The NBA and the National Basketball Players Assn. entered another week of negotiations on when and how to start the 2020-21 season with the immediate future of the league at stake, and they're doing it with the uneasy knowledge that the puzzle in front of them is more difficult than the one they solved months ago.
In the teeth of a global pandemic, faced with billions of dollars evaporating from balance sheets and no clear path to a finish line, the NBA and its players' union figured out how to build a Florida bubble. They agreed on protocols that kept the players from recording a single case of COVID-19 while the virus thrived around them. They salvaged some money while crowning deserving champions in LeBron James and the Lakers.
None of it was easy or normal. Compared with the advanced calculus those sides are trying to figure out now, though, the bubble seems like simple arithmetic.
Based on conversations with NBA officials, team executive, union representatives and players, the complicated issues can be distilled into three intertwined categories that have to be dealt with in order for the NBA to finalize a plan for next season.