For months the timeline of a potential return to the NBA season has been uncertain. Without even knowing if basketball would come back at all, there was no sense in speculating on a possible timeframe for it to do so. But as the NBA’s plan to finish the season at Disney World takes shape, some of the specifics are coming into view. According to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, the NBA has set July 31 as the target date for its return.
That would give the NBA roughly two more months to finish organizing its Disney proposal and get its players back up to speed physically with both individual workouts and a second training camp at practice facilities. Teams participating in whatever format the concluded regular season and playoffs take would then travel to Orlando and quarantine before basketball could begin again.
Starting games again so late in July poses a potential logistical problem for next season. If the NBA is to maintain a seven-game series format for the postseason, then at least two months will be needed for the playoffs to be held in earnest. If regular-season or play-in games are included as well, that could push the postseason into October.
If next season were to begin on Christmas Day as many have speculated, that would give players less than three months off before games started again. When training camps and preseason are factored in, their vacation time would be even shorter, posing a potential risk for injury.
However, there is no perfect solution here. Restarting this season too quickly would pose potential injury risks as well, especially given the intensity of playoff games. Jumping from months off directly into the postseason without adequate preparation is just as dangerous, so the NBA is attempting to balance all of those competing factors in setting a timeline. If that potentially means pushing the beginning of next season back further, then that is a pill the NBA will have to consider swallowing.
For now, nothing is finalized. The league and union are still working through the details of a potential return to play, and the focus for the moment is on this season first before next season comes into play. As recently as a few months ago, any conclusion to the 2019-20 season seemed unlikely. If getting one means delaying the 2020-21 campaign, that is a sacrifice fans, players and owners seem more than happy to make.