The 2019-2020 NBA season relaunch achieved some big goals: it brought a resumption of sorely needed revenues in team coffers, and it established the league as a leader in attacking and managing the COVID-19 pandemic. But while establishing a bubble in ESPN Wide World of Sports is an accomplishment, the next moves forward will be a lot more difficult–like how and when should the 2020-2021 NBA season be played.
Right now the tentative start date for the 2020-2021 NBA season is December 1, but that assumes the coronavirus pandemic is under control by that time, as well as a vaccine being on the horizon. But neither of those conditions are guaranteed, so alternative scenarios are being floated, like a January 18 Martin Luther King Jr. Day opening or even a delay to March. Arenas may be to be reconfigured to decrease capacity and separate fans as much as possible through the use of multiple restricted entrances. No more wandering the arena.
And differing conditions in NBA markets could also lead to some changes in operations. If the current 14-day quarantine period imposed by Canada is not lifted by then, the Toronto Raptors may need to begin the season playing out of an American market. Or, if some local governments continue to prohibit mass gatherings–yeah, we’re looking at you, California–teams may play in pods the way summer-collegiate baseball teams approached the summer 2020 season. These gatherings would not be as large as the current Orlando bubble is, per ESPN:
This time, ideas center on regional sites and windows of participation that would extend a month for teams, sources said. After that, teams would go home and train — perhaps for two weeks — and move onto the next regional bubble against a new pod of teams. Orlando is a consideration, and Las Vegas — a finalist for this summer’s restart — would reemerge as a possible site too, sources said.
This is one of the ideas, a way to buy time until fans could return to arenas. NBPA executive director Michele Roberts is on the record with ESPN’s Tim Bontemps as endorsing the idea — if the country remains flummoxed by the virus: “If tomorrow looks like today, and today we all acknowledge — and this is not Michele talking, this is the league, together with the PA and our respective experts saying, ‘This is the way to do it’ — then that’s going to have to be the way to do it,” she told ESPN.
As of right now, these are the worst-case scenarios; the preference will be to set up operations in home arenas, even if crowd sizes are limited and other COVID-19 mitigation measures are put in place.