experts weighed in with first impressions of the proposal and what its effects could be, as well as what other changes they’d like to see.
1. What was your first reaction to the report that the Board of Governors is considering moving up the season’s target start date?
Kevin Pelton: I’m surprised the league is thinking that aggressively given the timetable for the draft and NBA free agency, which probably can’t start any earlier than Nov. 23. Starting barely a month later on Christmas would mean abbreviated training camps similar to the post-lockout versions in 1999 and 2011.
Bobby Marks: Not surprised. The goal for the NBA has been to avoid playing playoff basketball in September and October. If the league adopts a Christmas Day start and plays a 72-game season, that goal would be accomplished. Even if the standard 82-game schedule is played, the regular season should end in mid-June with the Finals ending in late August.
Kirk Goldsberry: Surprise. It seems everything is either 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 we might start as soon as December was a legit surprise.
Tim Bontemps: That this is going to be very difficult for the league to pull off. Free agency is expected to begin around Dec. 1 so there is little time to turn things around without massive complications. That said, money talks. Avoiding competing with the NFL during the NBA playoffs and taking advantage of the massive Christmas Day audience will allow the NBA to make more money.
Eric Woodyard: Honestly, at this point in 2020, I wasn’t surprised. While I was expecting the season to start close to Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Christmas is a prime date so it certainly makes sense. But with the quick turnaround, it will be interesting to see the reaction from players, who would have to approve any such proposal.
2. Who would be helped most by that decision?
Bontemps: Teams that are keeping the status quo. In a world where there already is so much uncertainty because of the pandemic, throwing in a truncated training camp and free agents coming in along the way will make trying to get the new season started a huge challenge for many teams. So for groups that are likely to return with minimal changes — such as the Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets and Miami Heat — will be at a big advantage.
Pelton: Teams with continuity would likely benefit. When I studied the value of continuity last season, I found it didn’t generally seem to help teams start faster. That was different after the 2011 lockout, when teams with high continuity played noticeably better over the first 10 games compared to the rest of the season.
Marks: The teams not invited to Orlando (especially the Golden State Warriors). While the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets were battling it out for a trip to the NBA Finals in late September and the LA Clippers were firing head coach Doc Rivers in early October, the Warriors have been sitting back since mid-March. There will certainly be some bubble playoff fatigue that Western Conference teams will endure at the start of the season and Golden State should be ready to capitalize.
Woodyard: The NBA. It’s a smart business move to play games as soon as possible. Let’s not forget that the NBA is a business.
Goldsberry: People who love to watch basketball. We expect to see hoops all winter and the playoffs in the spring. A Christmas Day start date sets us up nicely for a potential return to normalcy on the calendar.
3. Who would be hurt most by that decision?
Goldsberry: A lot of folks would groan about this, but as a former front office guy, I can’t imagine trying to pull off a draft, a free agency period and training camp between now and Christmas. Normally, the time between the playoffs and summer league is the wildest time of year for a front office — this year, it could be bonkers. If we race into a Christmas start date, front offices will be scrambling.
Pelton: Teams that want to dramatically overhaul their rosters via trade this offseason might have to think twice about doing that 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% of the escrow being withheld from players, sources told ESPN. That money would offset losses incurred with a lack of revenue coming in from home games. And from a health standpoint, 22 teams just endured a grueling stretch of basketball, both physically and mentally. I would think that players who finished the playoffs in September or October will not be happy that training camp is now weeks instead of months away.
Woodyard: Teams who made a deep playoff run in the Orlando bubble, because it doesn’t allow much time for recovery after competing on such a high level. The Lakers and Heat, in particular, would have to jump right back into action after fighting for a title.
Bontemps: Free agents, as they would all but certainly have a slow start to the 2020-21 season because of their ongoing contractual situations — particularly for players who aren’t signed immediately.
4. What would you change about the play-in scenario?
Bontemps: Having been in the bubble for the seeding games, I thought the play-in game was a success. I’d potentially have some interest in expanding it to, say, teams 7-10 in each conference, but that would require more thought, as that would take several days to play out.
Marks: The restart games sold me on the play-in scenario, something that I was highly skeptical of. For a normal regular season (82 games or shortened), I would like to see teams that are two games back in the standings eligible for a play-in game. Leaving the four-game benchmark that we witnessed this summer would certainly dilute the regular season.
Pelton: Compared to what we saw last season, I like the idea of having more than just the 8-seed up for grabs. I would maintain the angle we saw where challengers had to be within a certain number of games to trigger the play-in possibility.
