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NBA off-season has turned into a sprint -- especially for the Toronto Raptors

The Los Angeles Lakers pose for a photo after winning the NBA championship.
The Los Angeles Lakers pose for a photo after winning the NBA championship.

The NBA’s off-season timeline has quickly gone from the expected marathon to a bit of an all-out sprint.

When the Los Angeles Lakers won the title a couple of weeks ago, the thinking had been real games wouldn’t be played again until late January or possibly well into February.

That’s because NBA commissioner Adam Silver had made it clear at his Finals availability that the league’s greatest wish was to restart in front of fans in home arenas.

But as COVID-19 numbers have shot up in the United States, the league’s big thinkers have had to reverse course, realizing that large numbers of spectators likely aren’t going to be able to attend games anytime soon.

That has led to a desire to satisfy the broadcast requirements of a 2020-21 season — meaning a shortened season of 72 games, according to multiple reports — with a focus on a return to normalcy for 2021-22, predicating an October start for that season.

The NBA’s board of governors met last week to discuss plans knowing that timelines are razor thin. The draft will go on Nov. 18 and the goal is to be playing on Christmas Day, which likely means a season start a few days earlier (because as ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported, ABC and ESPN get the Christmas broadcasts in the U.S., TNT gets the ring ceremony game, which would have to be earlier).

The salary cap and luxury tax numbers have to be worked out before free agency can start and with training camps likely needing to open around Dec. 1 to have the players ready in time, the race is on to get all of this done.

Of course, if this all comes to pass some of the top players who went deep into the playoffs might be load-managed to a level that would make even Kawhi Leonard proud.

Take Leonard’s former teammate Danny Green’s word for it.

“If we start in December, I think most guys (would say), ‘I’m not going to be there,” Green told The Ringer NBA Show podcast Monday. “If I had to guess, because we have a lot of vets on our team … to have that quick of a restart, I wouldn’t expect to see (LeBron) there. I wouldn’t expect to see him probably for the first month of the season. He’ll probably be working out with us … but I just don’t expect guys to want to be there, or show up willingly,” Green said, though he did concede they might feel differently a few weeks from now when they’ve had a bit of rest.

The NBA all-star weekend in Indianapolis is expected to be cancelled, with a two-week mid-season break implemented to either play makeup games, in the event of an outbreak, or just to build in some more rest for the condensed schedule.

The New York Times reported Tuesday that some teams are preparing for free agency to begin as soon as two days following the draft.

The quick turnaround time from the end of the 2019-20 season and the start of 2020-21 is more complicated for the Raptors than for any other team.

That’s because key rotation players Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol are all unrestricted free agents, and because it remains unclear where the Raptors will even play.

A team source told Postmedia a number of scenarios have been preliminarily discussed, including the organization’s first choice of playing at home. That is unlikely though, given a current lack of rapid testing and the Canadian government’s 14-day quarantine rules, though things could change.

If Toronto is out, the Raptors will need to find somewhere with access to a quality training facility. Kansas City has courted the team. Buffalo is the closest geographical match, but New York City makes a lot of sense for a number of reasons.

While the NBA is not anywhere close to as much of a gate-driven league as the NHL or Canadian Football League, gate receipts are still considerable. Silver has said 40% of the NBA’s $8 billion or so in annual revenue comes from in-person fan purchases, be they ticket sales or merchandise or concession buys.

Having no fans — or only a limited number — following a year where the league lost over a billion dollars of previously expected revenue, according to reports is going to be a tough pill to swallow, but there isn’t a viable alternative at the moment.

You’ve likely heard for months that these are unprecedented times. That reality is no different for the NBA.


Expect to see something resembling this timeline ahead of the 2020-21 NBA season:

NBA draft — Nov. 18

Salary cap numbers released — Around Nov. 19

Free agency starts — Around Nov. 21

Training camps open — Dec. 1

First games — Dec. 22

Christmas slate — Dec. 25

72-game season, no all-star weekend for 2020-21 season.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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