NBA players prefer mid-January, but Christmas cash could determine rapid restart for Heat

Ira Winderman, Sun Sentinel
·3 min read

Are the Miami Heat ready to jump back into the fray mere weeks after falling in the NBA Finals? Not quite.

But, center Meyers Leonard said, the players also understand why it might be necessary, with the league to open its regular season as soon as Dec. 22.

“I’m going to do what I’m asked. I’m blessed to do what I do,” Leonard said before heading to his offseason training base in Los Angeles. “I’ll go to L.A. I’ll train as hard as I possibly can for whatever period of time it is. Then I’ll report.”

But for heavy-usage Heat players such as Jimmy Butler, going from an Oct. 11 Game 6 of the NBA Finals to a Dec. 1 start of training camp could be extreme.

“I would say, not knowing, not having conversation with the guys, for example, like Jimmy, a lot of minutes, a lot of wear and tear, whatever you want to call it, I would think that would be a possibility like, ‘Damn, I’d like some more time,’ ” Leonard said, going on to mention Heat center Bam Adebayo and Los Angeles Lakers champion forwards LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

“Other guys, maybe such as LeBron, A.D., even guys like Bam, even though he’s young, these are high-usage guys. Guys not only need the physical time to get away and relax and recover, but it’s also the mental piece.”

The NBA completed its season in a quarantine bubble at Disney World, with the Heat in that setting from July 8 until Oct. 12. The would leave a mere six weeks to reacclimate before it’s back to the court.

“People don’t quite understand the mental aspect of the bubble, specifically for guys that didn’t have anyone come,” Leonard said. “For example, my wife came, and things got a whole lot easier for me. But, prior to that, I dealt with my (ankle) injury, not being in the rotation, standing for the anthem. Like for me, personally, I needed this.”

ESPN has reported that the difference between starting prior to Christmas Day or waiting until mid-January and Martin Luther King Jr. Day could be a $500 million difference in revenue.

The New York Times reported Friday that if the season does not begin until MLK Day then the regular-season could be shortened from the traditional 82 games to a 50-game schedule. The pre-Christmas schedule would allow for a 72-game regular season. The league remains hopeful of completing the playoffs in advance of Tokyo Olympics, which have been rescheduled for late July.

As an impending free agent, Leonard accepts the financial side of the equation.

“I think the league does have the players’ best interest at heart,” he said. “But, the rational side of the mind, and the business part of the NBA is, well, there also are TV deals. And, you know, there are other things going on. And it comes down to money. And how many games do we trim the schedule? What’s really going to happen? Are there going to be fans in the stands? Are there not?

“So, that component of it is interesting, and that’s why there are people in the positions that they’re in to make those decisions. But it’ll be interesting.”

In the wake of the Heat’s deep playoff run and extended isolation, Leonard said he is in favor of a waiting game.

“Again, I’m going to do what I’m asked to do,” he said. “But I would say that if you were to take a poll, it would be heavily favored that NBA players would be MLK Day versus a Christmas start. That would be what I think NBA players would say.”


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