The Whiteboard: 5 potential problems with the NBA’s tentative timeline

Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images /

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On Thursday, the NBA officially voted to approve its format to return and complete the 2019-20 NBA season, settling on a 22-team field with eight regular-season games, a possible play-in tournament (depending on the standings) and the standard, seven-game series playoff format.

As of right now, the tentative schedule for returning is as follows:

-On June 30, teams will report for training camp in their respective cities
-On July 7, they’ll arrive in Orlando
-On July 31, they’ll restart the season
-On Aug. 25, they’ll hold the NBA Draft Lottery
-On Oct. 12, the very last potential game of the playoffs could be played, a Game 7 in the Finals
-On Oct. 15, they’ll hold the 2020 NBA Draft
-On Oct. 18, NBA free agency will begin
-On Nov. 10, training camp for the 2020-21 campaign will begin
-On Dec. 1, the new season will start

Again, these dates are tentative, and NBPA executive director Michele Roberts has already expressed surprise at such a quick potential turnaround in the fall. Those dates will require further negotiation with the union before they’re set in stone, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

However, given that we’ve got a loose timeframe to go on and that there won’t be that much more wiggle room for the league to work with, we might as well take a look ahead.

Here are five potential concerns with this tentative NBA timeline.

1. A potential COVID-19 outbreak threatens this entire thing

This would’ve been true no matter when the NBA decided to return without a vaccine available, but it’s especially true now that we know the league will be hosting 5-6 regular-season games per day among 22 teams over a 16-day span once basketball returns. Each team will have one back-to-back set among its eight games played over the 16 days.

Putting 22 teams in a bubble makes containment hard enough as it is if and when someone tests positive for coronavirus, but with that many games, that much body-on-body contact and that much frequent swapping of opponents, the instant someone tests positive, this entire experiment runs the risk of a full-on outbreak in Orlando (which is located in a state where coronavirus cases have recently skyrocketed. Not great, Bob!).

The league can’t afford for basketball to be shut down again, especially after putting everyone through this risk to bring it back, but a two-week quarantine for a player who tests positive doesn’t prevent the possible chain reaction he already set off as soon as his team plays another team who plays another team. If someone tests positive for COVID-19 in the regular season phase after everyone’s been quarantined in Orlando, this could get messy in a hurry.

2. Injury risk after such a long hiatus

Again, this would’ve applied no matter when the NBA returned, but the last games were played on March 11. Players have mostly been locked in their homes, without access to a court for basketball or a gym for weightlifting/conditioning for the better part of two months until NBA facilities started opening up again.

They’ve still got about two months to get back into shape and shake off some rust, but nothing can replicate the level of athleticism, burst and conditioning necessary for a 48-minute NBA game, and especially not home/individual workouts.

Going from four and a half months without playing an NBA game to eight games in 16-days, and then jumping right into the playoffs where even Finals games will be played every other day, will put immediate stress on ligaments and muscle groups that haven’t been exerted like that in quite a long time.

3. Whiplash turnaround between the draft and free agency

Speaking of whiplash on the body, we hope NBA front offices have been painstakingly monitoring the incoming draft class, free agents and their cap sheet situations, because free agency will officially start just three days(!) after the draft. For reference, the last four draft dates leading up to free agency on July 1 have been June 20, June 21, June 22 and June 23.

Teams have typically had a week to regroup from what is always a long, emotionally and mentally draining night full of frantic negotiations and decisions. It’s a long day, a late night and an early morning; this time around, general managers and team presidents will experience that roller coaster the night of Oct. 15, try to catch up on sleep before immediately pivoting into free agency plans on the 16th, and then finalize their strategies on the 17th before the clock strikes midnight and suddenly the floodgates open at the start of 18th.

Maybe it won’t have any immediate, tangible effects. Or maybe it’ll put an inordinate amount of strain on everyone involved and we’ll see a larger number of baffling decisions than we usually do.

4. An excessively short 2020 offseason

NBA players heading to Orlando will have been on hiatus for nearly five months, then play eight games in 16 days, then undergo routine seven-game series in the playoffs, then the Finals won’t end until early or mid-October … and then training camp for the following season starts about a month later.

These guys have had plenty of time off, but it’s not like they can save all that rest up for the physical strain they’re about to put on their bodies in August, September and possibly October. To only have a month or so off for the playoff teams, before turning right back around for the start of training camp and a new season (even if it’s a condensed one, which feels unlikely given the league’s current financial situation), will really push the limits here.

NBA players are creatures of habit; not only in their game-day routines, but in their entire calendars, from training camp to the regular season to the playoffs to their time off to their offseason workouts to starting the cycle all over. Coronavirus is the main culprit here, but this compressed schedule doesn’t leave much time for 2020 playoff teams to catch their breath before having to gear up again.

5. The Olympics

Even if all this time off during the hiatus does make it a little more manageable for a quick turnaround to the 2020-21 campaign — after all, six teams will be going home by mid-August, and another eight first-round eliminations will be joining them on the couch by early September — that Dec. 1 start for the new season feels so early because once basketball starts up again, it’s not going to stop for quite a long time.

As ESPN’s Bobby Marks points out, if the league goes by a 177-day regular season for the next campaign (as was originally supposed to be the case for 2019-20), that’d put the end of the 2020-21 regular season on May 26. Throw in about 60 days for the playoffs and suddenly it’s the end of the July.

Assuming another condensed offseason in order to start the 2021-22 season on more normal footing, that’d put the start of that campaign in mid-to-late October. Somewhere in August and September, you’d also have the postponed Summer Olympics. Then comes another full season and postseason before playoff teams could come up for air in the summer of 2022.

Holy crap is that a lot of basketball over a 23-month span, especially for playoff teams and Finals contenders.

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