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NBA reportedly set to begin 2020-21 season on Dec. 22

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NBA: Chicago Bulls at Atlanta Hawks Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Dating back to late October, discussions centered on the NBA pushing for a late December start to the 2020-21 season. While the NBPA wasn’t always on board — at least according to reports — with the expedited schedule, indications emerged on Nov. 3 that the players would be voting on two distinct scenarios in the near future. Within hours, details came to light that the league’s target date of Dec. 22 for regular season action was all but assured and, on Thursday evening, the dam seemingly broke with a report from Shams Charania of The Athletic.

It should be noted that Charania reports only that the NBPA voted to “tentatively approve” the NBA’s proposal but, moments later, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN confirmed the news, pointing to player approval and the next steps to complete negotiations.

Later in the night, the NBPA officially announced the tentative agreement.

As of Thursday evening, the timeline for free agency remains uncertain, though Wojnarowski notes that the two sides are discussing an expedited approach given the timeline.

Financial concerns were always at the forefront of the negotiations, with both the league and the players mindful of the challenges brought on by COVID-19 and its fallout. In fact, ESPN reported on Wednesday that the pre-Christmas start date, along with a 72-game schedule, is projected to be “worth between $500 million and $1 billion in short- and long-term revenues to the league and players.”

As part of the reported agreement, player pay will decrease, on account of the 72-game schedule. In addition, salary escrow for the players is set to increase to a reported 17-18 percent as a result of decreased revenue projections. In fact, ESPN reports that the NBA’s basketball-related income (BRI) was down $1.5 billion in 2019-20 as a result of the schedule ramifications, and there is little clarity on when fans will be able to return to arenas en masse.

Still, the next steps will be (very) interesting on all sides, with the NBA Draft looming on Nov. 18 and a full-steam-ahead approach to the next few weeks. The league’s 30 teams will need to enter training camp by the beginning of December and, with COVID-19 testing and protocols, it will be anything but a “normal” setting. From there, scheduling hiccups could emerge when aiming for reduced travel, and the NBA could consider building in buffers to provide flexibility.

The overarching takeaway, however, is that the Hawks and the NBA will seemingly return to regular season action before the end of 2020. More details will emerge in the coming days, but observers can now begin planning for a whirlwind that includes the draft, free agency, training camp and games that count in the standings... all within about five weeks.

Stay tuned.