Jan 14, 2017; Mexico City, MEXICO; NBA commissioner Adam Silver speaks at a press conference prior to the game with the San Antonio Spurs playing against the Phoenix Suns during the NBA game at the Mexico City Arena. Mandatory Credit: JosŽ MŽndez/EFE via USA TODAY Sports
The NBA and San Antonio Spurs should be back before Christmas time
It’s only fitting that in a year full of first’s and unprecedented events that the NBA would find another way to surprise us all. This time it’s in the form of some very good news. The San Antonio Spurs will be back to playing basketball before Christmas.
After much discussion and back-and-forth between the NBA and the players association, the NBAPA board of representatives voted to approve a plan for a shortened 72-game 2020-21 season, with players reporting to training camp on December 1st and the season officially starting on December 22nd.
The plan was approved on Thursday night, and the two sides now need to work out the details for what will be a historic season (although at this point, everything seems historic).
This is huge. Every team is going to be coming into the season with varying degrees of readiness and it’s anyone’s guess as to how the new crop of rookies will fare with only a few weeks between the draft and the start of the season.
Here’s our explanation of how we got here, what the season could look like, and how this could affect the Spurs.
Next: How did we get here
How did the San Antonio Spurs and the NBA reach this point?
There were several factors that went into the decision to start the 2020 season so close to the end of the 2019 season. If you recall, the Lakers won the championship a little less than four weeks ago on October 11th. A regular NBA season starts in October and ends in June with the Finals, but with COVID-19 bringing the NBA season to a screeching halt back in March and subsequently shutting the league and life as we know it down until July, the schedule was thrown all out of whack.
At first, starting the season just two months after the previous season ended seems absurd and reckless. Unfortunately, there just weren’t any good alternatives.
The only other option that was being floated was a January 18th start, which is Martin Luther King day. This would have given players more rest but would prevent the league from making up lost revenue through its Christmas Day games, which is a staple basketball day and could generate up to $1 billion.
The league obviously needs to make its players happy and make sure that the return makes sense, but at the end of the day, money talks. The league missed its 2019-20 revenue projections by about $1.5 billion and is desperate to make that up.
That wasn’t the only factor, however. A Dec. 22nd start allows the regular season to run until May 16th and finish no later than July 22nd, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania (subscription required).
Not only would a July finish allow for the following season to get back to its October-June schedule, but it would also avoid interference with the 2021 Summer Olympics, which is set to start on July 23rd. It’s only a one day difference for players in the NBA Finals, but for the majority of the league not playing at the end of July, an Olympics appearance is not out of the question.
Next: Season expectations
Aug 2, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, USA; San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, center, speaks with his players after an NBA basketball game against the Memphis Grizzlies, Sunday, Aug. 2, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Mandatory Credit: Ashley Landis/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports
What should we be expecting from this season?
Keep in mind that these are all hypotheticals and we’ll have to wait until details are agreed on.
It’ll be a weird season in the NBA. The league is trying to limit travel for obvious reasons, so teams are expected to operate out of their home markets more than usual. We could see schedules follow a series format for the regular season.
Should the Spurs travel out to the East coast, the league could have them knock out 5-6 games against the Atlantic division (Knicks, Nets, Celtics, and 76ers- we don’t know what the league is going to do with the Raptors yet) and prevent unnecessary travel.
If they play more local teams, the league may expand the number of division games that are played. Divisional games make up roughly 20 percent of a normal season’s games (16 games in an 82-game season), but the league may have teams play one more divisional game per team and bring it up to 20 divisional matchups in a 72-game season, good for 28 percent of their games.
The Southwest Division is one of the best in the league, and will only get better this season with Dallas, New Orleans, and Memphis poised to make improvements after impressive seasons last year. Again, this is all hypothetical, but if you want to toy around with what travel restrictions could do to schedule changes, this map helps show where each team is located.
We may not see the Spurs hit the road for their annual Rodeo Road Trip either. Last year, they traveled north from Los Angeles to Portland, south to Sacramento, east to Denver, southeast to Oklahoma City, back west to Utah, and then back east to OKC. Not only does that sound like a COVID-19 nightmare, but they may not need to vacate the arena this year.
There’s also a good chance they cancel the 2021 All-Star game, as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported a few weeks ago:
Another potential casualty of the 2020-2021 season and the coronavirus, sources tell ESPN: The All-Star Game. The event is scheduled for Indianapolis. No final decision has been made.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) October 23, 2020
It’s probable they keep the break, especially because the schedule will be crammed and will likely feature more back to backs, which is the opposite direction the league has been moving in.
Additionally, we may also see fans in the stands sooner rather than later. Adam Silver had repeatedly said that the NBA wants to get fans back into arenas to help drive revenue, and as Shams reported just a few days ago, we may get that at a limited capacity:
Sources: The NBA aims to have arena suites open to fans at 25-to-50 percent capacity for 2020-21 season tipoff, based on local regulations. An amount of fans — under protocols such as masks, social distancing and coronavirus testing — is a goal to start season.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) November 5, 2020
With COVID-19 responses constantly changing, we’ll have to wait to see what Bexar County, which is where San Antonio is located, allows for game attendance. You can read the current executive order here.
Next: What does this mean for our Spurs?
Aug 2, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, USA; San Antonio Spurs’ Derrick White (4) confers with teammates Rudy Gay (22), DeMar DeRozan (10) and others during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Memphis Grizzlies, Sunday, Aug. 2, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Mandatory Credit: Ashley Landis/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports
What does this mean for the San Antonio Spurs in 2020-21?
Well, if you’ve gotten this far in the article and you’re looking for concrete answers, I’m not sure what to tell you. Simply put, we have to wait until the agreed-upon details surface. We don’t know when that will come out but be sure to turn your Woj, Shams, and Air Alamo notifications on so you can find out when they do.
The Spurs, of course, did not play deep into the bubble. Their last game came on August 13th, so if their season tips off on December 22nd, they will have gone 131 days since their last game. In comparison, from the time their 2018 regular season ended to when the 2019 regular season began, 190 days had gone by.
It’s not an egregious difference, and a better spot to be in than the Lakers, who will have just 72 days of rest from Game 6 of the Finals to opening day of the 2020 season.
What does this mean for the Silver and Black? For a team whose core is mostly composed of younger players, it could be an easier start to the season.
Popovich and the rest of the coaching staff will surely ease the roster into the season. This could mean leaning heavily on the young guys at the beginning and living with the consequences. The older players could need more time to get back to peak physical shape and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the younger players dominate rotations while the veterans catch up.
That said, the pieces I’m mostly interested in watching will be the team’s strongest trade assets in DeMar DeRozan (assuming he picks up his option, which is looking probable), LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gay, and Patty Mills.
All of those guys are over 30 years old and on expiring contracts. It’ll be interesting to see what direction the Spurs go in, especially with Aldridge, who is apparently generating some trade buzz recently. You can read all about that here.
It might be harder to judge what state a team finds itself in as well. The NBA is removing 10 games from the season, and considering the league won’t be playing in a bubble for the regular season, it’s more than likely a few games will get canceled or postponed due to COVID-19.
That sounds pessimistic, but as we’ve seen from the MLB, NFL, and College Football, playing outside of a bubble inevitably ends in positive coronavirus cases. Does a whacky season make teams more hesitant to make a big splash like trading for Aldridge or DeRozan? I would think so, but at this point, you know what you’re getting from both of those guys.
Regardless of what happens this season, let’s all just rejoice that we’ll have an NBA season. In a time where nothing is a given, being able to sit down on the couch and watch basketball on Christmas Day sounds like a godsend.