Why the NBA is in a hurry to start next season

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Here’s what you need to know right now from the world of sports:

The NBA is in a hurry to start the next season

North America’s two indoor major sports leagues should be in full swing right now. Instead, the NBA and NHL are both in limbo.

The NHL held its draft earlier this month, most notable free agents signed weeks ago, and Jan. 1 has been announced as the target start date for next season. But that’s far from a certainty at this point, and it’s ominous that the Winter Classic outdoor game on New Year’s Day and the All-Star Game later in January were both cancelled last week.

The NBA season is also still up in the air. But a plan is taking shape. And there’s a sense of urgency. Here’s a look at where things stand:

When will the season start?

The league and its “governors” (NBA parlance for team owners) now want to tip off on Dec. 22 and play a compressed, travel-reduced 72-game schedule out of teams’ home arenas. Due to ongoing border restrictions, this plan might require the Toronto Raptors to set up shop in an American city, much like the Blue Jays did in Buffalo.

Previously, commissioner Adam Silver suggested the season wouldn’t start until January at the earliest. But since then, it seems the league and the governors have come to the grim realization that they won’t be able to get fans in their arenas (at least not in significant quantities) no matter when the season starts. Plus, TV ratings cratered for playoff games held in the summer and against the NFL in the fall.

So delaying no longer makes sense. Better to bite the financial bullet and start playing as soon as possible so that the 2021-22 regular season and playoffs can start and end in their customary, preferred time slot of mid-October to mid-June. The Dec. 22 start also allows the NBA to stage its customary Christmas Day slate, which it has worked hard to cultivate in recent years.

Not all players like this plan, though. It would make for a short off-season — especially for those who played in the Finals, which ended Oct. 11. Reportedly, several stars are among those who’d prefer to tip off on Jan. 18 — Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the United States.

What about the Olympics?

If you want to see NBA stars in Tokyo (and especially Canadian ones), you should probably hope the league’s plan goes through. A Dec. 22 start would allow for the Finals to be completed by the end of June — a few weeks before the Games open on July 23. A Jan. 18 start would likely cut into that buffer zone.

Either scenario could be problematic for the Canadian men’s national team, which must win a six team, last-chance qualifying tournament to get into the Olympics. That’s scheduled for June 29-July 4 in Victoria, and it would sure help if the NBA Finals were over by then so that Canadian standouts like Jamal Murray and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander are at least guaranteed the option of playing in the qualifier. The timeline would be tight, though, for anyone going deep in the playoffs.

So when will we know?

Hard to say. But a possible hint at the earlier start date arrived today when the NBA reportedly informed its teams that they can start holding practices, workouts and scrimmages with up to 10 players at their facilities.

Today was also the deadline for either the NBA or the players’ union to give notice that they intend to terminate the current collective bargaining agreement. But, as of our publish time, neither side had done so. Presumably, they continue to negotiate a new deal.

The biggest things they need to work out are what the salary cap and the luxury-tax threshold will be for next season, and how much of players’ salaries will go into escrow to insure the governor’s against revenue losses (a virtual certainty). The NHL and its players agreed to keep the cap the same for next season, and it’s likely the same thing happens in the NBA. As for the escrow, the NHL deal doesn’t bode well for NBA players. The hockey guys are facing the likely scenario of losing 30 per cent of their “guaranteed” salaries.

If a deal can be reached soon, it should clear the way for free agency to open shortly after the draft, which is scheduled for Nov. 18. If the Dec. 22 start is agreed to, training camps could open in early December.


The Raptors may be forced to relocate home games somewhere in the United States for the upcoming season. (Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

Quickly…

The Hockey Hall of Fame is skipping a class. Since a proper induction ceremony won’t be possible for this year’s group, the Hall has decided to postpone it until next year and also to not choose a 2021 class so that the 2020 selections still get the stage to themselves. This means that NHLers Jarome Iginla, Marian Hossa, Kevin Lowe and Doug Wilson, women’s player Kim St-Pierre and “builder” Ken Holland — all selected in June — will have to wait until next year to be officially inducted. It also means that anticipated class of 2021 candidates like the Sedin twins, Daniel Alfreddson, Henrik Zetterberg, Rod Brind’Amour and Alexander Mogilny will have to wait another year to see if they get picked. Read more about the HHOF’s decision to postpone this year’s inductions here.

Speaking of Hockey Hall of Famers, Bobby Orr endorsed Donald Trump. With the U.S. Presidential election approaching on Tuesday, the Canadian hockey great (who now lives in the States) took out a full-page ad in a New Hampshire newspaper where he called Trump “the kind of teammate I want.” He also claimed Trump “has delivered for all the American people, regardless of race, gender, or station in life.” Read more about Orr’s ad here.

Travis Roy died. He’s the Boston University player who was paralyzed 11 seconds into his first college shift in 1995. Roy’s headfirst fall into the boards after checking an opponent left him a quadriplegic, and he dedicated the rest of his life to advocating for survivors of spinal-cord injuries. He gave motivational speeches and, through the foundation he created in 1997, raised more than $ 9 million US that went to research and equipment for people who’d suffered injuries like his. Former Boston Bruins star and current team president Cam Neely called Roy “the ultimate symbol of determination and courage.” Roy was 45. Read more about his life and work here.

This weekend on CBC Sports

International Swimming League: The ISL reaches the halfway point of its 10-match regular season, with Match 5 taking place Friday and Saturday and Match 6 Sunday and Monday. The only Canadian-based team, the Toronto Titans, are involved in the latter. You can live stream Saturday’s races from 7-9 a.m. ET, and Saturday afternoon’s edition of Road to the Olympic Games on the CBC TV network features ISL action (check local listings for times). Sunday’s races are noon-2 p.m. ET and Monday’s are 10 a.m.-noon ET. Watch all the live streams here.

Olympic Games Replay: This week’s edition features the 2019 track and field world championships. Two events in which Canadian athletes won medals will be shown: the decathlon (Damian Warner) and the men’s 5,000 metres (Mo Ahmed). Also, the men’s and women’s 4×100 and the women’s 1,500, where Gabriela DeBues-Stafford broke the national record with her sixth-place time. Stream the show Saturday at 1 p.m. ET here or watch on the CBC TV network (check local listings for times).

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