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The Latest Timelines and Offseason Details the NBA Is Discussing for Its Return

The league is going to get back to business soon. Here’s what that could look like under its new reality, based on intel from sources around the league.

NBA/Ringer illustration

Now that the NBA has a plan for a return to play, teams are beginning to prepare for the league to reopen. Only 22 teams are invited back to play games in Orlando, but all teams must still prepare for the draft and free agency. On Monday, the league held a call with player agents to discuss plans over the coming months. All plans are subject to change due to the uncertain future of the coronavirus pandemic. But here’s what was shared on that call, all according to league sources:

Players currently living outside the country are advised to return to their team’s city on June 15. Players currently in the United States should return on June 22. The date for international players is one week earlier because some states have required quarantine periods for people arriving from overseas. However, Raptors and Nets players could have the option to go elsewhere ahead of time; Toronto has complications due to international travel, and Brooklyn has one of the highest coronavirus rates in the country. The NBA is still working with those teams on a place for them to go. Under this timeline, teams would begin testing players for the coronavirus on June 23, likely every other day. Teams would then undergo a two-week training camp.

Not all teams will arrive in Orlando at the same time. Arrival times will be staggered to reduce the risk of infection. The exact dates and times are still to be determined, but all teams are tentatively scheduled to arrive between July 7 and 9. Upon arrival, all team members will be tested and then could be quarantined in their rooms for 36 hours. Daily testing will follow the quarantine period. The league is exploring the use of a saliva mouth swab to replace the uncomfortable deep-nasal swab often used for the coronavirus.

If a player tests positive, they will need to quarantine for at least 10 days and have two negative tests before rejoining their team. The same is true if a player leaves the league’s Disney World campus, which will be closed off to the public. If a player leaves and returns, they will need to quarantine for at least 10 days and test negative twice before rejoining.

Teams are expected to have the option to replace players who test positive by signing available free agents or utilizing their own players on two-way contracts. The transaction window may open around June 22, as previously reported by ESPN. A decision on the pool of players able to be signed has not yet been finalized, but the current thinking is it would likely be limited to players who were on an NBA roster during training camp or during the season, or on a G League roster at any point. In other words, DeMarcus Cousins, who was signed by the Lakers last summer but waived in February, would be eligible to be signed, but J.R. Smith, waived last summer and unsigned throughout the season, would not be.

Playoff rosters will be finalized after the eight regular-season games, or “seeding games.” Once the postseason begins, only players who test positive for COVID-19 could be replaced, and only by two-way players. If a player suffers an injury, they can’t be replaced. Free agents can’t be signed at this time, no differently than any normal postseason.


Player families will probably be allowed after the first round of the playoffs. Each team would have a certain amount of hotel rooms to house those family members, and every person will need to be quarantined, likely for a seven-day period upon arrival in Orlando; they will also be subjected to daily testing, just like team members.

All dates are tentative and could change depending on potential delays due to the coronavirus, or because teams won their series quickly. Here is the postseason schedule that was discussed on the call:

  • July 31: First game
  • August 16 and 17: Play-in tournament
  • August 18: First round
  • September 1: Second round
  • September 15: Conference finals
  • September 30: NBA Finals

The last possible date for a Finals Game 7 is October 12. The NBA draft is tentatively scheduled for October 15, and free agency is expected to begin on October 18 (though it could technically begin six hours earlier, like it did last summer, at 6 p.m. ET on October 17).

Looking ahead to next season: Certain players have guaranteed contract dates or player option dates that must be sorted out. The solution being negotiated is straightforward: The date would change in proportion to the original calendar.

Gordon Hayward and Andre Drummond, for example, had until June 29, two days before the old first day of free agency on July 1, to pick up their options for next season. Under this proposal, that date would move to October 16, two days before the new free agency opening on October 18.

Traded-player exceptions would similarly move. For example, the Warriors have a substantial exception from the Andre Iguodala trade to Memphis that was set to expire on July 7. Now, that exception would expire on October 24.

The NCAA announced last week that the date for college draft prospects to withdraw their name from the draft is August 3, or 10 days after the NBA combine—whichever date comes first. It’s likely that August 3 remains the final date, but there’s still a chance a combine takes place for the 2020 draft class. The NBA is figuring out how and when to hold it, though no date or location has been determined.

The NBA and players association hope to have rules for a return to play finalized by the end of the week. But so much will still have to be determined depending on how smoothly this restart goes.