- The NBA is hoping to complete the regular season after the Coronavirus forced hiatus.
- This would almost certainly push back the start of the following season.
- Commissioner Adam Silver has suggested that some changes could become permanent.
The NBA was the first–and certainly most dramatic–US professional sports league to suspend competition due to the Coronavrius pandemic. It called off a game between the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder juts moments after Jazz star Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19. It suspended play league-wide the following day.
Commissioner Adam Silver is now looking ahead to the future and trying to set up a template for how the sport will look after play resumes. He remains optimistic that the league can resume their schedule and play the remaining regular season games–in fact, in a phone call to reporters last Friday he said the league ‘hasn’t considered’ canceling the rest of the season.
The NBA situation gets even more interesting when the future implications of the scheduling changes are considered. There have been reports of permanent changes to the league schedule going forward. Some have been suggested by league insiders for years while others are completely off the board:
SHORTENED SCHEDULE, MORE REST
The NBA schedule is a grueling one with 82 games and travel. Historically, teams have sought to rest superstars at various points of the season and ‘load management’ has become a part of the winning formula of NBA Championship teams. One idea being floated can be described as ‘if you can’t beat ’em join ’em’–that would be the NBA mandating limits for the number of games players could play in an 82 game regular season. Former Commissioner David Stern considered ‘resting players’ a thorny issue and fined teams for doing so. More recently, the league has changed scheduling to reduce the number of back-to-back games and the number of games per week. Even so, teams still rest players. This option is more of a concession to reality and would have only marginal impact on betting–the coach would still decide when stars would and wouldn’t play.
Another option that has been discussed in the past but could actually become reality now is starting the season on Christmas Day. The primary reason for that would be ratings–the NBA is little more than an afterthought while the NFL is still underway. Atlanta Hawks COO Steve Coonin didn’t mince words discussing this:
“Many times, at the start of the NBA season, we are competing with arguably the best Thursday Night Football game with the NBA on TNT, our marquee broadcast, and we get crushed and we wonder why. It’s because, at the beginning of the season, there’s very little relevance for the NBA.”
The Christmas Day start could also come with a schedule reduction or not. The schedule reduction would clearly have significant impacts on betting and handicapping–fewer games mean every game has greater significance in the big picture. It also means that players are better rested and have lewss physical wear and tear throughout the year. Fatigue and travel have always been a significant component of NBA handicapping and that would be reduced under this format. A Christmas Day start with a 82 game schedule could have some marginal bearing on handicapping but that would more be a case of moving the start date while the other components of season scheduling remain the same.
A LEAGUE CUP TOURNAMENT
One of the more interesting suggestions has been an in-season tournament with a final game set for Las Vegas. The idea is to emulate European soccer tournaments such as Spain’s Copa Del Rey. The one and done format could begin on Christmas Day with opening round games. This would almost require a reduction in the overall schedule.
From a betting standpoint the aforementioned scheduling issue would be in play but a more important fact would be ‘how seriously are teams and players taking the Cup’. There might not be a ‘one size fits all’ answer. That’s the way it is in European soccer tournaments where some teams view these competitions as minimally relevant while others make them an important focus. That similar dynamic would likely be in play in any proposed ‘NBA Cup’ tournament.