The NBA officially suspended its season on March 11 when Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 shortly before the tipoff of Utah’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Since then every major professional sports league in the US has followed suit, and we don’t know when or if the NBA will crown a champion in 2020.
But we can do our best to speculate based on what NBA commissioner Adam Silver and some prominent owners have said in the past few weeks. Silver’s last extensive interview was on March 18 with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, and at that point he said, “I want to believe we’re gonna be able to salvage at least some portion of the season.”
Season may have to re-start with no fans
In the interview, Silver offered two scenarios of what play might look like if it returns. His full quote:
“I’m looking at three different things here. One is, when can we re-start and operate as we’ve known it — 19,000 fans in buildings and sort of that’s one set of criteria. Option two is should we consider re-starting without fans, and what would that mean? Because presumably if you had a group of players, and staff around them and you could test them, and you could follow some protocol, doctors, health officials may say it’s safe to play. So that’s sort of the second set of circumstances.”
Silver also floated the idea of returning select players to play an exhibition game “for a giant fundraiser, or just for the collective good of the people,” though that would not count toward the official standings.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban offered a potential return window for the NBA in a March 23 interview with WFAA.
“Hopefully by the middle of May, we’re starting to get back to normal and the NBA is playing games,” Cuban said. “Maybe not with fans, but we’re playing it because sports plays such an important role. You know, people want something to cheer for, people want something to rally around, people want something to be excited about.”
Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is also confident that the NBA will return this season in some fashion. “I don’t know [when], but we will be back for sure,” Morey said in a Facebook Q&A on Sunday. Rockets CEO Tad Brown said “we’re going to get this season in” in a recent interview, as well.
Late-summer Finals a possibility
Those are more optimistic scenarios than ones posed in a mid-March story by ESPN NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski. He wrote that NBA owners and executives are bracing for the possibility of mid-to-late June as a best-case scenario for the league to return. Wojnarowski added that teams were looking into arena availability as late as August.
“Teams have been directed to give the league office potential dates at smaller nearby game venues, including team practice facilities, that could spare the use of empty, cavernous arenas and possibly provide backdrops to unique television viewing lines,” Wojnarowski noted.
It’s hard to envision the NBA Finals being played any later than August, with the NFL and college football seasons expected to start in September. In a typical year, NBA training camps begin in September with regular season games starting in October. It remains to be seen whether those dates would be pushed back regarding the 2020-21 season, though it would make sense. Atlanta Hawks CEO Steve Koonin, for instance, speaking at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, suggested that the NBA should permanently shift its schedule to a December start and play the Finals in August. That was before the league suspended its season.
“We’re gonna try by every means we can to play basketball again, but the safety and health of our players and fans is first, so I don’t want to speculate more than that,” Silver said in the ESPN interview. “That will be the condition of how much we can play — when public health officials give us the OK.”