NBA team owners and the players union will conduct separate meetings Thursday that are expected to produce a deal to start the 2020-21 campaign on December 22, according to multiple reports Wednesday.
The National Basketball Players Association and the league are expected to agree upon a season reduced to 72 games per club, ESPN and The Athletic reported, with a formal vote of player representatives taking place Thursday night or early Friday.
The NBA, according to the reports, says that starting before Christmas Day and keeping those traditional holiday television games while finishing the playoffs before the Tokyo Olympics in mid-July will be worth between $500 million and $1 billion to a league already set to lose money by playing without spectators in stands due to Covid-19.
Television broadcasters and advertisers would want the holiday matchups and like to avoid playing opposite the Olympics.
Players would face a salary escrow of about 18% for the next two years, sharing the losses while keeping salary cap levels in place to avoid roster issues for teams.
NBA players had been reluctant to start so soon after an October finish to an NBA Finals played in a quarantine bubble at Orlando, some instead pushing for a January start on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday even if it meant less money for fewer games and an August finish.
Having a season ending in July would allow for the possible return to the NBA's prior schedule of an October start to the season for the 2021-22 campaign.
A deal would be needed quickly to begin a turnaround for the 2020-21 campaign, including a planned November 18 NBA Draft, the start of free agency and pre-season training camps that will open about December 1.
The league and players are looking to spread out Covid-19 losses for players over several seasons to avoid a major one-season hit.
A deadline to keep open the option of ending the collective bargaining agreement has been delayed to Friday to allow time for an agreement.
The NBA has warned players that 40% of basketball-related income could be lost without ticket buyers at games after the league lost $1.5 billion last season.
The league plans to start the season with no spectators allowed in team arenas as virus safety restrictions ban major indoor public gatherings.