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NBA's owners, player representatives OK Dec. 22 start for 72-game 2020-21 season

The Los Angeles Lakers players celebrate after the

The Los Angeles Lakers players celebrate after the Lakers defeated the Miami Heat 106-93 in Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Credit: AP/Mark J. Terrill

The NBA continued to move toward an agreement with the players on a plan for the upcoming season on Thursday, with the Board of Governors and the National Basketball Players Association’s team representatives approving the deal.

ESPN reported late Thursday that the player representatives voted and were ready to move forward with a deal the sides have been working on steadily since the season ended last month, with the Lakers winning the championship in the COVID-19-interrupted campaign.

The NBPA issued the following statement: "The Board of Player Representatives of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) has tentatively approved a start date of December 22, 2020 for the 2020-2021 NBA season and a 72-game schedule. Additional details remain to be negotiated and the NBPA is confident that the parties will reach agreement on these remaining issues relevant to the upcoming season."

"The players will vote on it, but to be honest with you, there’s no real vote," Lakers forward Jared Dudley said Wednesday on The Starting Lineup on SiriusXM NBA Radio. "Nobody is playing 55 games. We’ve got to play 72. It’s a money thing, so we’ll most likely start on the 22nd."

The Knicks and the seven other teams that were left out of the return to play in the Orlando bubble have not played a game since March 11. The rush back to action may be welcome for them, but some teams took their seasons into October.

The NBA Draft is scheduled for Nov. 18 and free agency is expected to begin two days later. The free-agent market has moved quickly in recent years and will have to this time, with training camps slated to begin Dec. 1.

The league saw revenues plummet this past season and, with fans still limited because of the pandemic, it expects to be hit hard again in the upcoming season. Because of those revenue losses, the market could be weaker than usual. One league source said that with the uncertainty — and the brief time to piece together a roster and a game plan — more players are expected to remain with their current teams.

The 72-game schedule would satisfy the league’s television contracts, both nationally and with the regional sports networks, but there still is a huge slice of revenue that the league is seeking that remains very tenuous. The Athletic reported that according to sources, the NBA aims to have arena suites open to fans at 25% to 50% capacity for the start of the season, based on local regulations.

While The Athletic speculated about plans to have courtside fans pushed approximately 10 to 12 feet back from the players, the coronavirus surge will cause huge problems.

The Knicks and Nets, for example, will have to adhere to state regulations. The Mets, Yankees, Jets and Giants returned to their stadiums but did not admit fans into the games at all. Even allowing fans into the suites in small numbers would generate some income.

While the return to play in the Orlando bubble was successful, with few incidents, this carries the risk of having teams travel and play without the benefit of the bubble.

The focus, at least early in the season, is expected to be on regional play — division play that limits how far teams travel, with the trips taking on an approach almost like a baseball schedule, with multiple games in a city before heading to the next one.

One league source indicated that the league likely will not limit the competition to division play, allowing high-profile games such as Kevin Durant and the Nets playing against the Golden State Warriors or LeBron James bringing the Lakers to New York.

New York Sports