Goldsberry: Single-elimination games only. None of this 9-seed has to beat 8-seed twice stuff. Just make it simple.
Woodyard: The NBA playoff play-in scenario was a great idea but it worked for the bubble setting. If a team takes care of business during the regular season, they shouldn’t have to participate in a play-in for a spot they’ve already earned.
5. What other formats or tweaks would you like to see the NBA experiment with?
Pelton: Besides the play-in tournament, I think the seeding games also showed the value of locking in draft standings at a certain point so teams don’t have to worry about hurting their chances with a late run. That worked well this season because the bottom eight teams didn’t know beforehand the season would end on March 11. Randomizing the date on which the standings freeze would make for a better lottery system.
Marks: A heavy dose of conference games and only playing East vs. West one time. If the goal is to get out of the bubble setting and back into the home market of teams, the normal travel of a typical NBA season will need to be scaled back. I am also in favor of playing a baseball-type schedule where a team like Philadelphia would play in Chicago on three out of four nights.
Woodyard: I would like to see the NBA experiment with a condensed schedule, possibly shortening the season between 56-62 games. That format would keep players fresh and give fans a much better product because guys won’t have to worry so much about load management.
Bontemps: I’ve long been a proponent of a midseason tournament of some kind, along the lines of what takes place in European soccer and basketball. I know this would take everyone from fans to teams to players time to buy into, but long term it could be a really good thing for the sport, as it would give teams another thing to shoot for. In a time where finances are an issue, it would also give the league something else to sell.
Goldsberry: I would love a meaningful 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 can be so exciting. Imagine filling out a bracket for a league-wide single elimination tournament — that would be awesome. In addition, it’s time to eliminate conferences and put the best 16 teams in the playoffs, even if it means tweaking the schedule. I’m in favor of a 58-game regular season where you play every opponent twice, a midseason winner take-all tourney and a straight-seeded playoff bracket where conferences are irrelevant.
Sources — Houston Rockets, Washington Wizards agree to Russell Westbrook-John Wall deal
The pick is a 2023 first-rounder protected 1-14, sources said. If it doesn’t convey to Houston, it converts to a 2024 pick protected 1-12, then 2025 protected 1-10 and 2026 protected 1-8. At that point, if it still hasn’t conveyed, Houston will get a second-round pick in 2026 and 2027.
Westbrook, as well as fellow Rockets star James Harden, had expressed concern about the direction of the Houston franchise in the wake of the departures of coach Mike D’Antoni and general manager Daryl Morey, sources previously told ESPN.
The Rockets and Wizards had previously discussed a Westbrook-for-Wall deal, but Houston wanted assets in addition to Wall, a source said at the time, which it will get with the first-round pick.
Wall, who is coming off a ruptured Achilles tendon, has not played since Dec. 26, 2018, but Wizards GM Tommy Sheppard said last week that the former All-Star had his quickness back and an improved 3-point shot.
The move will reunite Westbrook with Wizards coach Scott Brooks after the two were together in Oklahoma City from 2008-09 to 2014-15.
LA Clippers’ Paul George says lack of adjustments hurt team in playoffs
Appearing on the “All The Smoke” podcast with Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes, a candid George talked about the Clippers’ failure to do anything to stop the bleeding once Denver began its comeback, saying they were “having the same s— happen over and over again.”
As Doc Rivers oversaw a blown 3-1 series lead for the second time during his Clippers tenure, George said the team was not prepared enough. He also said that a lack of practice time due to injuries and circumstances during the season also exacerbated the collapse as players were forced to try to iron out issues on the court during playoff games.
“It was tough because we were confident,” George told Jackson and Barnes when asked about the Clippers’ collapse. “We went up 3-1, we felt like, we’re going to win the next one. We lost. We [were] like cool, we’re up 3-2, we gonna win the next one. We lost. But during that whole process, we never worked on adjustments. We never worked on what to do differently. We just literally having the same s— happen over and over again. It started to play a trick on you like man, what’s going on?
“We are talking amongst each other like the conversation is, we are going to be all right. The conversation should have been like, nah, we need to change this, we need to switch this up. I don’t think we deserved it. We wasn’t prepared enough going into it. … We didn’t put the work into it. It was kind of just like, yo, we got PG, we got Kawhi [Leonard], Lou [Williams], Trezz (Montrezl Harrell). We going to be straight, we are going to figure it out.”
