As the NBA and its team owners rally around a possible Dec. 22 start date for the 2020-21 season, some of the Lakers who went the distance in the bubble have ideas of their own.
Danny Green openly suggested that some players, including LeBron James, might resort to load management in the early part of the season should the NBA start in December. Appearing on “The Ringer NBA Show” podcast, Green speculated that many of the Lakers veterans would likely not be in favor of the early start and it might mean James, who turns 36 in December, would play sparingly to start the season.
“To have that quick of a restart, I wouldn’t expect to see him there,” he said. “I wouldn’t expect to see him the first month of the season. … I just don’t expect guys to want to be there, or show up willingly.”
The Lakers are two weeks out from winning the NBA title and still in offseason and celebration mode. Some are on vacation, and some still have vacation plans.
But the NBA offseason is likely going to be shorter than normal no matter when it picks up again, starting with the Nov. 18 draft, and free agency anticipated to begin days later (no date has been officially set). A Dec. 22 season opener likely means teams would report to camp in early December, with an abbreviated preseason similar to the 2011 lockout year. Multiple media outlets have reported the league’s plan would include a 72-game season, which it has estimated would save some $500 million in revenue compared to a January start.
Part of the rush is the league’s desire to get back on its regular schedule, which it believes will help the low television ratings that were cut into by competing with football and postseason baseball, as well as the election news cycle. Many players and other league staffers would also like to resume summer offseasons, willing to start early now to reclaim their summers later. Getting games on Christmas and Martin Luther King Jr. Day, both major broadcasting dates for the NBA, is seen as an important facet of an earlier start.
The Lakers would have the most offseason to lose after clinching the title on Oct. 11, but most other teams have been out since at least August, and only the Lakers and Heat advanced to October. Green pointed out that the Lakers, should they bring back the veterans who helped them win the championship, would have the most mileage in the league, led by James, who has played more postseason games (260) than any player in NBA history.
The problem for the Lakers is that they could be a minority: The eight teams that did not attend the bubble haven’t played since March, and many others who were either out of the playoffs or eliminated in the first round have enjoyed at least close to a normal-length offseason.
“It’s tough when you have different voices, and the majority is against us probably,” Green acknowledged. “So it’s a possibility, but I don’t think that it will, for us to go back to normal, which a lot of us are begging for and the league is begging for. And obviously, it makes sense with TV deals, money – all that makes sense to at least have it open for at least half the fans, or however you do it.”
There are several complications to how the league will handle a condensed schedule, starting with assorted local pandemic restrictions that could make it difficult to resume games in some regions, much less bring in fans. Earlier rumors that the league would wait as late as March to resume play were snuffed as owners reportedly started to understand that waiting longer was not guaranteed to open up more arenas to fans during the COVID-19 crisis – preserving broadcasting rights has seemingly become a stronger priority.
But Green was not the only Laker to suggest that a quick turnaround might mean fewer star appearances early in the season: Jared Dudley, who is a free agent this offseason, tweeted: “The show will go on, just don’t cry a river when stars sit out TV games.”
It’s worth noting that James has yet to comment publicly on the proposal for a Dec. 22 start. Even Green predicted that though James might play shorter minutes or sit out games, he would likely show up for work like everyone else.
“Gotta be there,” Green said. “That’s part of the mental game as well.”