The NBA’s new season format and temporary calendar could have a brutal effect on a championship-contending team.
The NBA Board of Governors on Thursday voted 29-1 to approve a plan to resume the 2019-20 season in Walt Disney World.
Under the plan, 22 teams will return – the top 16 playoff teams, plus six teams within six games or less of the eighth seed in their respective conferences.
Each team will play eight regular-season games, with a possible play-in tournament for the eighth seeds, before beginning the traditional playoff structure.
The league is targeting July 31 as a tip-off date in Orlando. The season will extend into October, with the last possible NBA Finals game being played on October 12.
According to reports, free agency would then begin on October 18, the draft on October 25, with training camps for the 2020-21 season starting on November 10, and tip-off for the new season on December 1.
The Athletics’ Shams Charania said training camp and regular-season dates are flexible.
However, this compressed schedule means the teams that go furthest in the postseason will also have very little time off between the 2019-20 season and the 2020-21 season.
If the NBA Finals go until October 12, and the rest of the proposed calendar remains intact, players from the teams in the Finals would have 30 days off before beginning the new season.
Furthermore, The Athletics’ Blake Murphy noted that an NBA champion could play as many as 36 games in 73 days – eight regular-season games, then four rounds of seven.
It’s unlikely to happen that way – the best teams should beat first-round opponents fairly quickly – but it’s not impossible. The Western Conference is loaded at seeds one through seven. In the East, the current standings would have the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers, two title contenders, playing in the first round.
Even if a team’s playoff series doesn’t go seven games each round, there’s the potential to play a high volume of games in a short amount of time.
Let’s say a team’s playoff run goes like this: four games in the first round, five games in the semifinals, six games in the conference finals, then seven games in the NBA finals.
That would be 30 games, including the eight regular-season games, in 73 days.
Of course, the teams will be located on one site, cutting out travel, a huge factor in the NBA season. But that would still be asking teams to play almost every other day after not playing an NBA game in four months.
The regular-season schedule will also have some hiccups. The teams going to Disney will stick to their original schedules.
If the schedule calls for a team to play one of the eight teams not returning, then they will skip that game and go to the next one. This can create some logistical problems.
Some teams will play their eight regular-season games before others. Teams that were scheduled to play multiple games against the eight teams not going to Disney will have to move onto their next opponents, some of whom will have already played their eight games.
It’s not a challenge the NBA can’t overcome, but it means that some teams will have multiple days off between games while others may have to play more back-to-backs.
Another challenge down the line for teams that go deep in the playoffs will come in the form of free agency.
If the Finals go to seven games, teams will have six days in between playing for the championship and beginning free agency. Teams will have little time for planning.
Impending free agents could play in the Finals, hit the open market in a week, change teams and cities, and have to move within three or four weeks to their new team before training camp begins again.
As The Athletics’ Sam Amick wrote, the primary motivation for resuming the season is money. Playing the regular season games allows teams to make as much money back as possible.
The NBA and its players are not only accepting the risks of resuming during a pandemic, but of the discomfort caused by an abbreviated schedule and new logistics.
But for some teams, the decision to resume will have ripple effects for the rest of the year.