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How Does the NBA Work?

The NBA is an entity of habit, outside of the chaos on the court, the NBA itself functions based on a strict set of rules and deadlines that keep the show on the rails. To the casual viewer the events and changes that take place during a typical year in the NBA can seem random and hard to follow. From Draft Lotteries to Free Agency, through the All-Star Game and the NBA Finals, it’s all designed this way for a reason. Below we hope to help you better understand what’s happening in the NBA during a calendar year.

To kick things off we need to choose a starting point. We have gone with the release of the season’s game schedule. A good place as any to start the NBA Year, the sport that never stops.

When is the NBA Schedule released? The NBA Schedule is released in August each year. This has been put together taking into account many factors. From basketball reasons, like rest days, limiting the amount of back to backs and how many times who has to play who. For entertainment reasons, which days of the week or year attract the biggest viewers? Or which teams are going to get the privilege of going head to head to wow these peak audiences? We’ve got Christmas Day Games, MLK Day Games and All-Star break to factor in. For business reasons, which teams get the most national TV games, which teams have agreements for other entities to use their venue. The San Antonio Spurs have an annual road trip, because the Rodeo comes to town for the best part of a month. More recently they even factor in climate change reasons, trying to lessen the NBA’s carbon footprint by controlling fixtures to reduce travel. All that and more goes into making sure the NBA schedule is ready to excite fans and best promote the brand, announced in August each year.

When is NBA 2k released? NBA 2k is released in September each year. What has now become a staple to many NBA fans (and players years) the release of the sports premier video game is of interest to many. Who got what stats, is your team’s new signing on the roster and ready to go? Is there a new dunk package for last year’s surprise rookie of the year? The new uniforms! Fresh kicks? Video games are a big part of the entertainment world and the NBA is no exception.

When do NBA players start training camp? NBA players start training camp towards the end of September each year. This may be slightly tapered by different players’ international basketball commitments. For the most part even the biggest stars are at training camp by the end of September ready to lead their teams into the new season.

When do NBA pre-season games start? NBA pre-season games start in early October. For those players that don’t take part in summer league (more on that later) this will be the first time they take the court in earnest for the new season. While not counted officially as games, NBA pre season game stats don’t affect all time records, this is a great opportunity for teams to start to build that chemistry. Try out those 10 day contract players and give both star rookie lottery picks and lower draft gambles their chance to shine. You’ll see the stars playing too, just don’t expect Lebron and Giannis playing 40 mins in a double OT game!

When does the NBA season start? The NBA season starts in mid-October when the teams play their opening games. These will be some of the most anticipated fixtures from the NBA schedule and often see’s big rivals or projected contenders going head to head. While you can’t win the Larry O’brien trophy on the first day of the season, you sure can set out your intentions.

When does the NBA trade window open? The NBA trade window opens at the start of the regular season. Teams can make trades between the start of the regular season up to the NBA’s trade deadline which is 3pm (eastern) on the seventeenth Thursday of the season. Which usually falls in mid-February. Newly-signed free agents can’t be dealt until at least December 15th. The NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement states that a free agent who signs with an NBA team can’t be traded for three months or until December 15, whichever is later. This means that the unofficial NBA trade window, known as “trade season” is between mid-December and mid-February as most GM’s wouldn’t want to make trades with key assets until all possible options are available to them. This Mid-February deadline will still allow a team to bring in players with enough time for them to be fully functional come Playoff time!

Does the NBA play games on Thanksgiving? – The NBA does not schedule games on the Thursday of Thanksgiving. Typically this will be the first day since the season tipped off that there are no games played. Thanksgiving sports is dominated by the NFL in North America so the NBA takes the opportunity to allow their big stars time to spend with their families instead of competing for eyeballs they probably wouldn’t get anyway.

Does the NBA play games on Christmas Day? Late December is a great time for the NBA. For most NBA fans Christmas day just wouldn’t be the same without sitting down to watch at least one of the smorgasbord of fixtures the NBA put on. The Christmas Day schedule is one of the NBA’s crown jewels and is always full of rivalry and intrigue. Watch out for the teams that get snubbed, getting the spend Christmas with your family sounds great until you realise every player that matters is at work showcasing the NBA to the world!