The Clippers lost three straight games to the Nuggets, falling short of the championship expectations they entered the season with. That led to the team parting ways with Rivers, who couldn’t get the Clippers on the same page during a season full of injuries, little practice time and constant disruptions.
George, who missed the first 11 games of the regular season before returning and averaging 21.5 points and 5.7 rebounds, said his first season with the Clippers got off to a difficult start because of his inability to train like he normally does during the summer of 2019 and inability to participate in training camp with his new team after shoulder surgeries.
“I missed that time in the summer of playing pickup ball, hooping, getting into a rhythm, getting into a flow, working on my game, the timing right,” he said. “So when I came back and started playing again, I just felt off, like I didn’t feel like a part of the team.
George also said that head coach Doc Rivers didn’t play to his strengths, saying he was utilized “like a Ray Allen or like a JJ Redick — all pindowns.”
“I can do it. But that ain’t my game,” he said. “I need some flow. I need some mixes of pick and rolls, I need some post-ups. Just different touches. … And so, it was just, that last season was just hard overall.”
The Clippers are banking on Ty Lue, who replaces Rivers and moves up from his lead assistant position last season, to improve the team’s in-game strategy and chemistry among Leonard, George and the Clippers’ role players. Lue said a major difference this season that should help the chemistry is having Leonard and George healthy and participating in training camp.
“Just as far as me talking to Kawhi, he is excited to get back on the court,” Lue said on Wednesday. “When you are dealing with great players, when you lose early on in the playoffs, you are always eager to get back. That is what great players do. We all failed at our goal last season and we all know that.
“Kawhi has done a great job of taking [initiative] to get guys on the phone, talking to guys, seeing guys more,” Lue added. “He has done a great job of that. He is excited to get back on the floor just from talking to him and we are all excited as well.”
Lue is no stranger to dealing with superstars and trying to hold them accountable. He won two championships as a player alongside Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal and another title as a coach while guiding LeBron James in Cleveland.
Lue and George have said the Clippers need a lot more time together on the floor in practices. George said that was a major reason why the Clippers were often not on the same page and could be seen barking at one another at times during the playoffs.
“I relate it to we didn’t practice during the whole year, and that is hard to do when you are putting a fresh new group of guys together,” George said. “The problems you have during games, those s— can be ironed out in practice. You are going to bump heads in practice, but you are going to come out of that practice like, OK I understand this dude, I know where he is coming from. When it happened during games, it is going to rub a little differently.
“It is hard to come back from that, especially in the playoffs. Then you are like, OK, that is what he’s on. So all right, I got you. That is kind of how the team, that is how we was and how we went about it after stuff started unfolding and unraveling.”
The Clippers return to camp this week a different team with Rivers gone to Philadelphia, Harrell signing with the Lakers and JaMychal Green joining the Nuggets. They added Serge Ibaka and Luke Kennard via free agency and trade.
George says this season will get off to a different start just because he and Leonard will be healthier and can work with the entire team.
“I think for this year, everybody is starting off on a healthy page, we are starting off on the same page,” George said. “Me and Kawhi are going to get some time together working out. I think everything is just not rushed going into the season.”
NBA says 48 positive for COVID-19 in initial reentry testing
The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association jointly announced Wednesday night that there were 48 positive tests for COVID-19 out of the 546 players tested from Nov. 24 to Nov. 30.
This was the initial round of tests for players as they returned to their teams’ markets ahead of the start of individual workouts Tuesday. The regular season is scheduled to start Dec. 22.
The NBA will be testing all of its players daily throughout the season.
While the league’s positive test rate of 8.8% in its initial testing is lower than the national average of 10.2% over the same time frame, it also is significantly higher than the 5.3% rate (16 out of 302) during the same return-to-market period in late June before play at the bubble in Orlando, Florida.
In total, 46 players tested positive for the coronavirus in the weeks leading up to and upon initially arriving at the bubble. After the bubble was formed, the league had no positive tests through the end of the season in mid-October.
As for this season, one team, the Golden State Warriors, delayed the beginning of its individual workouts by a day this week because of positive tests.
As the league detailed in its 139-page health and safety protocols released to teams over the weekend, a player will have to refrain from workouts for 10 days if he tests positive and remains asymptomatic — or 10 days from the end of his symptoms, if he has any. After that, a player will then have to spend two days working out individually, as well as have to pass a cardiac screening, before being allowed to resume full team activities.
That would make it a minimum 12 days from the time a player tested positive until he was able to resume full participation with teammates.
The NBA’s first preseason games are Dec. 11 — or fewer than 12 days from the end of the first testing window.
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