The NBA and the player’s union agreed to an amended collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) early last week, following the conclusion of the 2019-2020 season in October. Both parties were forced to barter over and arrive at an amended agreement well before the expiration of the current agreement because the 2019-2020 season had been unexpectedly prolonged due to Covid-19. While the 2019 NBA season started on October 16th and ended on June 13th, this year’s season ended on October 20th, nearly a week after the 2020 season should have started. Instead of simply moving next season back nearly a full calendar year to align with the usual schedule, the 2020-2021 season will begin December 22nd, a little before this post goes live on the JLA Beat. In an effort to return to a more typical timeline next season (i.e. the 2021-2022 season) and reduce travel, both parties agreed to reduce the number of games in the season from 82 to 72. Yet although this agreement seems to favor the players by reducing the number of games played (and retaining the same salary cap and luxury tax as last year), this amended CBA creates stark imbalances in terms of team preparation and gives the worst teams from last year the best chance to succeed.
Like many other sports leagues, the NBA suspended its season in March due to Covid-19. However, by July, the NBA and the player’s union had created a plan to resume play. To take utmost precautions against the virus, the NBA constructed a bubble campus in Florida and invited the teams with the best records in to play. These teams would finish the regular season to accommodate player salary requirements, finalize the seeding for the playoffs, and then determine a champion for the 2019-2020 season. The final regular season games were played on August 15th. Then, from August through October, a full slate of playoff games were played to determine the 2019-2020 NBA champions. This year, the Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Lakers competed for the title, with the Lakers winning it all on October 20, 2020 to end the season.
In a typical year, the average NBA offseason is nearly 27 weeks, or about seven months if a team doesn’t make the playoffs. In 2017, the two teams competing for the NBA championship had about 18 weeks between the end of the NBA finals and the beginning of the next season. This year, the two teams competing for the NBA championship will have approximately 10 weeks to rest, relax, and then suit up again for the next season. Teams that traveled to the bubble but didn’t make the playoffs will have about 18 weeks between seasons. However, the teams that didn’t make it to the bubble will have approximately 41 weeks, or close to 9 months, to prepare for the upcoming season. Resuming play a little over two months after the end of the season gives a clear advantage to the teams that were not invited to the bubble, did not play in the playoffs, and did not compete in the NBA Finals. Even the teams that didn’t make the playoffs this year will have the same amount of rest as teams that went through an entire playoff run just three years ago. This amended CBA favors the teams that weren’t good enough to be in the bubble and therefore didn’t travel to the bubble and compete through the remainder the season. They have had almost double the time to recuperate, train, and prepare for the upcoming season as compared to the teams that competed this year, earned spots in the playoffs this year, and fought for a chance to compete for the championship this year. The league, the player’s union, and the amended CBA rewards the worst teams in each conference for their inability to compete and punishes the competitive teams that sacrificed to come to the bubble and finish the season. To the victors usually go the spoils, but this year it seems that everyone, even the losers, have reason to celebrate.