Why does the NBA play games on Martin Luther King (MLK) Day? Since the National Holiday was commemorated in 1986 NBA players have taken part in regular season matches on MLK Day. This both serves as a platform to celebrate Dr King’s legacy, driving awareness to new generations of fans and to grab hold of viewers that are enjoying the National Holiday. The NBA was an early supporter of using sports to commemorate the great Civil Rights leader’s life. Not 11 days after King was shot and killed in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968, on an open air court in New York, 27 NBA players would take part in a Basketball game to honor his memory. The first NBA game to take place in honor of Martin Luther King took place on April 15th 1968 in New York. The National Holiday for MLK day takes place on the 3rd Monday of January each year, in order for it to be as close to King’s birthday, January 15th, as possible.

When does the NBA Trade Window Close? The NBA Trade Window closes on the 17th Thursday of the NBA season. Teams can make trades between the start of the regular season up to the NBA’s trade deadline — 3pm (eastern) on the seventeenth Thursday of the season. This usually falls around mid February and often coincides with the All-Star Break.

When is the NBA All Star Break? The NBA All-Star Break falls around mid February each year. It marks the approximate midway point of the NBA season and allows teams to take a few days off to relax and recharge. The weekend features events over 3 days – Friday, Saturday and Sunday. These events culminate in the NBA All-Star Game, which sees some of the league’s biggest stars go head to head in an East vs West conference battle. Players are selected for the All-Star game by a mixture of Fan Votes, Coaches Votes and Media Votes. The idea is to get a mix of the best and most exciting players into the game. It is often criticized for being non-competitive in nature, but is always sure to provide some eye-popping highlights! The first ever NBA All-Star game took place in Boston Garden on March 2nd 1951, since then it has been moved around the country (and Canada) giving different NBA Cities the chance to host it.

When does the NBA Regular Season End? The NBA Regular Season ends mid April each year. This is when all Teams will play their final regular season games and Playoff seedings are confirmed. It can lead to some exciting moments as the roll of a ball or a spectacular play can instantly change the fortunes of a franchise’s season. 

Awards voting closes – mid April

What is the NBA Play In Tournament? The NBA Play-In tournament takes place in mid April each season. The NBA Tournament is structured as below:

“At the conclusion of the regular season but before the first round of the playoffs, the team with the 7th-highest winning percentage in each conference will host the team with the 8th-highest winning percentage in a Play-In Game (the “Seven-Eight Game”). The winner of the Seven-Eight Game in each conference will earn the No. 7 seed.The team with the 9th-highest winning percentage in each conference will host the team with the 10th-highest winning percentage in the “Nine-Ten Game”. The loser of the Seven-Eight Game will host the winner of the Nine-Ten Game in a Play-In Game, and the winner of that game in each conference will earn the No. 8 seed.”

In short, the NBA Play-in tournament secures the last 2 Playoff Seeds from each conference. Giving teams that finish in the 9th or 10th spots one last chance to make it. The aim is to make the regular season more competitive and provide some winner takes all moments for Fans before the NBA Playoffs proper get going. The NBA Play-in Tournament first started in the 2020  ‘Bubble’ Season and plans are in place for it to continue onwards as it has proved successful.

When do the NBA Playoffs take place? The NBA Playoffs, also known as the Postseason, take place from mid April each year. Beginning once the NBA Regular season and Play-in Tournament have taken place confirming each Conference’s seeding. The age old format see’s 1vs8, 2vs7, 3vs6 and 4vs5 in both the East and the Western Conferences, with the higher seed having home court advantage across a best of 7 game series. This is repeated each round until the NBA Finals see’s the victor if each conference go head to head for the Larry O’brien trophy. 

When do the NBA Finals take place? The NBA Finals take place in June each year. They follow on from the culmination of the NBA Playoffs and see the East and Western conference Champions play a best of 7 game series for the NBA Title. The team with the best record from the regular season is given home court advantage, playing 4 of the potential 7 games at home. 

When does the NBA Draft Lottery take place? The NBA Draft Lottery takes place in late June each season. Since the first draft lottery in 1985, the format has changed repeatedly. However it’s main goal is to ensure that incoming talent is weighted to those teams that have underperformed the previous season, allowing the league to maintain competitive balance. The NBA Draft Lottery sets the order in which teams will make their selections in the upcoming NBA Draft.

