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FAQ: When and how will the 2020-21 NBA season begin?

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The longest season in NBA history is finally complete. More than a full calendar year after teams reported to training camp, the Los Angeles Lakers were crowned champions, accepting the Larry O’Brien Trophy on Sunday night inside the NBA’s campus environment at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. The NBA’s bubble was a success, allowing the season to be completed safely during a pandemic, but now the focus shifts to an atypical offseason, which will set the stage for the 2020-21 regular season. Countless questions loom, starting with the big one.

When will the 2020-21 NBA season begin?

It is not clear right now. When the league set the restart calendar for the 2019-20 season, a Dec. 1 start date for 2020-21 was floated. Given that the league has said it would give eight weeks of notice before the scheduled start to next season, Dec. 1 is off the table and Dec. 25 is looking increasingly unlikely. NBA commissioner Adam Silver told CNN last month that his “best guess” was that the season would not start until 2021. January is a possibility, but the start of next season could still be much later, perhaps March. The reality is there are only projections — nothing is firm.

What’s going to happen to the draft?

The 2020 NBA draft will almost certainly take place Nov. 18, the date the league landed on when it postponed the draft last month from the previously announced Oct. 16 date. It’s too early to know when the 2021 draft will take place, though the late start to the season means it will almost certainly be delayed from its normal June timeframe.

What about summer league?

The NBA’s restart in the bubble began during what would typically be the time for the offseason Las Vegas Summer League, which meant the 2020 version was canceled. Currently there are no plans to stage a winter version of the event before next season. It’s too early to tell what might happen to the 2021 edition.

What has to happen for a new season to start?

First, the players’ union and the league must come to an agreement on how to manage the expected drop in revenue from the pandemic. This will largely center on what the salary cap looks like, perhaps for the next two seasons.

The most likely outcome right now is an agreement that keeps the salary cap artificially inflated, most likely at the same level it was during the 2019-20 season ($109 million per team). This would mitigate a bear market in free agency and prevent teams from facing huge unexpected luxury tax payments that would come with a steep cap drop.

To make sure the owners and players maintain the roughly 50/50 split of revenue as their current deal calls for, players probably will have to agree to give up a percentage of their paychecks throughout the season to help balance those books. Just how large a cut and just how to manage getting to that even split is going to be a central part of the talks.

Teams must also agree how to share money among themselves. Revenue sharing has been turned upside down with regulations in different states potentially alternating the normal course of business.

For example, the state of Florida has lifted all COVID-19-related restrictions. That means the Orlando Magic and Miami Heat — two teams typically lower on the revenue-generating scale — could legally fill their arenas, while normally high-earning teams like the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers might not be allowed to have any fans in attendance, due to California’s ongoing restrictions.

Will teams be able to have fans at games?

Silver has said multiple times, including as recently as during the Finals, that the league wants to have a full 82-game season with fans in arenas. It might not be at full capacity in many places and it’s possible it won’t be in all 28 NBA cities at the start.

Arena-based revenue makes up 40% of the league’s income. Every game most teams play without it, even with local and national television revenue, could be a money-loser.

Some contingency plans have been discussed — such as reforming a bubble or multiple bubbles, sources said — that is not the first option at the moment.

The league is not currently planning to wait for a COVID-19 vaccine. To instead assure fan safety, there are hopes rapid testing will have enough reliability and availability — while being cost effective. Several NBA owners as well as the league itself have made investments in companies developing these types of tests.

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Adam Silver says fans at NBA games will be determined by the accessibility of rapid testing and a public vaccine for COVID-19.

Will the NBA playoffs again be played next August, September and October?

If the season were to begin in January as the NBA hopes, and the league commits to playing a full 82-game regular season (as Silver has said is the plan), the answer is yes for August and September but unlikely in October. That’s because, as Silver said earlier this month, that probably would take NBA players out of the mix for the Tokyo Olympics.

A regular 82-game season is 177 days long (roughly six months) with the playoffs taking an additional 10 weeks.

If the league starts on Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Jan. 18), the season could end on July 14 with the playoffs starting on July 17. That would take into account probably eliminating All-Star Weekend in Indianapolis and replacing it with regular-season games. We would probably also see more back-to-back games to fit the full 82 games into a 152-day window.

There is no quick fix for the league returning to playoff games in May and June unless the NBA wants a shortened 60-game season — similar to what occurred in 2011-12 when a lockout forced the league into a 66-game season.

A shortened 2020-21 season would see 60 games played in a 103-day span, resulting in more back-to-back games (Dallas played 21 in 2011-12) and possibly teams playing on three consecutive nights. There were 42 sets of back-to-back-to-backs in 2011-12.

While there was discussion even before the pandemic about potentially shifting the regular NBA calendar, it appears the NBA will make a long-term effort to get back to something closer to the traditional October start and June finish, possibly for 2021-22.

“I think we’re learning a little bit more about our television audience as we are experimenting,” Silver said last month, “and part of it is fewer people are watching television in the summer, different competition, especially when you get into the fall with the NFL, college football and all that. So that’s all into the mix, as well.”

Is there going to be a lockout?

Both sides do not believe so, but there are some harsh realities about to arrive. Consider a player making $10 million per year who plays in California. He could have to pay nearly 50% in federal and state income taxes, potentially have 25% or maybe even more of his salary held in escrow because of revenue uncertainty (the league holds 10% in normal years anyway) plus agent fees of up to 4%.

For the past decade, as the country recovered from the Great Recession, the NBA has been in a tremendous period of revenue and salary growth. Now most players are facing pay cuts to salaries they thought were guaranteed. Coming to grips with that could make the talks that need to happen difficult.

