The NBA has not been hiding what it wants to do this season: Keep moving ahead, make as much money as they can even without fans filling buildings, crown a champion, and get on to next season when things will look far more traditional.
That has not changed in the wake of 31 games being postponed due to COVID-19 protocols.
“But the plan remains to try to resume our season as close to so-called normal as possible next year,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Saturday in his annual All-Star press conference. “It was one of the reasons why, in setting the schedule this year, we decided to stop in mid-July… Frankly, I’m fairly optimistic at this point that we will be able to start on time [next season], and that we have roughly half of our teams have fans in their arenas right now. 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.”
Even with all those postponements, the NBA is not planning on returning to a bubble for the playoffs.
“We’re not considering going back to a bubble right now,” Adam Silver said. “I don’t rule anything out just because one thing we’ve all come to understand over the last year is that the virus is firmly in charge. We need to adjust to circumstances as they present themselves.
“But as I said in response to the prior question, I’d say maybe for the first time in the past year I’m fairly optimistic right now that as we see fans returning to our arenas, as we see public health officials across the country begin to open up sporting events, theaters, restaurants, other forms of entertainment, I feel pretty good that we’re going to continue apace.”
Not having fans in the building this season — on top of the halting of last-season for months before finishing in a bubble — has been a big financial hit for the league, Silver said (although he did not get into numbers).
“The long-term health of the league is very solid. Between last year and this year, we’re looking at considerable losses…” Silver said. “Last season and this season has required a significant investment on the part of the team owners. 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. The executives, team executives, have all taken haircuts on their salary.”
Which is why the NBA and everyone involved wants to get back to “normal.”
Silver covered many other areas in his press conference.
• Silver addressed the current tensions between referees and players, which has led to a rash of quick ejections that have angered fans lately.
“First of all, in terms of the data, which we obviously look very closely at, there’s nothing aberrational happening, whether in terms of accuracy of calls or number of technicals on the floor. But I will say everyone is under enormous pressure this year. The officials aren’t exempt from that…
“So I’m not particularly concerned necessarily with the calls on the floor. I’m always concerned about the members of our larger community and how they’re interacting with each other.
“I think it’s also the case, it’s not a secret, maybe where a little bit of the shorter fuses come in, is that when you have arenas that are packed with 19,000 people and you can hardly hear the person next to you, a player may be used to saying something directed at an official that the official wouldn’t typically hear. Then the issue becomes, in largely empty arenas, when they do hear what the player says, how is it they should react.
“I think it’s something we’re talking about in the league office.”
• When asked about the diversity of head coaches in the league — in the wake of Minnesota hiring Chris Finch (who is white) as its new coach without even interviewing lead assistant David Vanterpool (who is Black) — Silver said the league needs to do more, but there isn’t an easy answer.
“It’s going to take certainly more than we’re doing now,” Silver said of improving diversity. “We’ve made progress over the years. We’re constantly looking at how we can do better. The Coaches Association is working closely with us on this.
“First of all, I don’t think there are any quick fixes. I think we want to appropriately respect everyone who’s involved. There’s no coach that I know who wants to get hired based on his skin color, but they want a fair opportunity. Part of that is ensuring that we’re developing coaches appropriately in the pipeline, that they’re getting the right opportunities to interview, the right opportunities to network as other coaches have historically done…
“I think in certain cases you have a network of relationships that go back many years. To the extent that people aren’t part of those networks, they’re clearly as a disadvantage in the process.”
• “There are no ongoing discussions right now at the league office” about changing the league logo to one with Kobe Bryant. Silver essentially shut down that discussion.
• The NBA will not mandate that players or coaches get the coronavirus vaccine.
“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. I think we’re now fairly familiar with those kinds of engagements that can lead to people getting the virus from someone else. There may be a herd immunity aspect to this, which means whether in our community or in jurisdictions, a certain percentage of people who have been vaccinated or have antibodies will cover others.”
• Silver said there are discussions but no firm plans right now for an NBA Summer League. The teams want it, he added.