What’s the holdup? Detroit Pistons ready while NBA debates start

Detroit Pistons Derrick Rose. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Detroit Pistons Derrick Rose. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images) /

The Detroit Pistons have not played a game since mid-March. It might be their last game of the year if the NBA’s player union has its way.  The NBA league office wants to begin Christmas Week. Pistons fans just want to see their team play.

One can see the point of both sides now. Here, we look at the Detroit Pistons side mostly.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver wants to maximize the revenue as much as possible for the 2020-21 season after the league suffered heavy financial losses due to the worldwide pandemic. Makes sense.

The NBA players want a break after 22 teams were cooped up in the Bubble in Orlando for a season that just ended in October. That makes sense as well.

Meanwhile, the Detroit Pistons have to keep sitting and waiting, wondering when they finally get to do something meaningful again.

We have entered November with still no idea when the season will actually start. The union and league have reportedly agreed on a salary cap and luxury tax threshold for this upcoming season. But if the start is pushed back, that might change.

Without knowing the cap or threshold Detroit general manager Troy Weaver can not do much of anything concrete.

The whole kerfuffle is about a little less than a month difference. The league wants games to begin December 22, while the the union prefers starting on January 18 – the day of the Martin Luther King Birthday holiday.

Symbolically, after a summer where the NBA players were active in social justice activity, beginning on MLK Day is a good choice.

However, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver says the 26 day delay will cost league a ton of money.

How much? A lot.

A possible billion dollars loss is huge for a 26-day difference.

But when you remember that almost all the revenue NBA teams will receive, at least for the early part of the season, will come from television, it makes sense.

Silver has stated that 40% of a team’s revenue comes fans attending games in person. When will fans be allowed to pack Little Caesars Arena and other NBA arenas? If you have followed the news, you know the answer: Not anytime soon.

So to try and minimize the financial hurt all teams will be going through, the league has to maximize its television deals.

That means national partners like TNT and ESPN, and also regional networks like Fox Sports Detroit, which shows the Pistons games, need to have their preferences heard loud and clear.

A normal NBA schedule, if you can remember what this is like, starts in late October and ends with the NBA finals in June.

The national focus comes on Christmas Day, when a host of NBA games are played (Detroit has not been part of it since 2008, but there is always hope).

Those games get big ratings, and it is not like there are other sporting events to replace them with on that day, so the national networks want NBA games for Christmas.

This is why the NBA is so intent of starting the season the week of December 22. If some teams are playing Christmas Day, you need to give all the other teams basically the same starting point.

Fox Sports Detroit would also like some live content to show around the holidays, just like the national TV networks.

The NBA plans a 70-72 game schedule with everything wrapped up by the end of June. Neither date nor amount of games was just grabbed out of thin air.

Most NBA teams guarantee their regional networks between 65-70 games a year. In the current climate, the league wants to deliver on that promise.

Besides the usual fact that many people go on vacation in July, so viewership is naturally lower, there is an additional problem with playing this July: The Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

The United States, as well as other countries participating, will need their NBA players to be available during that time.

But that is a minor issue for the league. The big one is that no one will be watching NBA games when the Olympics are on. You have a once every four (five this time) years event going against say a Memphis Grizzlies vs. Orlando Magic game.

Summer NBA games mean lower ratings, which means TV networks will give out less money. Since that might be an NBA team’s sole source of revenue, not good.

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Now, the NBA union’s argument is that the season just ended, players need a chance to rest and recuperate.

Again, in a normal season, the finals end in June and training camp starts up in late September, about a 3 1/2 month break.

For the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat, the teams whose season in the Bubble lasted the longest, a December 22 start would mean a little under two months break.

This also involves the biggest name in the sport, LeBron James. He is 35 and jumping right back into action probably would not be his first choice.

Lakers teammate Danny Green has suggested that LeBron might sit out the first month of the season, if it starts on December.

Having its top player not play for a month is not a good look for the NBA either.

The union says it received a lot of blowback  from players when a Christmas Week start was first broached.

The league office (meaning Silver) told them about the massive loss of revenue the 26-day delay would mean. Basically, how much of a pay cut do you want for pushing things back 26 days?

When the pandemic hit, most NBA teams had finished 80-percent of their schedule. For non-playoff teams like the Pistons, most of the money from last year was already banked.

Thanks to the games in the Bubble, the NBA says it only had a 10% decrease in revenue from the previous year. This year, with no fans at games, and less total games scheduled, it will be a much bigger financial hit.

Having the TV networks getting no Christmas games, and playing later in the year, at a time when viewership with be at its lowest and you will be going against the Olympics? Not a good situation.

How about the Pistons?

And what about a team like the Detroit Pistons? No one seems to care.

While worrying about the health and welfare of the teams that went far in the Bubble is fine, there were eight teams that have been basically twiddling their thumbs since March 11

The NBA did not invite all the teams to Orlando, and the union frowned upon the eight teams not invited having their own tournament.

Yes, there was that three-week mini-camp the Pistons were allowed to have a couple of weeks ago. It was nice for the young players to get some work in with coach Dwane Casey. However, with no Blake Griffin or Derrick Rose, it certainly did not do anything to prepare the Pistons for the season.

No one on either side is saying ‘Hey, those eight teams have been sitting around since March, we need to get them going’. Not apparently a priority.

Why not let the Pistons and the other teams in similar circumstances have a week head start on training camp? They do not need to rest, they need to play.

In the end, the season will most likely start late December because Adam Silver usually gets what he wants. The players also do not want to see their pay reduced. It is just 26 days after all.

For the Pistons, the sooner the better. Yes, with the draft on the 18th and free agency soon to follow, it will be a bit hectic.

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But when you have been sitting around since March, hectic will be a welcome change.