The NBA reportedly may only offer players a 50-game season in 2020-21 if they insist on a mid-January start date.
According to Marc Stein of the New York Times, the NBA has proposed a Dec. 22 start date for multiple reasons. The NBA's television partners do not want the 2020-21 season to last beyond mid-July since it would potentially interfere with the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Stein noted that a 50-game season would decrease player salaries significantly. There would not be as much of a drop-off under the NBA's 72-game proposal, but it would require a quick turnaround from the 2019-20 season and force teams to play about 14 games per month through May.
According to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Brian Windhorst, the NBA originally planned to start the 2020-21 season later than December in hopes that fans would be permitted to attend games in as many NBA arenas as possible
With the COVID-19 pandemic rendering that unlikely, the league reversed course and targeted a pre-Christmas return. Part of the rationale for that is the fact that Christmas Day games tend to bring in huge television ratings.
Other aspects of the proposal include a play-in tournament for the postseason and the likely elimination of All-Star Weekend in Indianapolis. A two-week break at the midway point of the season has also been discussed.
One of the biggest sticking points is that a Dec. 22 start would give teams little time to prepare. The 2020 NBA draft is scheduled for Nov. 18, with free agency occurring shortly thereafter.
Rookies and players who are acquired via free agency or trade would only have about one month to get acclimated with their new teams and prepared to play.
The NBA also has to weigh the possibility of star veterans not wanting to start so soon after the end of the 2019-20 season in October.
In an interview with Logan Murdock of The Ringer, Los Angeles Lakers guard Danny Green said he wouldn't expect LeBron James to take part in the first month of the season if it begins Dec. 22:
Logan Murdock @loganmmurdock
Lakers guard Danny Green on the proposed Dec. 22 start to next season: "If we start in December, I think most guys [are like] 'I'm not going to be there... to have that quick of a restart, I wouldn't expect [LeBron] to be there for the 1st month of the season." https://t.co/NYqNxzNEmZ
If that turns out to be true and other star players follow suit, the NBA may want to abandon the idea of starting Dec. 22 since it would be missing some of its best players.
At the same time, players may not be willing to accept an even bigger pay cut in a 50-game season, which means the NBA and NBPA could reach an impasse.
If that happens, it would put a Dec. 22 start in even greater jeopardy since that date is now less than two months away.