Little under a month since the Los Angeles Lakers clinched their 17th championship, the NBA already has the 2020-21 campaign in sight.
The league is in the midst of its shortest offseason in history after reaching an agreement with players on a December 22 start date, before which teams will be tasked with navigating their way through the NBA Draft, free agency and training camp – all while continuing to deal with the challenges thrown their way by the coronavirus pandemic.
While the prospect of continuity as a result of the quick turnaround will favour some, others will no doubt be feeling the effects of a truncated period in which to prepare.
First and foremost, the NBA will be beneficiaries from a financial standpoint having seen its revenue drop 10 per cent to $8.3 billion for the 2019-20 season due to losses caused by the pandemic. According to the Associated Press, the league came in $1.5 billion short of revenue projections.
A pre-Christmas return is no doubt partly in view of boosting things in that department, likely ensuring the playoffs are wrapped up by the Summer Olympics and enhancing the chances of being able to begin the 2021-22 campaign in October.
December’s curtain-raiser should also work to the advantage of the eight teams that did not feature in the NBA bubble near Orlando over the summer, who have had since March to recharge physically compared to those still recovering from deep playoff runs.
Among those are a Golden State Warriors side set to be boosted by the presence of a healthy Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. Curry’s sole game this year came in March against the Toronto Raptors as he made his return from three months out with a broken second metacarpal, while Thompson has been absent since June 2019 due to a torn ACL.
With Draymond Green still to add after a quiet year in their absence, the Warriors’ dynasty might not be done yet.
The flip side to that is the swift turnaround enabling teams that flourished in the bubble to ride that wave of momentum into the new season.
A Phoenix Suns outfit that won eight straight led by an inspired Devin Booker are prime examples as they look to retain that form, along with the Denver Nuggets after they worked their way to a spot in the Western Conference finals as one of the surprise packages of the restart.
And while the bubble proved a physically and mentally strenuous experience for the Miami Heat, a reduced period in which to reflect might be key in helping them harness the same grit and heart that led them to the NBA finals.
A Booker, a T.J. Warren or a Damian Lillard also all had phenomenal bubble experiences they would do well to build off straight away.
Then there is a player like Russell Westbrook, who was rusty upon his return from injury for the Houston Rockets in the bubble but would likely be aided by a hasty return as he looks to rediscover his top form.
Who won’t benefit?
The same argument made for the Heat might have been made for the Lakers given that their season ended in triumph, but they currently own the third oldest team in the league and certainly could have done with the added recovery time.
LeBron James defied age once more this year, but even the 35-year-old is prone to fatigue. The four-time champion recently joked he would be ‘cherry picking’ games for the first half of the season, while team-mate Danny Green admitted he wouldn’t anticipate James featuring too often at the beginning.
“If we start in December, I think most guys [are like], ‘I’m not gonna be there,'” said Green.
“If I had to guess, because we have a lot of vets on our team, it’s not like we have a lot of young guys or rookies, 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, probably do some playing, but I just don’t expect guys to want to be there, or show up willingly.”
Green’s sentiments might well apply to a number of players still in the process of resting on the back of the restart, with many having pushed back against proposals for a pre-Christmas return to action.
Newly-appointed head coaches are meanwhile faced by a limited window in which to galvanise demoralised teams and shape their rosters as they had hoped.
New Orleans Pelicans head coach Stan Van Gundy was greeted by an exciting young core consisting of Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram, but also defensive issues that need to be ironed out. He has just under two months to get started on that.
Of the nine teams that had head coaching vacancies entering the offseason, the Oklahoma City Thunder are the only ones yet to fill the job as they continue their hunt for a successor to Billy Donovan.
The Thunder become even more relevant to the conversation when considering the, albeit uncertain, prospect of them trading Chris Paul along with the fact that Danilo Gallinari, Nerlens Noel and Andre Roberson are all due to become free agents later this month.
With Steven Adams, Dennis Schröder and Terrance Ferguson all set to hit free agency next year, any incoming head coach has food for thought with a rebuild seemingly on the cards.
Free agency itself beckons as a challenge. Few teams have the cap space to invest heavily in significant pieces, and should free agents rebuff any potential landing spots they risk missing out on the lucrative deals they had been in line for.
Furthermore, the prospect of a domino effect of players seeking moves in a perhaps unappealing market could open the door to recognised playoff contenders swooping in as easy assurance.
Those on the search for new homes may be put off by the reality of relocating their families in the middle of a pandemic, while those that do find new homes could have a matter of weeks to get up to speed.
The setup favours the settled and familiar rosters, while putting those eyeing an overhaul or those adapting to new schemes to the test.
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