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What could a 2020-21 NBA season look like with teams in home markets? Here are three predictions.

We can expect teams to mostly be without fans in the beginning. And we can expect to see some teams’ rosters get ravaged by the coronavirus since the United States is in the middle of a second wave.

Washington Wizards v Boston Celtics
Troy Brown Jr. and the Washington Wizards look like they will play games sooner rather than later in home markets. That means there will be coronavirus cases spreading among teams.
Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

The U.S. federal (and in many cases, state and local) elections were last Tuesday. And the most important reason why Americans voters went to the polls (whether early or in-person) was because of the economy, not the coronavirus pandemic according to exit polls.

I think the pandemic is the more important issue to tackle first and made no attempt to hide it over the last several months. Until the pandemic’s worst waves are behind us (which I think is after this winter), there just can’t be much discussion about how to make life close to what it was like before the coronavirus.

The NBA, like any other business, is looking to resume playing games, hopefully sooner rather than later because October playoff games aren’t ratings winners and Christmas games are a really big deal in the league.

So what could we we expect to see in the coming season as a whole assuming the NBA starts on Dec. 22. Here are three predictions:

No. 1: The Toronto Raptors may have to relocate to the United States next season.

Toronto Raptors Victory Parade & Rally
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will have to wait at least one or more years before he can see NBA basketball in his country again.
Photo by Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic has closed the door to most international travel. Americans cannot go to the European Union’s Schengen Area or even Canada for non-essential travel, which includes vacations. But when it comes to essential work (and the NBA is considered to be essential in the US), that becomes a bit unclear.

Three of the Big Four American professional sports leagues have teams in Canada, including the NBA. But so far, we haven’t seen American teams travel to Canada and vice versa in a regular fashion.

The Toronto Raptors are the only non-American NBA team and it would be very difficult for their opposing teams to play games north of the border without diplomatic assistance. The Canadian government has generally been unwilling to support American sports leagues playing in home markets, though the NHL played summer playoff games entirely in a Canadian hub city format.

To combat this scenario, the Raptors may temporarily relocate to the United States, possibly to a city like Kansas City, Mo. or Louisville, Ky because it would be difficult for NBA teams to cross international borders. That said, the Raptors have pushed back on those reports that they are considering a one-year move to Louisville specifically. They are still hopeful that they can stay in Toronto for the time being.

Still, a temporary relocation would not unprecedented in the NBA. The New Orleans Pelicans (then the Hornets) played most of the 2005-06 and 2006-07 NBA seasons in Oklahoma City because of Hurricane Katrina’s damage in the Louisiana city in summer 2005.

No. 2: If the NBA allows fans in arenas at some point next season, expect teams in the Heartland and the South to allow them before teams in the West Coast and the Northeast due to local government regulations.

If the Wizards do play games in front of fans early next season, it will more likely be in places like Oklahoma City than Washington.
NBAE via Getty Images

Let’s head back to the Raptors for a moment since it is possible they may have to move to the United States for a year. Why would they want to move to a city like Louisville or Kansas City instead of let’s say, Buffalo, a major American city that is close to Toronto? Or the NBA hungry city of Seattle?

To me, I think the reasons are money and government regulations. New York State, the state where Buffalo is in has done among the best jobs of all the American states, but the state isn’t allowing fans in any sporting events, and it’s doubtful that will change in the winter given the fall surge. And given how regulations have been since last spring, the state will be among the last to allow fans in arenas again. So if the Raptors move to Buffalo, which is in New York State, there probably won’t be fans in the arena at any point during a 2020-21 season.

However, if the Raptors played in Louisville, which is in Kentucky, they would presumably be able to play with fans, perhaps right away or sooner than most other markets. Currently, Kentucky regulations are allowing 15 percent maximum capacity though it’s unknown whether that number also includes the number of players and staff. So that’s about 3,313 fans or people out of the 22,090 listed capacity the KFC Yum! Center can hold, assuming the Raptors play there.