When does the NBA Awards Night happen? The NBA Awards night happens after the conclusion of the NBA Finals in late June. It was launched to much fanfare in 2017 with Russel Westbrook picking up the MVP trophy in a star studded show in New York. Criticized for causing a situation where players were picking up awards after they had often suffered awkward exits from the NBA Playoffs, it lasted 2 more years before the Global Pandemic shut it down, with awards being given out during the Playoffs as prior to 2017. Currently there is no date decided for the 2022 season or any definitive answer on whether the awards show will return at all.

When is the NBA offseason? Officially the NBA Offseason begins after the NBA Finals Conclude in late June/early July. However, depending on each team’s success level an NBA player might find themselves beginning the offseason as early as April if they don’t even make the NBA Playoffs. For some it could begin even earlier, as soon as someone suggests doing a “Canun on 3” call after a regular season game huddle.

When does the NBA Draft Combine Happen? The NBA Draft Combine is an official event that takes place over a week, in late June each year. It is a chance for key NBA prospects and hopefuls to display their physical attributes and skills to NBA Franchises and media alike. Attendance is not compulsory to enter the draft, but it is a good chance to catch the eye of the people that matter.

When does the NBA Draft happen? The NBA draft happens in late June each year. The NBA Draft takes place over a single night and see’s each of the 30 teams select players through 2 rounds. Any players who have entered the draft, not selected in those first 60 picks are eligible to sign with any team who offers them a contract. The order that teams pick in is decided based on the previous season’s overall standings and the outcome of that year’s NBA Draft Lottery.

When can NBA free agency negotiations start? NBA teams and players alike are able to enter free agency negotiations from the first Monday in July. Typically back door conversations either player to player or involving agents are constantly happening. This means that within a few moments of the official start of free agency, complex deals are often announced via reporters such as Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) and Shams Charania (@shamscharania). This happens every year, although contracts cannot be officially signed until 4 days after negotiations start.

When can NBA teams make free agency signings? NBA teams can officially sign contracts with free agents 4 days after the opening of free agency negotiations, typically the first Monday in July. This deadline applies only to NBA players who had been under contract the previous season.

When does the NBA Summer League take place? The main NBA Summer League is held in Las Vegas during July Now branded as “MGM Resorts NBA Summer League” it see’s all 30 NBA teams entering. Usually these teams are made up of recent Rookie signings, Sophomore players, G League hopefuls and the occasional established NBA star who feels he needs some games. It’s a great way for players to showcase developments they’ve made over the summer and get themselves in the shop window for more minutes, more touches, a 10 day contract or a trade away from somewhere they don’t want to be. There are other Summer Leagues that run, notably Orlando, Utah and California. The Las Vegas Summer League has been running since 2004 and gains magnitude each year.

A return to the NBA off season. NBA players who take part in Summer League tournaments will often return to their offseason once the tournaments end in August/September before reporting to training camp as September draws to a close.

NBA EventAnnual Date
NBA Schedule ReleaseAugust
NBA 2k Video Game releaseSeptember
NBA Training Camp BeginsLate September
NBA Pre Season GamesEarly October
Opening NBA GameMid October
NBA Trade Window OpensMid October, when NBA season starts
Thanksgiving – No NBA GamesLate November
Newly-signed free agents hit the tade marketDecember 15th
NBA Christmas Day Games – late DecemberDecember 25th
NBA MLK Day GamesMid January (3rd Monday in January)
NBA Trade Window ClosesMid February (17th Thu of the season)
NBA All-star BreakMid February
NBA Regular Season EndsMid April
NBA Awards voting closesMid April
NBA Play In TournamentMid April (between Regular season and Playoffs)
NBA PlayoffsLate April – May
NBA FinalsJune
NBA Draft LotteryLate June
NBA Awards NightLate June – continuation TBC
NBA Off Season Part1Late June – July
NBA Draft CombineLate June
NBA DraftLate June
NBA Free Agency NegotiationsEarly July (1st Monday in July)
NBA Free Agency SigningsEarly July (4 days after negotiations start)
NBA Summer League VegasJuly
NBA Off Season Part2August – September