Players expected to approve NBA's December start date

Stefan Bondy, New York Daily News

Don’t expect this vote to be close or contested.

Team reps for the NBA players union will vote Thursday or Friday on a 72-game schedule that begins Dec. 22, according to reports and Lakers forward Jared Dudley. Despite the quick turnaround after last month’s NBA Finals — a conundrum, most notably, for LeBron James — the expectation is the players will approve the NBA’s proposal because it salvages revenue.

Assuming it’s approved, free agency would begin soon after the Nov. 18 draft followed by training camp on Dec. 1. The schedule is compact but travel is reduced. The proposal also includes a play-in tournament for the No. 7 to No. 10 seeds in each conference, which gets more teams involved in the playoff race and could be adopted by the league in future seasons.

There’s a preference among several players to move the start date to MLK Day on Jan. 17, which would either require a shorter regular season or an extension of the playoffs into the end of August. However, the NBA estimates that a December start could generate substantially more revenue from the TV partners because it gives them the lucrative Christmas slate of games and avoids any overlap with the Summer Olympics.

The TV money directly affects the players’ salaries because of the 50/50 revenue sharing agreement between the league and union.

“The players will vote on it, but to be honest with you there’s no real vote,” Dudley said Wednesday on SIRIUSXM NBA Radio. “Nobody is playing 55 games. We’ve got to play 72. It’s a money thing, so we’ll most likely start on the 22nd.”

Theoretically a longer delay could provide an opportunity to get fans into the arena, but the pandemic has shown no signs of fading and the NBA would rather get back on its normal schedule. After all, the TV ratings for the summer bubble were abysmal.

Although some teams haven’t played since March, the two NBA Finalists — the Lakers and Heat — just wrapped up their series about three weeks ago. So for LeBron James, 35, and Jimmy Butler, 31, it will be the shortest offseason in NBA history. The bonus is that the stars can sit out games for load management without worrying about disappointing fans who paid for tickets.

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