When the NBA suspended its season in the middle of March, it initially did so with a 30-day timetable. The hope, at that point, was that the coronavirus could be contained enough for games to resume in the middle of April and for the postseason to take place under relatively normal circumstances, even if fans wouldn’t be allowed into arenas.
But now, as the outbreak continues to worsen in the United States, the league needs to consider other arrangements. In fact, according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, the league is preparing at the moment as if the season will be canceled.
“The talks between the players union and the league this week, I’ve talked to both sides of this issue, and it is clear that the NBA is angling to set up a deal that enables them to shut the season down,” Windhorst said. “Now they don’t have to do that yet, and the way they’re negotiating they’re leaving themselves an option either way, but they’re not having talks about how to restart the league, they’re having financial talks about what would happen if the season shuts down, and I think there is a significant amount of pessimism right now.”
Among the problems currently preventing a renewed season are limited testing capabilities, the issues that quarantining players in a single location would create and the integrity of next season.
“There comes a point where you go too far and start looking at damaging two seasons, and that is what the NBA is trying to evaluate. They do have runway here, I do think that if they had to go into August or September to finish this season, but I’m not sure they feel confident about that right now, and a big factor is testing. We just don’t have the testing. At some point not only does there have to be a test that’s quick and can evaluate whether or not a player is healthy enough to enter a game, but you have to know whether you have the tests available so you’re not taking them away from people who need them, and so right now, that’s not here. If in six or eight weeks, if it is here, we can have a different conversation, but the league is preparing for that answer to be no.”
It is far too early to say anything definitively at the moment. For now, the league and uniona pay-reduction that splits the burden of lost revenue fairly between the league and its players. For the rest of this season and next season to be viable, the two sides will have to agree to an altered financial structure that recognizes the severity of this situation.
Logistically speaking, holding the postseason as late as August or September would force next season to be pushed back to compensate. Christmas has been mentioned in various reports as a potential start date for the 2020-21 season, but doing so would force the NBA to either compress the schedule in order to fit enough games into a campaign with an eye on moving the schedule back to its original state by 2021-22, or permanently move the schedule back so that it always begins in December and ends in the late summer, by the league even before this crisis.
The league has billions of dollars on the line. If at all possible, it will attempt to save that money by putting some sort of postseason on the court. But with that growing less and less likely by the day, it makes sense for the NBA to at least begin considering what a world without a 2020 champion might look like.