ATLANTA — The NBA is expecting arenas to be filled again next season and a return to its normal calendar, Commissioner Adam Silver said Saturday, while cautioning again that every plan is contingent on continued progress in the ongoing fight against the coronavirus.
There are no plans for the league to travel overseas next season for exhibitions or regular-season games, Silver said, meaning recent preseason trips to foreign markets such as China, Japan or India won’t be repeated until 2022 at the earliest.
But otherwise, things may largely appear back to normal — with the NBA eyeing a return to the 82-game schedule, starting in October and ending in June.
“I’m fairly optimistic, at this point, that we will be able to start on time,” Silver said from Atlanta, in his annual news conference that precedes the All-Star Game. “Roughly half our teams have fans in their arenas right now and, if vaccines continue on the pace they are and they continue to be as effective as they have been against the virus and its variants, we’re hopeful that we’ll have relatively full arenas next season as well.”
The league had 171 games canceled last season because of the pandemic — one of the reasons for revenue projections being missed by about $1.5 billion — and this season will be at least 150 games below the usual total, with more significant financial losses certain.
All teams are scheduled to play 72 games instead of the customary 82, with only about half the league admitting any fans and those that have opened their doors doing so for just a small percentage of normal capacity.
“Last season and this season has required a significant investment on the part of the team owners," Silver said. “They accept that. Players will end up taking a reduction in salary this season because they are partners with the league and teams on revenue. League executives, team executives have all taken haircuts on their salary. But I think when we all step back, we all feel very fortunate to be working under these circumstances and my sense is the players feel the same way."
Silver’s news conference was virtual this season for the first time, done over Zoom — like virtually all other league business this year — because of the pandemic and the league’s protocols for health and safety. A year ago at All-Star weekend in Chicago, about a month before the NBA’s decision on March 11, 2020, to suspend the season following the news that Utah’s Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19, Silver warned there was “a major national, if not global, health crisis” looming with regard to the virus.
What Silver said might not have sounded many alarms at that time. Less than a month later, the virus began dominating every aspect of life across the globe — and has continued to since.
“One thing we've all come to understand over the last year is that the virus is firmly in charge," Silver said.
Silver addressed many other topics Saturday, including:
Of the NBA's 30 teams, seven have Black coaches, and the Minnesota Timberwolves were criticized by some last month for passing over assistant coach David Vanterpool, who is Black, and hiring Chris Finch to replace Ryan Saunders.
Even the National Basketball Coaches Association said hiring processes need to be more transparent, and said it wants to work with the league on initiatives that will improve future coaching searches. Silver wants those as well, but doesn't want them to simply exist and be hollow.
“I don’t want to create a process in which people are checking the boxes, and that someone becomes ‘the Black candidate who got interviewed, but didn’t get the job, everyone knows that person wasn’t really going to get the job, but somebody went through a process to appease the league office or somebody else," Silver said. “It requires real engagement."
Silver said he was not aware of any players who have been vaccinated yet. Some coaches, including San Antonio's Gregg Popovich, have gotten the vaccine.
Silver also said it's not a prerequisite that players get vaccinated in order to achieve the league's goal of having fans back in arenas like normal next season.
“I don’t think that every player certainly needs to be vaccinated for fans to come back," Silver said. “I mean, that’s not anything that the health authorities have suggested to us."
The league has been working to educate players and teams on the benefits of getting the vaccine when they become eligible and when it becomes more readily available. “My sense is most will ultimately decide that it’s in their interest to get vaccinated," Silver said.
Silver said he and NBPA Executive Director Michele Roberts have ongoing dialogue about whether to allow players to enter the NBA draft at the age of 18 again and essentially eliminating the so-called one-and-done policy where players in most circumstances need to go to college for a year before turning pro.
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice chaired a commission three years ago that recommended changing the rule, and has had discussions with Roberts and Silver about that topic.
“We both agreed that as part of the process of looking at a new collective bargaining agreement, we should discuss that issue," Silver said.
There are no “concrete plans" to resume summer league later this year in Las Vegas, Silver said. Last year's league was canceled because of the pandemic, and the NBA Finals are scheduled to go until as late as July 22 — around when summer league is usually concluding.
“I think we're going to end up (with) maybe an abbreviated summer league, mini-camps and other opportunities," Silver said. “Everything's on the table now."