NBA eyes December start, 72-game season, Olympics - reports

National Basketball Association (NBA)
National Basketball Association (NBA)
GREGORY SHAMUS / Getty-Images via AFP

The NBA is looking at starting a 72-game 2020-21 season in December and finishing in time for players to compete at the Tokyo Olympics, according to multiple reports on Friday.

The Athletic and ESPN, citing unnamed sources, said the league told team owners in a Friday conference call about the plans, which would require approval by the players union by the end of October.

After the playoffs ended on 11 October due to a Covid-19 shutdown last March and a July restart, the league would have only a 72-day break before a 22 December restart, three days before the NBA's usual plethora of Christmas Day game offerings, The Athletic reported.

The move would allow greater income and more games compared to a January restart and allow the league to crown a champion and leave a window for NBA talent to play for homelands in the Tokyo Olympics, where the US team would seek a fourth consecutive gold medal.

A play-in tournament for the final playoff spot in each conference, an idea developed due to the pandemic-hit season, would continue, according to the reports.

The National Basketball Players Association must agree upon any deal regarding when to start, with ESPN reporting there had been talk about a mid-January start on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and staging more games later when chances might be better for spectators to attend.

The NBA had no players test positive for Covid-19 during its stay in a quarantine environment at Orlando in its restart.

USA Basketball has started asking about player availability for the 23 July start of the Tokyo Olympics to allow time to select players and prepare for the tournament.

The NBA would prefer to play in home arenas rather than a bubble and is looking at playing a team multiple times on a trip to reduce travel.

Areas that allow spectators in arenas might have testing for fans in courtside seating and updated air purifying systems.

In the 2011-12 season, which was shortened by a labor dispute, the NBA began a 66-game per club campaign on 25 December and finished on 21 June, a timetable that would allow for a US team of NBA players to compete in Tokyo and set up a 2021-22 season starting in October, returning the league to its usual overall timetable.

Talks continue between the NBA and players union over such issues as financial breakdowns and a salary cap for next season.

ESPN reported 30 October would be a deadline for talks and mark eight weeks before Christmas, NBA commissioner Adam Silver having said there would be at least eight weeks between a union deal and the start of next season.

The NBA has set the NBA Draft for 18 November with free agency expected to begin soon after for the 2020-21 campaign.

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