The Curious Case of The NBA Season 2021
By Fahim ‘Coach Fah” Nassar
It is a chilly fall Sunday afternoon. After a morning of catching up on the latest news via Twitter, and a round of NFL Gameday, I had my third cup of delicious java. As I scanned a conversation about play-in games from my ‘Off The Ball Network’ crew, I realized next season could look remarkably different from any other season before, including the ‘bubble’.
The NBA Draft is approaching. This year the playing field is wide open as far as who is going number one. Though LaMelo Ball is the name that pops up on top of most draft boards, there is no clear, heads-above-all choice, nor clear path of need for the team that holds the number one pick.
The elephant in the room is what I call the ‘fatigue of ignorance’.
In a normal year, fans, speculators, bloggers, podcasters, journalists, and Twitter GMs alike feast on the NCAA Tournament where hundreds of college kids display their wares to a national audience in hopes to catch a scout or general manager’s eye or to at the very least, end their college careers leaving it all out on the floor.
This is the time we in the profession get to see all of our investigative articles, YouTube video clips, scouting reports and projections come to life. Pro scouts, general managers, coaches alike get to salivate over which prospect shines the brightest, fits the best in their system or which raw talent could be a great project for the future.
Unfortunately, we did not have that this year.
This year, we are fatigued by gym practice videos. We are fatigued by speculation pieces. We are tired of reading statistics on players with no way to see them in heightened competition. We are done with trying to figure out which teams are going to trade up or trade down because since before the bubble playoffs ended, we have been bombarded with miscellaneous, unfiltered info on every player anyone with Google could do a search on. We are entirely too ready for the draft to get here.
Even with that sorted out on November eighteenth, there are still very open-ended questions about when the season will actually begin. So far, the argument is between December (around Christmas) or in January, by Martin Luther King Day. Some owners/governors want to start in December, knowing there will be no fans in the arena. They want the season to start as soon as possible. Others wish to wait a bit longer to see if contingencies could be made for attendance by January.
The quandary of season start also leaves the question of free agency. Though this isn’t the biggest free agency pool ever, there are some valuable assets that could be on the market depending on what the market looks like.
That still leaves the question of training camp and when teams can start developing their new picks or incorporating free agents into the system.
It has to be difficult for organizations to put together a solid plan with so much ambiguity. Especially those with new coaches, new general managers and/or presidents. Setting up systems and putting together a culture, a developmental game plan, a working understanding of personnel needs, managing the cap, and so many other issues are quite daunting in this climate.
The scuttlebutt so far among NBA pundits, bloggers and conspiracy theorists is that the season may not be the full eighty-two and there is a proposal for seventy-two game and play-in scenario for the playoffs. I also heard that the All-Star game in Indianapolis may be sacrificed due to Covid conditions.
With those changes alone, it makes for quite the unique NBA experience.
So how do we as fans stay engaged? That is the big money question. In truth, the more we converse about it, tweet about it, watch and listen to podcasts about it, the more informed we can be, and thus resolve our ‘fatigue of ignorance’.
This is a great time for die-hard fans to dive into their local podcasts and see what the speculation is. Own the experience and let your voices be heard in the community. This is a perfect time for casual fans to study up and become more engaged. You don’t have to know everything to enjoy the melodic cacophony that is the NBA Offseason.
We have the draft in approximately three weeks. Then hopefully training camp and some kind of ‘Fall League’ perhaps, similar to the Summer League, perhaps in lieu of a preseason. Again, with a season with so much in flux, this could easily be the most unique season we’ve ever seen… but it may become a new normal in the future, depending on health climate and financial conditions.
We will keep you informed! Candidly, as usual.