On a conference call with the league’s general managers on Monday, NBA commissioner Adam Silver told the top team basketball executives that “time is running out” on the possibility of starting the 2020-21 season prior to Christmas Day and potentially salvaging hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, sources told ESPN.
Discussions with the National Basketball Players Association continued over the weekend and into Monday, but the union’s reluctance to agree to a Dec. 22 start and a reduced 72-game regular season has left the league fearful it has only several days left before opening training camps around Dec. 1 for a pre-Christmas tip is no longer a realistic possibility, sources said.
Optimism still exists that an agreement can be reached on the pre-Christmas start, but it has been tempered in recent days, sources said. NBPA executive director Michele Roberts and union leadership have been talking directly with players about starting the season so quickly after a mid-October finish to the Finals in the Orlando, Florida, bubble, and so far have expressed a preference for a mid-January start to the season. The NBA believes there is somewhere between $500 million and $1 billion in revenue losses next season and beyond by failing to start the season in December, sources said.
The NBA has pushed back to Friday a deadline that keeps open the option of terminating the collective bargaining agreement, which would essentially blow up the league’s financial structure that allows for a 50-50 split of basketball related income (BRI) under the provisions of the CBA. Because of the coronavirus pandemic triggering a force majeure clause in the CBA, both sides have the option of serving notice of 45 days on terminating the agreement, sources said.
The NBA is searching for ways to increase cash flow into teams, and sources said the league is hopeful to expand guidelines on sports betting, hard alcohol and casinos that could generate between $80 million and $100 million in revenue, sources said.
NBA and NBPA talks continue to include the likelihood of a play-in tournament for both the Eastern and Western Conference playoffs, a mechanism designed to incentivize more teams to aggressively pursue the late season competitively — and an avenue for the league, players and television partners to create more lucrative revenue streams, sources said.
The play-in tournament proposal has coalesced around the structure ESPN first reported was gaining traction in early 2018: a four-team tournament among the Nos. 7, 8, 9 and 10 seeds for the final two playoff spots in each conference.
The tournament would begin with No. 7 hosting No. 8, and the winner locking into the No. 7 spot. Meanwhile, No. 9 would face No. 10, with the winner advancing to play the loser of the 7-versus-8 matchup for the No. 8 seed, sources have told ESPN.
That setup gives the teams who finish the regular season seventh and eighth two chances to secure a postseason berth. The Nos. 9 and 10 teams would have to win twice — without losing — in order to snare one of those two spots.
The NBA debuted a version of the play-in tournament as part of its season restart in Orlando. It included a standings trigger; the No. 9 seed had to be within four games of the No. 8 seed to qualify for a play-in tournament. The Washington Wizards, who entered the Orlando restart in the No. 9 spot in the Eastern Conference, went 1-7 and failed to trigger the play-in.
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