Palawan, it’s official. The next season of the National Basketball Association (NBA) will start on December 22, 2020, around 2 months after crowning the Los Angeles Lakers as 2019-2020 bubble champions. None conventional schedules are a norm primarily due to the pandemic but the NBA and the NBA Players Union agreed to let the next season roll before the year-end… and the timelines and key dates will be very tight.
With the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) being shelved this year, draft prospects lost the benefit of showcasing their skills and talents to NBA managers and scouts. The end result is a projected shallow draft and a polarizing one being that no single player can be named a consensus top pick… some say there is no consensus top 5 either. It will be a virtual guessing game whether this crop of rookies can shine in the limelight.
Teams like the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Golden State Warriors and the Charlotte Hornets (the first 3 teams to make a selection this year) are surely scratching their heads on whom to draft on D-day November 18. In my opinion, however, there are 2 players who are NBA ready that can make a difference if they get drafted within the top 3: LaMelo Ball and Anthony Edwards.
At 6’4 (some say 6’5) and 225 pounds, Edwards of the Georgia Bulldogs is extremely athletic and has an NBA body. He definitely is not a project. He can contribute right away especially if he gets selected by the Wolves or the Hornets since both teams need a quality player in the wing spot. He is quick to defend opposing wingmen and is big enough to defend the post. I have a feeling the Wolves won’t let him slip at no. 1.
Ball, the younger brother of New Orleans Pelicans star Lonzo, is totally different from Edwards. Relying on skill and a sharp basketball mind, Lamelo can contribute right away at the one spot or can complement any starting point guard in the backcourt. He is tall for a point guard at 6’7 and can pose some match-up problems. Like his elder brother, he too has excellent court vision. If the Warriors, don’t select him at 2, I believe the Hornets will take the gambit on him.
There could be some diamonds in the rough out there, and typical to all NBA draft classes, some under the radar talent may end up big after a few years of development. It will be a virtual guessing game from the 11th pick onwards and this adds more excitement to the coming season.
It is going to be a blitz. Immediately after the draft, the free agency opens on November 20. Unlike next year’s projected free agents that would include the reigning Most Valuable Player Gianis Antetokounmpo, the class this year would not be as deep. Fred VanVleet of the Toronto Raptors, Montezl Harrell of the Los Angeles Clippers, and Danilo Gallinari are but a few of the popular names who are unrestricted (unless Anthony Davis decides to opt-out of the last year of his contract with the Lakers). All 3 will definitely be targeted by contending teams or those with cap space.
I feel that most players with a player option will opt-in considering the climate of the pandemic. The likes of Davis, Gordon Hayward, Andre Drumond, Demar Derozan, and Otto Porter wouldn’t want to miss out on the final year of their multi-million dollar contracts and not get a long term guarantee in free agency.
Like the NBA draft, general managers will also have a tight window to win marquee players to beef up their rosters.
The official camp date is yet to be determined but with a December 22 opening, chances are likely that players will have to report to camp on December 1. This will allow for a week-long camp and a pocket tournament to get teams in game shape. Bulk of the worries fall on the shoulders of the teams’ conditioning coaches. It will be their responsibility to get these elite athletes in tiptop shape come opening day.
Keep in mind that some teams didn’t have the luxury to participate in the bubble so we are talking about a possibility that players may come out rusty on the opening tip.
Knowing the demands of the game and the level of play in the league, I believe the trainers would ease the athletes into the season. I don’t think they would go hard in training camp lest they run the risk of injury to their core players. Incidentally, I believe our very own Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) can share some insights as to how they keep athletes in shape especially that our league format calls for just a 4-week break in between conferences.
It will be a very interesting season. Will teams opt to “load manage” the stars early to preserve them for the long haul? Or will coaches opt to give them the regular load in lieu of the anticipated shorter training camp? Will the Lakers keep Lebron James on the shelf a few weeks more to get him fully rested? Will Kawhi continue the process of load management under new coach Ty Lue?
The ultimate question of course would be: Will teams open stadiums to fans again? Gate receipts are a big revenue stream in the business of sports and this is definitely one of the biggest questions that require some answer hopefully over the next few weeks… or until a vaccine is released to neutralize the pandemic.
(The writer is a senior leader in the Business Process Outsourcing industry managing Philippine countryside operations)