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NBA pushing for season start before Christmas Day without fans, players pushing back

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver announces that the 2023 NBA All-Star game will be held at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Wednesday was quite the day in the NBA, and it’s not just because Gail Miller announced the sale of the Utah Jazz to Ryan Smith.

Over the last 48 hours there has been a steady trickle of news about discussions between the NBA league office, the board of governors and the National Basketball Players Association, and it all seems to be centered around a proposal that the league has presented to the NBPA detailing a plan for the 2020-21 season.

Details of the proposal were first reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and The Athletic’s Shams Charania, with the highlights being the NBA wants to start next season before Christmas Day without fans in arenas, play a 72-game schedule, and finish up in July, ahead of the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics.

Beginning the season, and potentially playing through the season without fans, is particularly daunting for the NBA considering the financial implications.

Wojnarowski reported on Wednesday that the NBA experienced a 10% revenue drop for the 2019-20 season, a number that will be reflected in the salary cap for the 2020-21 season. Without fans and game night gate receipts, the NBA could lose up to 40% of the season revenue.

Targeting a season start date after the beginning of the calendar year would give the NBA more time to evaluate how to get fans into arenas in a safe way, but sources say that confidence in getting fans to games is waning among NBA brass.

Starting the season before Christmas would allow the league to not only arrive at a game total that would satisfy broadcast deals but also put the NBA on track to have a more traditional season calendar for the 2021-22 season.

With the coronavirus pandemic continuing to surge, the league is also discussing possible plans for pod playing and series-style basketball in order to cut down on travel and reduce time between games.

In early October, the league told teams that it would give teams an eight-week notice before the start of the next season. That would mean a decision by Friday would be necessary in order to proceed with a start date during the week of Christmas.

All of the logistical details of the proposal, along with college bargaining agreement amendments, are being reviewed by the NBA. But, according to Charania, NBPA executive director Michele Roberts has said that a decision by Friday is unlikely.

“The union and the players are analyzing all of the information and will not be rushed,” Roberts told The Athletic. “We have requested and are receiving data from the parties involved and will work on a counterproposal as expeditiously as possible. I have absolutely no reason to believe that we will have a decision by Friday. I cannot and will not view Friday as a drop dead date.”

League sources confirmed to the Deseret News that a Dec. 22 start date is being pursued. That would leave a very short turnaround between the NBA draft, scheduled for Nov. 18, and the beginning of the season, requiring free agency and training camp to be held in a period of just under five weeks.

“The overwhelming response from the players that I have received to this proposal has been negative,” Roberts told The Athletic.

Though negotiations between the two sides continue, time is starting to run out and a decision will have to be made soon.