NBA teams and players forced to adjust to early start

The National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) and NBA League officials reached an agreement on Nov. 4 for a 72-game season starting on Dec. 22, 2020. The implications of this decision are significant for players, franchises, and fans alike. The McGill Tribune examines the biggest consequences teams and players will face as a result of the early season start.

Title Contenders: Lakers, Heat, Nuggets, Celtics

With just 74 days between the end of the 2020 Finals and the start of the 2020-21 season, the Heat and Lakers will be facing the shortest offseason in American sports history. With less time to recuperate from their respective playoff runs, both teams gain advantages and disadvantages from the early start. Given the relatively weak free agent pool and both teams’ desire to save cap space for 2021, they will likely maintain the same rosters as seen in the 2020 Finals. The abbreviated training camp will thus have minimal impact on the play of both teams; the chemistry and rhythm built during those gruelling playoff runs should carry over to the first few months of the season. However, this short compressed off-season will surely fatigue both teams in the later stages of the season, particularly for an ageing Lakers roster. Fans can expect both teams to frequently load-manage their key players throughout the season. Other title contenders such as the Denver Nuggets and Boston Celtics will face similar durability issues from their deep runs in their respective conferences.

The 2020 Rookie Class

Rookies often have a tough time adjusting to the NBA style of play, as transitioning from a slower and less physically demanding game in college is challenging. As such, this year’s rookies will face the toughest introduction to the NBA in history. With a shortened training camp and the absence of a summer league, even star prospects such as Anthony Edwards and LaMelo Ball could struggle to adapt to the NBA.

Free Agents:

This year presents a difficult transition period for veteran free agents hoping to sign with new teams. With only a 12-day turnaround between the start of free agency and training camp, free agents not re-signing with their respective organizations will have little time to adjust to their new teams. Players will have to scramble to find new homes, and those with children will also have to arrange their schooling under short notice. To alleviate these difficulties, teams and players can come to an agreement well before the start of free agency. However, uncertainty regarding free agency and the risk associated with making multi-year commitments to new teams means that many veterans won’t be making decisions until the later stages of free agency.

Teams absent from the Bubble:

These teams will have had more than 200 days of rest as they were not invited to the 22-team Orlando Bubble in June. While the abbreviated training camp and transition period for new signings will hinder team cohesion, these teams will be the most rested coming into the season. The Golden State Warriors in particular will benefit the most from this early start. The team’s core of Curry, Thompson, and Green, who have played together since 2012, should have no trouble resuming play under Head Coach Steve Kerr’s system and re-establishing the Warriors as a clear contender. 

Teams making Major Adjustments: Rockets, 76ers, Pacers, Pelicans, Clippers, Thunder

With all of these teams planning major coaching and player changes, it will be difficult for new coaches to integrate new players into their systems during a shortened training camp before the early start. For the Rockets and Pacers, both of whom face uncertain futures and trade rumours with their star players, this early start will be particularly difficult as new coaches need time to establish which players to build their systems around. This season will truly test coaches’ ability to motivate their players to commit to their offensive and defensive schemes and ensure all players accept their team roles as quickly as possible without the intervention of unnecessary egos and tensions.

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