LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Tuesday that his “best guess” is that next season will not start until at least January, plus acknowledged that the later-than-usual schedule could mean top U.S. men’s players miss next summer’s Tokyo Olympics.
Silver, a guest in a series of panel discussions on CNN, did not indicate that any decisions are finalized. The league was originally hoping for a Dec. 1 start to next season, then shifted its focus to the chance of a late December start, and now the target has apparently moved again.
“I continue to believe that we’re going to be better off getting into January,” Silver said in a discussion with Bob Costas during part of the “Citizen by CNN” event. “The goal for us next season is to play a standard season ... an 82-game season and playoffs. And further, the goal would be to play games in home arenas in front of fans, but there’s still a lot that we need to learn.”
The NBA hasn't played in arenas filled with fans since March 11, when the league suspended its season because of the coronavirus pandemic. A very small number of fans — maybe 30 or 40 per game — have been allowed to watch inside the NBA's restart bubble at Walt Disney World in recent weeks, all of them family members or close friends of players. Those guests all are tested daily for coronavirus, like everyone else in the bubble.
A typical NBA season has a regular season that lasts for nearly six months, followed by about a two-month postseason. If next season is typical — and there’s no way of knowing that it will be, or even could be — a January start could mean a June or July regular-season finish, with playoffs concluding in August or September.
That could greatly affect Olympic plans.
The rescheduled Tokyo Olympics are set to begin July 23 and run through Aug. 8 — if those games are held. Final qualifying rounds for the 24 teams still bidding for the four remaining spots in the 12-team men’s basketball field would begin in June.
“There are a lot of great U.S. players, and we may be up against a scenario where the top 15 NBA players aren’t competing in the Olympics, but other great American players are competing,” Silver said. “And, obviously, there are many NBA players who participate in the Olympics for other countries. That’s something we’re going to have to work through.”
USA Basketball has been planning for various possible scenarios in recent months but can’t make any concrete plans until it sees what the next NBA schedule officially looks like. The U.S. roster for the Tokyo Olympics will be 12 players; there were another 34 players competing for other countries at the Rio Olympics as well.
Several NBA coaches are also planning to coach in the Tokyo Olympics or in qualifying: San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich will coach USA Basketball and be assisted by Golden State’s Steve Kerr and Atlanta’s Lloyd Pierce; Golden State associate head coach Mike Brown is set to coach Nigeria; Toronto assistant Sergio Scariolo will coach Spain and Raptors head coach Nick Nurse will lead Canada in qualifying and then the Olympics should it qualify.
“These are highly unique and unusual circumstances,” Silver said. “And I think just as it is for the Olympic movement, it is for us as well. And we’re just going to have to sort of find a way to meld and mesh those two competing considerations.”
The U.S., Nigeria, Australia, Spain, Argentina, Iran, France and host Japan have qualified for the Olympic men's basketball field already. Among the top international teams still hoping to qualify: Greece (which could have two-time reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo), Serbia (led by Denver's All-NBA center Nikola Jokic), Lithuania, Russia and the Czech Republic.
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