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On October 24, 2020, Kevin Séraphin announced his retirement from the NBA. Séraphin played for three teams during his seven-year NBA career.
On November 16, 2020, Corey Brewer announced his retirement from the NBA. Brewer played for 12 years in the NBA for eight teams, winning one championship with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011.
On November 18, 2020, Dorell Wright announced his retirement from the NBA. Wright played for four teams during his 11-year NBA career.
On November 25, 2020, Aaron Brooks announced his retirement from the NBA. Brooks played for seven teams during his 13-year NBA career.
On November 30, 2020, Andrew Bogut announced his retirement from the NBA. Bogut played for five teams during his 14-year NBA career, winning one championship with the Golden State Warriors in 2015.
On November 30, 2020, Evan Turner announced his retirement from the NBA. Turner played 10 seasons for five teams during his time in the NBA.
Free agency negotiations were scheduled to begin on October 18, 2020, but that date was delayed. On November 9, it was announced that free agency would begin on November 20 at 6 p.m. ET, with signings permitted starting at 12 p.m. ET on November 22.
On October 20, 2020, the Los Angeles Clippers promoted Tyronn Lue as their new head coach.
On October 22, 2020, the New Orleans Pelicans hired Stan Van Gundy as their new head coach.
On October 30, 2020, the Houston Rockets hired Stephen Silas as their new head coach.
On November 11, 2020, the Oklahoma City Thunder promoted Mark Daigneault as their new head coach.
The COVID-19 pandemic in North America, which pushed the conclusion of the previous 2019-20 season and playoffs into the fall, had delayed the start date of training camp to November 10, 2020. The preseason began on December 11, 2020, and ended on December 19, 2020.
The start of the 2020-21 regular season was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The NBA initially set a target date of December 1, 2020, to start the regular season. However, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver suggested further delaying the season until at least January because local health orders at each NBA city would limit fan attendance. The NBA receives 40 percent of its revenue from attendance, and thus delaying the season until it is safer to let more fans into the arenas would ease the financial pain. The NBA is also contemplating organizing the schedule such that teams would have less travel, with back-to-back games in the same cities against the same opponent.National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts also suggested that the season might eventually have to start inside a "bubble" environment, similar to the 2020 playoffs.
On October 13, the NBA delayed the targeted start date of the regular season from December 2020 to Martin Luther King Jr. Day, January 18, 2021. Later in October, however, Sports Illustrated reported that the NBA was targeting December 22, 2020, as the first day of the season. On November 5, 2020, the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) tentatively approved a 72-game regular season that will begin on December 22, 2020. The season is expected to feature a condensed schedule so that the NBA Finals could be played once again in June, which will allow NBA players to participate in the 2020 Summer Olympics; the Olympics were postponed to 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic in Japan.
On November 17, the NBA announced that the 72-game regular season would run from December 22 through May 16. Each team would play three games against each opponent from its own conference and two games against each interconference opponent. The season would include a six-day All-Star break from March 5 to 10, although the All-Star Game and related weekend festivities have since been postponed. The break serves to separate the two halves of the season. The schedule will be released in two parts. The first half was released in early December, while the second half will be released in the later part of the first half.
December 23: Oklahoma City vs. Houston - At least three Houston players tested positive or inconclusive, four other players were quarantined after contact tracing, and James Harden was unavailable after violating health and safety protocols.
January 10: Miami vs. Boston - Ongoing contact tracing with Miami caused the Heat to not have the required minimum of eight players available for the game.
Orlando vs. Boston - Due to testing and contact tracing, Boston did not have the required minimum of eight players available for the game.
Utah vs. Washington - Washington did not have the required minimum of eight players available for the game.
Atlanta vs. Phoenix - Phoenix did not have the required minimum of eight players available.
Golden State vs. Phoenix - Phoenix continued to not have the required minimum of eight players available due to testing and contact tracing.
Washington vs. Detroit - Washington continued to not have the required minimum of eight players available.
Memphis vs. Minnesota - Minnesota did not have the required minimum of eight players.
January 16: Indiana vs. Phoenix - Phoenix still did not have enough available players.
Cleveland vs. Washington - Washington still did not have enough available players.
Philadelphia vs. Oklahoma City - Philadelphia did not have enough available players due to ongoing contact tracing.
