Here’s what we know about the next NBA season: Not much
It was the underlying emotion for a lot of people in the NBA over the final weeks of the league’s quarantined residency at Disney World, especially as the finish line for the bubble came into clear sight.
Yes, the season was saved. Yes, a champion was crowned. Yes, no players tested positive for the virus and no games had to be canceled. And yes, commitments to the league’s television partners were satisfied.
The plan succeeded beyond the NBA’s expectations.
But what now?
The only date on the upcoming NBA calendar that’s set is the 2020 NBA Draft (Nov. 18). Free agency could get started by early December, the season might start as soon as mid-January and maybe the playoffs will stretch deep into next summer.
Since his days with the Lakers and later the Wizards, Tyronn Lue was surrounded by giants of the game. It helped him with Cleveland and to land the Clippers job.
Could. Might. Maybe. These are the words the NBA’s immediate future hinge on.
The NBA and the NBPA, the union that represents the league’s players, are currently negotiating modifications of the league’s collective bargaining agreement, its financial models unequipped for the crippling blows of the global pandemic that are still being absorbed.
With the bubble officially bursting with success Monday, the expectation is that talks will intensify next week.
The sides, according to people with knowledge of the situation, agreed to extend the deadline for negotiations to Oct. 30. And while either side could notify the other they’re backing out of the agreement, triggering a stoppage, that’s not expected.
“I don’t have any expectations of labor issues, I think, in the way you’re suggesting it, meaning that we won’t be able to resolve them,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in response to that question before the NBA Finals. “There’s no doubt there are issues on the table that need to be negotiated. I think it’s — we’ve managed to work through every other issue so far. I think we have a constructive relationship with them. We share all information. We look at our various business models together.
“So I think while no doubt there will be issues and there will be some difficult negotiations ahead, I fully expect we’ll work them out, as we always have.”
Over the next two weeks, the sides will have to come to agreements of the framework for the NBA’s immediate financial future.
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One of the biggest challenges will be negotiating the terms of next season’s salary cap. That number is typically derived from the league’s revenues, but the pandemic cost the league an estimated $1.5 billion, according to people not authorized to speak publicly, so that formula is untenable.
A massive salary cap drop would push the overwhelming majority of the league deep into the luxury tax while drying up the free-agent market in an instant at the same time.
To avoid a significant reduction in the salary cap, the two sides will have to negotiate how much of player salaries will be deferred and put into an escrow account. Last year, the salary cap was set at $109.1 million with the luxury tax kicking in at $132.6 million.
Before the 2020-21 season, there are more granular decisions that need to be nailed down.
Getting the financial realities fully figured out will allow teams to begin their offseason programs — players will have contract options to accept and decline, trades can be consummated and, eventually, free agents can be recruited and signed.
There’s some frustration among the league’s front offices as they wait for the official go-ahead. They’d like more clarity on a potential start date for next season. Silver has said the season probably will start no earlier than January, with a possibility that games don’t get underway until February, though any dates are speculation.
Coulds, mights and maybes — that’s all we really have right now — as the league and the players continue to try to figure out “now what?”
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