A typical NBA offseason is, roughly, somewhere between three and five months depending on whether you make the playoffs and how far you advance. This is not a typical offseason. The Los Angeles Lakers won the 2020 championship in the Orlando bubble on October 12th. On Thursday, the NBPA approved ownership’s proposal to begin the 2020-21 season on December 22nd, in time for the lucrative Christmas Day games to make the television slate.
So do the math, and that’s nine weeks between last season’s final game and next season’s first game. Throw in training camp, and that’s maybe a month and a half off for the Lakers and Heat, and a couple weeks more for the Nuggets and Celtics, both of which made the conference finals.
That is a short turnaround, particularly considering the uniquely grueling conditions in the bubble. No, the teams didn’t have to travel, and that’s a big deal. But they also had to play basically every other day all through the playoffs. Players didn’t, and likely still don’t, like the idea of starting next season so soon, but they agreed for one simple reason: Money.
It has been estimated that the league would stand to lose in the vicinity of half a billion dollars by pushing the start of the 2020-21 season even a few more weeks into January, and the players know those losses would trickle down to their pocketbooks. So as it stands, they’ll start on December 22nd and play 72 games, 10 fewer than the normal 82-game slate, which will allow them to finish the season on a normal timeline and, equally importantly, begin the 2021-22 season on time, when hopefully the pandemic will be a thing of the past and the league can get back to its normal windfall ways.
Until then, expect to seen A LOT of load managing by a lot of teams, including LeBron James and the Lakers. LeBron is entering his 18th season. He’ll be 36 years old on December 30th. He just won his fourth championship and knows he has a legit shot at winning No. 5 this upcoming season. He’s not about to waste his legs by pushing himself in the early part of an expedited schedule.
For what? A bit higher playoff seed? No chance. Anthony Davis will be taking time off, too. And my guess is the NBA will soften its stance on healthy stars sitting out games, which they have tried to deter in past seasons, albeit with varying success. You would like to think the league’s product matters to the players who reap the financial rewards of its popularity, but they’re not going to risk their bodies for a Tuesday night game in January, or a Wednesday night game in February, and they’ll probably miss big chunks of time in between. Three games here. A week there. Who knows.
LeBron just went hard this past season. He played in 67 of the 71 regular-season games, logging almost 35 minutes per game. Yes, there was an extended break from March to August as the league suspended play in the middle of a pandemic, but in some ways that made it harder. LeBron, and everyone else, had to stay in shape not knowing when the season would resume, so that’s really a full calendar year, from October 2019 to October 2020, that these guys couldn’t fully detach from NBA basketball. That’s a mental grind as much as a physical one. And LeBron won’t be alone in recouping some of that down time at least at the start of this expedited 2020-21 season, if not most of the way through it.