The conclusion of the 2019-20 NBA season in the Orlando bubble has gone off, largely, without a hitch. The league has gone months without a positive coronavirus test, and we’ve reached the second round of the postseason with no immediate obstacles standing between the remaining teams and finishing the season. The only question left? What happens to next season. 

That is still to be determined. The league had initially set the NBA Draft and free agency for the middle of October, with Dec. 1 targeted as the start of the season. But the further we get into the bubble, the unlikelier those dates seem. Now, some of them have officially been moved back. The NBA and the NBPA have agreed to push back the NBA Draft (scheduled for Oct. 16) and free agency (Oct. 18), according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania. The league is now looking at Nov. 18 as the potential revised date for the draft, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Per Wojnarowski, a big part of the reason that teams wanted to delay the date of the draft is to allow the league and players association more time to negotiate the new salary cap numbers for next season. Those numbers need to be in place so that teams can make trades on and around draft day. 

These changes echo previous concerns about the condensed offseason schedule. Players who last deep into the postseason in the bubble would need more time to recover for next season, while the league needs more time to audit its finances and make financial projections for the coming seasons in the wake of coronavirus. Via ESPN:

The longer the league waits on every decision and projection, the hope is that the latest information on the coronavirus pandemic can offer a better understanding of whether there is a possibility of playing games in 2020-21 with fans in arenas, which is vital to the league’s financial health. Commissioner Adam Silver told the players in a conference call in May that game-night receipts account for 40% of NBA revenues.

NBPA executive director Michele Roberts has been publicly and privately skeptical that the league will start next season on its tentative opening night of Dec. 1. Sources said the union has privately suggested to players that the season could start sometime later that month — or even in January or February.

Front-office executives are privately concerned about the lack of salary cap and luxury tax projections in place before the Oct. 16 draft. Those projections would allow them to make crucial decisions — including on possible trades — with a clearer understanding of the financial ramifications.

Among many teams, there is interest in connecting the mid-October draft and free-agency periods so that they could be delayed together, sources said.

In an interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols during the NBA Draft Lottery, Silver said that the proposed Dec. 1 start date was feeling “a little bit early” to him. He added that “our No. 1 goal is to get fans back into our arenas,” and if delaying the start of the season meant ensuring that, the league would strongly consider it. 

At a certain point, the league won’t be able to wait anymore, and will have to just make a decision about what they’re going to do regardless of the state of the coronavirus pandemic; they can’t delay the 2020-21 season forever. But for now, it’s wise to buy themselves some time.

Until they figure out the salary cap and luxury tax situation, delaying free agency and the 2020 NBA Draft is not just the smart thing to do, but a necessity. Those are both crucial periods that can change the trajectory of franchises and the league forever. Going into them without all the necessary information isn’t fair for anyone involved. 

Assuming the league does the right thing and pushes those parts of the calendar back to either late October or early November, it would then make it almost impossible to start the season on Dec. 1. The turnaround time was already going to be extremely quick, but getting through a full offseason and training camp in less than a month just doesn’t work. 

Again, there are so many moving parts here, not only with the league but with the country and the pandemic, that trying to predict what’s going to happen is a bit foolish. But as things stand now, you should probably take the over on Dec. 1 being the opening night of the 2020-21 NBA season.

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