With the Los Angeles Lakers officially crowned champions of the strange and unique 2019-20 NBA season, the league must now shift its focus to next season, where even more questions arise about what it's going to look like. The NBA pulled off the unthinkable by creating a COVID-19-free bubble down in Orlando to safely complete the remainder of the season, and now it will have to once again find a way to keep everyone safe throughout the upcoming season.
The only thing we know for sure is when the 2020 NBA Draft (Nov. 18) will be taking place, but beyond that, everything is still up in the air. It's also known the league prefers to play games in market as opposed to a bubble environment it just went through down in Orlando. But again, that isn't a certainty. However, with so many questions that exist about next season, we've tried to answer some of the main ones with all the latest information. We will update this regularly as more information becomes available.
When does free agency start?
Before the NBA can tip off next season, it first must figure out some offseason logistics, chief among them is when free agency starts. Even more important: What will the salary cap for each team look like heading into the upcoming season? There's a lot of uncertainty surrounding next season's cap projections, which are currently set at $115 million. There have been reports saying that there isn't going to be a sizable drop next season, while others have said that next season's cap could be similar to the 2019-20 season, which was set at $109 million. If that's the case, then teams would be losing roughly $6 million. However, NBPA executive director Michele Roberts recently said that she doesn't think there can be much deviation from the current $115 million projection. Bottom line, though, is that everything is still rather murky surrounding the salary cap, and whatever that number is set at will impact teams spending on free agents.
Regardless, the salary cap will need to be determined ahead of free agency, so franchises know how much money they're working with. That could be figured out sometime in early-to-mid November, according to The Athletic's John Hollinger, while free agency could start sometime after that, but ideally no later than Dec. 1, per Roberts. This would give teams enough time to familiarize themselves with their new financial numbers, and work out which players they want to target when free agency opens.
When is the NBA Draft?
One of the few dates solidified is the NBA Draft, which is slated for Nov. 18. The process leading up to the draft has already been significantly altered due to the pandemic, but the league has tried as best as possible to give teams enough information to evaluate prospects. Instead of the usual draft combine that is held in Chicago every May, where prospects would go through medical, skill and agility testing, the league had 85 prospects travel to their nearest NBA market to go through those tests, but no team personnel were allowed. The league then distributed all the information gathered to each of the 30 teams. While it isn't ideal, as teams would prefer to watch these guys in person, it's better than nothing given the circumstances.
Prospects will have the ability to meet with teams face-to-face, though, before the draft. The league gave teams permission to conduct in-person interviews with draft prospects from Oct. 16 through Nov. 16, and will be allowed two visits per player and no more than 10 total in-person interviews, per Charania. Every prospect will have to register a negative COVID-19 test 72 hours in advance of an interview, and will be allowed to bring three people with them, which could be family members, agents, etc. Teams are allowed to have a maximum of three people present for interviews with prospects.
Thursday, the NBA and ESPN announced that the 2020 NBA Draft will be held virtually from ESPN's campus in Bristol, Connecticut with Adam Silver in studio at ESPN to announce the selections for the first round, and deputy commissioner Mark Tatum also in studio to announce the second round. Top prospects will also join the broadcast virtually.
When does next season tip off?
Ah yes, the question everyone wants to know. The short answer is we still have no idea, but there have been several general dates floating around. League commissioner Adam Silver recently said that while next season wouldn't start before Christmas Day, a better expectation is January or February. Roberts also said that late January or early February are ideal dates to start the upcoming season, but still those dates aren't definitive. It's probably easier to assume that the upcoming season won't start until the new year, unless the league really wants to get going quickly.
Whenever the start date for next season is announced, though, it will come with ample notice as the NBA and NBPA agreed that players would reportedly be given an eight-week notice ahead of when next season will begin. That means if the league wants to start next season on Jan. 18, which has been speculated given it's Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a significant day on the NBA's calendar, then it would have to inform players by Nov. 23 (eight-week notice).
What will next season look like?
The league and the players union are on the same page that next season should be a full 82-game schedule, with less travel and played within each team's home market. Due to the significant financial losses the league had as a result from the pandemic, getting in as many regular-season games would be ideal. In terms of travel, one option that's been tossed around is having multi-game series, per Hollinger. Teams would play each other two-to-three times consecutively in order to limit the number of times each team has to travel back and forth, which would ideally limit the exposure to COVID-19. This would be similar to how the MLB sets its schedule up to have teams play multi-game series throughout the entirety of the regular season, and it could be adopted temporarily for the NBA during the pandemic.
Will fans be able to attend games?
We've seen the NFL hold games already this season with fans in attendance, and while we can't say for sure that it's worked well because we don't know if those fans have been exposed to COVID-19, it is something that the league will look at for the upcoming season, per Roberts. Fan attendance makes up 40 percent of the league's revenue, and without that, the NBA would again be struggling to generate revenue. Having fans in attendance also adds to the atmosphere of the game itself. The league did the best it could to try and create a typical game atmosphere inside the Orlando bubble, but when the Lakers were crowned champions on Sunday, it all felt a little hollow without the fans there to cheer them on and witness it.
Obviously the league will do all the necessary research needed to determine if having fans in any capacity is truly safe enough during a global pandemic, but with it being inside an arena instead of outside in a ballpark or an open-air football stadium, the risk factor is already heightened for the NBA.