Earlier this month, the NBA finalized plans to begin the 2020-21 season on Dec. 22, nearly a month earlier than expected. While there were clear financial incentives to do so, the move has created a frantic environment around the league, as everyone scrambles to get ready.
There will be only 34 days from the 2020 Draft until the start of the season, and less than two weeks between the first day of free agency and the first day of training camp. No one quite knows how condensing an entire offseason into the span of a few weeks is going to work, and it certainly doesn’t help that executives around the league are still in the dark about many key aspects.
Some have even claimed that they’re learning about the league’s plans via the media, and accused the league of making things up as they go along. Via ESPN:
“I’d love to be able to tell you something, but I don’t know anything,” one Western Conference executive told ESPN. “I find out everything from the media.”
“We know it’s hard, and they’re working on a lot of details,” one team president said. “They are listening to a lot of feedback from all of us. But at times we feel like we’re in the dark and that can get frustrating.”
Trying to plan a season in the middle of a pandemic is obviously extremely challenging, and it’s understandable that plans can change on the fly. Still, it’s a pretty bad look if executives are actually learning about how things are going to operate from the media rather than the league office.
In any case, the bigger point here is that this ESPN report into the day-to-day lives of front office personnel shows just how much of a challenge the early return is going to be for teams, both on and off the court. Front offices still aren’t entirely clear on all the protocols, and once things are in place they’ll be going straight from the draft into free agency. If they want to have a full roster in place by the time training camp starts, they really only have a few days to sign players.
This quote, in particular, reveals the possibility of a truly chaotic offseason. “Everything is happening last minute, in a short period of time,” an Eastern Conference executive said. “There’s not much time to think through things.”
As for the actual on-court product, the combination of a quick turnaround from last season, and a condensed offseason means it’s likely many teams will use the opening portion of the season as an extended training camp. As one coach said, “There’s going to be a lot of learning on the fly.”
Then, of course, there’s the fact that everyone, from team owners to the players, is trying to navigate a deadly pandemic. All told, it seems we’re in for the most fascinating season in recent memory. Hopefully, everyone will be able to stay safe and healthy along the way.