The NBA, like other pro and college leagues, is trying to pull off a season under difficult circumstances.
The NBA completed its 2019-20 season in a bubble-like environment and managed to keep COVID-19 from spreading through the mini-city on the Disney campus near Orlando.
But there is no bubble this season, making it perhaps even more challenging over the course of a December-July season. The NBA has consulted experts and devised a plan it believes will minimize COVID outbreaks and lead to the completion of the Finals without any major problems.
Here are five new things about 2020-21 NBA season:
Health/safety protocol guidelines
The NBA faces a monumental task: play 1,080 regular-season games and complete a season as teams crisscross the country while the COVID-19 pandemic rages, at least at the start of the season. The vaccine could help ease the situation if enough people receive it during the season. Short of that, the NBA has drafted another set of extensive health and safety protocols aimed at limiting COVID-19 cases among players, coaches and staffers. This document is 158 pages – longer than the bubble protocols – to account for guidelines while at home and on the road. Only a handful of teams will open the season with a small number of fans in attendance.
OFFSEASON GRADES: How each team handled its offseason roster moves
THE COMMISH'S WORDS: In Adam Silver's words: Why the NBA is starting a new season amid pandemic
NBA'S TOUGHEST JOB: New coach has a lot on his plate in first season on the bench
Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams speaks with Chris Paul during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game Dec. 14, 2020, in Salt Lake City. (Photo: Rick Bowmer, AP)
Because last season finished in October, the NBA wanted to get back on a normal October-June schedule for 2021-22 (its 75th anniversary season). The league will start the 2020-21 schedule on Tuesday and finish in July. It is a quick turnaround but had the league waited until January, it would’ve been difficult for each team to play 72 games (shorter than the regular 82 games) and finish before the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo. The NBA did not want to play deep into summer again. Starting now also allows the league to take advantage of broadcasting holiday week games and getting in at least 70 games – which could amount to at least a $500 million bump in revenue from TV and other partnership deals.
Big names/new teams
It was a short offseason and quick free agency period. Here are some of the big names changing teams:
- Gordon Hayward to Charlotte, from Boston
- Russell Westbrook to Washington, from Houston
- John Wall to Houston, from Washington
- Dennis Schroder to the Los Angeles Lakers, from Oklahoma City
- Montrezl Harrell to the Lakers, from the Clippers
- Chris Paul to Phoenix, from Oklahoma City
- Jrue Holiday to Milwaukee, from New Orleans
- Danilo Gallinari to Atlanta, from Oklahoma City
- Tristan Thompson to Boston, from Cleveland
- Serge Ibaka to the Clippers, from Toronto
- Jerami Grant to Detroit, from Denver
- Jae Crowder to Phoenix, from Miami
- Avery Bradley to Miami, from the Lakers
- Robert Covington to Portland, from Houston
- Christian Wood to Houston, from Detroit
The NBA saw significant turnover among its coaches, and some changes at the top of front offices.
Teams with new coaches: Indiana Pacers (in: Nate Bjorkgren, out Nate McMillan); Philadelphia 76ers (in: Doc Rivers, out: Brett Brown); Brooklyn (in: Steve Nash, out: Kenny Atkinson); Chicago Bulls (in: Billy Donovan, out: Jim Boylen); New York Knicks (in: Tom Thibodeau; out: David Fizdale/Mike Miller); Los Angeles Clippers (in: Ty Lue, out: Doc Rivers); Houston (in: Stephen Silas, out: Mike D’Antoni); Oklahoma City Thunder (in: Mark Daigneault, out: Billy Donovan).
New leaders in the front office: Daryl Morey in Philadelphia; Arturas Karnisovas in Chicago; Leon Rose in New York; Troy Weaver in Detroit; Rafael Stone in Houston; and Monte McNair in Sacramento.
Don’t forget the referees
It will be a chore to keep referees safe and healthy as they travel city to city without the benefit of private planes, like the teams use. It will be incumbent on referees to follow all best practices, and they will be tested daily, too. Monty McCutchen, the league’s vice president/head of referee training and development, said the league will look for ways to minimize travel for referees. For instance, a ref may be assigned to more games closer to his home base than a normal season. Also, the league adopted the coach’s challenge on a full-time basis after a one-year trial in 2019-20 and expanded its video rulebook to include a comprehensive and searchable look at points of education and rules violations with detailed explanations.
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