However, no one wants to deal with the negative effects that a lockout would bring, including fan pushback with the sports calendar already in flux and numerous leagues and college conferences dealing with fallout. The union and league currently have a good relationship and the hope is they can work together to create a short-term stop gap plan that would enable the league to carry on.

How much money is actually at stake?

No one knows for sure. Billions without question.

Besides the economics of the CBA, what else has to be negotiated between both sides?

Once those key issues are agreed upon, the league and players association will turn their attention to setting the basketball calendar for the 2020-21 season, starting with the opening of the free-agency period.

The start date of the NBA year (originally July 1, then delayed to Oct. 19, now still to be determined) is a critical component as it allows the NBA to fill in the blanks for the rest of the 2020-21 season, and impacts multiple player contracts.

The Lakers’ Anthony Davis can opt into his $28.8 million contract for the 2020-21 season. Originally the date to do that was June 23, which was then pushed to Oct. 14 when the restart calendar was set. That date (which so happens is today, Wednesday) was made invalid by the delay to the start to the NBA year, and Davis’ new opt-in date will coincide with the revised calendar year.

A hypothetical Dec. 1 start date to free agency, for example, would put the Davis opt-in date sometime in the last week of November.

Because the season probably will run past June 29, players like the LA Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard and Paul George will see their player option dates changed. Both had a June 29 opt-in date for the 2021-22 season.

The Golden State Warriors’ $17.2 million trade exception from the deal that sent Andre Iguodala to Memphis in July 2019 was originally set to expire this summer. That was delayed until Oct. 24 and now will be moved to seven days after the start of free agency.

The Oct. 17 guaranteed date for the New York Knicks’ Taj Gibson, Reggie Bullock, Elfrid Payton and Wayne Ellington will now be pushed back until the day prior to when teams can negotiate with free agents (which was originally Oct. 18). New York could have up to $40 million in cap space if the four players are waived.

The start date to the regular season will also have enormous consequences.

The day before the first regular-season game is the deadline for when Giannis Antetokounmpo can sign a supermax extension.

Are teams allowed to make trades since the season is now over?

The answer is no (for now).

Teams are currently not allowed to sign players to an extension, waive players under contract and, most importantly, conduct trades with another team (or teams). Expect the transaction window to get lifted once there is an agreement on the aforementioned CBA with the players.

One thing to note is that from when the regular season ends to before the draft, there are rarely trades. Last offseason, the first trade occurred on June 15 when the Pelicans verbally agreed to send Anthony Davis to the Lakers.

Is my favorite team/player going to be involved in trades?

We haven’t seen a lot of financially-based trades in recent years but there could be some of that this season. Some teams facing deep red ink might have to prioritize cutting salary over basketball decisions. Also, teams haven’t been able to make deals for eight months and counting. With a draft coming up, you can be assured there will be some action.

Will the transaction moratorium be lifted before the draft?

There is much unknown to the offseason but one thing team executives confirmed to ESPN is that the transaction moratorium will be lifted before the draft.

With so much revenue being lost, how will that impact free agency?

With the salary cap likely to stay flat at $109.1 million, there are only four teams (Atlanta, Charlotte, Detroit and New York) projected to have spending power above the $9.3 million midlevel exception.

That means we are going to see a bevy of players opting in to their contract before free agency starts. While Anthony Davis and Jerami Grant are almost certain to still opt out, there are 29 other players who have a player option in their contract. Big names such as DeMar DeRozan, Gordon Hayward, Andre Drummond and Mike Conley probably will not become free agents.

Keep an eye also on how teams prioritize using cap space and also their midlevel exception.

Teams are facing an economic crunch as a result of a lack of revenue coming in and are facing the unknown on what the 2020-21 season will present when it comes to attendance.

With a below-average free-agent class, free agency could end up as a slow crawl, with teams taking a conservative approach on how much money they spend and also the length of years they are willing to commit.

Because of that, expect the transactions to be dominated by trades.

I know we are talking about the 2020 offseason but what does the free-agent class of 2021 look like?

We still have to get through the 2020-21 season, but next offseason is already filled with major storylines, not to mention a top-heavy class of free agents.

If Giannis Antetokounmpo does not sign a supermax extension before the season, the back-to-back MVP will not only be the top storyline in 2020-21 but also the marquee free agent in 2021. He could be joined in a class with Leonard, George, Hayward, Drummond, DeRozan, Victor Oladipo, Jrue Holiday, Kyle Lowry, Spencer Dinwiddie, Kelly Oubre Jr., Rudy Gobert, LaMarcus Aldridge and recently crowned four-time Finals MVP LeBron James.

Then there are the potential restricted free agents from the draft class of 2017, including Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell and Bam Adebayo — all of whom will be eligible to sign contract extensions with their current teams this offseason.

How the league sets the salary cap for 2021-22 will play a pivotal role in which free agents switch teams.

If the cap stays at $109.1 million (the same as 2019-20 and possibly 2020-21), teams like the Dallas Mavericks and the Lakers will not have max cap space available. Still, as many as 10 teams could be in the mix for max free agents a year from now, depending on what happens this offseason.

ESPN’s Bobby Marks contributed to this report.

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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home

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On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

Stream FC Daily on ESPN+
– 2020 MLS Playoffs: Who’s in, schedule and more
– MLS on ESPN+: Stream LIVE games and replays (U.S. only)

Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”

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Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.

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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment

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The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.

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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls

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With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

What election stories need to get more coverage | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast

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