In other words, teams that play in states that allow fans will make some gate revenue while teams in states that don’t allow fans will continue to get none.

In general, teams that are or are more likely to be lenient in allowing fans in indoor professional sporting venues are in the South and Heartland. So in places like Atlanta, Memphis and Oklahoma City, their state governments are more likely to allow fans than in cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and yes, even Washington. So even if the NBA allows fans in games during the winter, don’t expect the Wizards to follow suit.

Hopefully the NBA will offer some form of revenue sharing between teams that allow fans and those that don’t. But that will be something quite apparent as games get underway.

No. 3: Given how the virus has spread among outdoor sports teams worldwide, NBA teams will likely have outbreaks that could force them to play very short-handed, or be quarantined. That can affect the standings.

FC Midtjylland v Ajax - UEFA Champions League
Ajax Amsterdam star Dusan Tadic had a false positive coronavirus test along with several teammates before playing their team’s Champions League match against FC Midtjylland last Tuesday. We could see multiple NBA teams facing similar situations this winter.
Photo by Rico Brouwer/Soccrates/Getty Images

If there’s one thing I want next season for the NBA, it’s a bubble. Last summer, no player contracted the coronavirus while in Orlando, even if the environment was restricted.

However, if sports leagues play in home markets, outbreaks are inevitable. We are already seeing it in Europe and the United States, although in other sports.

Currently, the coronavirus is unleashing its wrath on Europe even worse than it is in the United States. While Belgium is currently the hardest hit country in the world on a per capita basis, forcing their country into lockdown, its northern neighbor, the Netherlands isn’t faring much better. And in the sports world, Ajax Amsterdam, the Netherlands’ top professional soccer team, experienced a major scare with the coronavirus before a Champions League match vs. FC Midtjylland of Denmark last Tuesday.

Per UEFA rules, Ajax tested for COVID-19 on Monday where 11 players tested positive before going to Denmark, forcing the team to bring just 17 players for the contest, not much more than the minimum of 13. The Ajax players with positive cases initially had to stay in Amsterdam for secondary testing. Some players, including their star and captain Dusan Tadic, were found to be negative after secondary tests and travelled separately to Denmark to play. Ajax won, 2-1 in good part because Tadic was involved in both of his team’s scores. Without him and other key players with false negatives, they could have tied or lost in an upset.

Consider Ajax lucky however. Some teams’ entire rosters have been quarantined due to COVID-19, including three teams in the Swiss soccer league.

Similar situations are happening in the United States. Loudoun United, DC United’s second division soccer team, canceled its last three games in September due to a late season coronavirus outbreak. Even local college football teams are facing complications like the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.

Navy was supposed to play Tulsa this Saturday in Annapolis. But due to some coronavirus cases among the midshipmen on the team, the situation ultimately forced that game to be postponed.

While this is Navy’s first brush with virus-caused postponements, it is also Tulsa’s fourth postponed or canceled game of the season due to it.

Now, let’s bring this situation back to the NBA and the Wizards. Teams are playing in home markets in other sports and countries, but there are team outbreaks and they forcing game postponements, cancellations or perhaps situations where teams could be really short handed if we look at the situation Ajax faced this week.

Unfortunately, we may see a point where many Wizards players get the coronavirus simultaneously, including their biggest contributors. But depending on how roster and testing specifics are for the league, there may not be enough cases on a team to force a postponement. Such a scenario could set them back in the standings, even given that many don’t believe Washington is a serious contender anyway. This situation could also happen to any other team, including title contenders which could set them back in the standings.

I’m very worried about the impact of the coronavirus on our society in the next few months since the feared fall wave is here. Regardless of whom wins the Presidential election, it’s clear that there will be tough economic times ahead for many people and businesses throughout the USA.

Though I am still vehemently against the league starting in any other environment than a bubble, I also get that I’m in the minority on this issue. I accept that and am resigned to whatever happens in the months ahead regarding the league’s coronavirus management. At this point, I hope I’m wrong so I can just look back on this as a moment where I was overly pessimistic.