January 18: Cleveland vs. Washington - Washington continued to not have enough players.
Washington vs. Charlotte - Washington continued to not have enough players.
Memphis vs. Portland - Memphis had an outbreak.
Washington vs. Milwaukee - Washington's sixth consecutive postponed game.
Memphis vs. Portland - Memphis did not have enough available players due to ongoing contact tracing.
Memphis vs. Sacramento - Memphis did not have enough available players due to ongoing contact tracing.
Memphis vs. Sacramento - Memphis did not have enough available players due to ongoing contact tracing.
The NBA will stage a "Play-in tournament" for teams ranked 7th through 10th in each conference from May 18-21. The 7th place team will play the 8th place team, with the winner earning the 7-seed. The 9th place team will play the 10th place team with the loser of that game being eliminated. The 7th-8th loser will then play the 9th-10th winner, with the winner of that game earning the 8-seed and the loser being eliminated.
The playoffs will begin on May 22 and operate under the standard playoff format, with four rounds of best-of-seven series. The 2021 NBA Finals will begin no later than July 8, with a potential Game 7 no later than July 22.
The Phoenix Suns' home arena, formerly known as Talking Stick Resort Arena, was renamed PHX Arena after the naming rights deal expired on November 6, 2020.
Temporary relocation of the Toronto Raptors to Tampa
As the NBA's plans for the 2020-21 season began to take shape, the Toronto Raptors were denied permission to play home games in Toronto as the Canadian federal government ruled that repeated cross-border trips by the Raptors and their opponents would be a major health risk due to the different levels of COVID-19 cases in the United States and Canada. This is similar to what happened to the Raptors' Major League Baseball counterpart, the Toronto Blue Jays, who were forced to play their 2020 home games in Buffalo.
After looking at several U.S. cities, the Raptors announced on November 20, 2020, that they would play their home games at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida to begin the season.
Six teams announced plans to admit in-person spectators within the start of the season.
Home games with spectators allowed
First five home games played for family and friends only, planning to open to the public at 10% capacity on January 18, 2021.
Played their first few home games in Tampa Bay capped at 20% capacity. On January 9, 2021, Amalie Arena operator Vanik Sports Group announced that both the Raptors and the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning will play behind closed doors until at least February 5, due to rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the local market.
To reduce on-site staff, ESPN and TNT will leverage the home team's rightsholder as a host broadcaster for some of their games. They will send a neutral "world feed" and other camera feeds to the network, which will then add commentary and surrounding coverage. ESPN and TNT are also deploying additional cameras specific to their broadcasts, and ESPN may provide a supplemental on-site presence if the local broadcaster does not have enough capacity to support the host model. ESPN stated that some (roughly half) of their games, particularly marquee games exclusive to ESPN and ABC, would be produced on-site with an existing hybrid model (where some producers and graphics operators work from ESPN's studios in Bristol, Connecticut). TNT also planned to begin doing some games on-site beginning with Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
On December 26, 2020, Russell Westbrook of the Washington Wizards became the fourth player to record triple-doubles in the first two games of a season. On December 29, he became the second player after Oscar Robertson to record triple-doubles in their first three games of a season.
On December 29, 2020, the Milwaukee Bucks set the record for most three-point field goals made in a game with 29 against the Miami Heat, breaking the previous record of 27 set by the Houston Rockets on April 7, 2019.
On January 6, 2021, the Milwaukee Bucks and Detroit Pistons took a knee for their first possessions in protest to the announcement that criminal charges would not be filed against police officers in the Blake shooting. The Bucks held the ball for seven seconds in reference to Blake's seven gunshots. Various teams linked arms at center court in unison during the anthem in response to the 2021 storming of the United States Capitol.
On January 8, 2021, the Toronto Raptors set a new franchise record for points in a single regular season game, scoring 144 points against the Sacramento Kings on the road.
On January 9, 2021, LaMelo Ball of the Charlotte Hornets became the youngest player to post a triple-double at the age of 19 years and 140 days, surpassing the previous record of Markelle Fultz, who recorded a triple-double aged 19 years and 317 days.
On January 20, 2021, Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz became the fastest player to reach 600 three pointers. He did it in just 240 games beating the previous record set by Buddy Hield who did it in 244 games.