1979-80 Games Played, Games Started and Transactions

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1979-80 Games Played, Games Started and Transactions

Postby MCT » Tue Jan 29, 2019 11:36 pm

A few years ago, I posted a series of articles analyzing games played, games started and transactions for the 1980-81 season. I have another similar series almost ready to go, this time covering the 1979-80 season.

I kicked off the 1980-81 series with a post explaining what I was doing and why. Since almost everything I said in that post still applies, for introduction I’ll refer the reader there (see the first post in the thread at the link below):


A few things that have changed:

1) The 1980-81 articles were broken into three parts. For certain teams, however, Part I turned out to be very long and difficult to digest. To address this, I have split what used to be Part I into two separate parts, one covering roster/transactions, and one covering games started data. As a result, the articles now have four parts rather than three. While the overall content is similar, I am hoping that each individual part will be shorter and easier to read.

2) When I worked on transactions for 1980-81, I used the Google News Archive to try to track down contemporary newspaper articles that could provide background or fill in some gaps. For 1979-80, I am no longer using the Google News Archive to research transactions, because Google has more-or-less completely disabled the search function. This is discussed at greater length in the introductory thread to the 1980-81 series (see the ninth post at the link above).

3) For 1980-81, I called the team rosters presented in what used to be Part II (now Part III) of each article “snapshot” rosters. For 1979-80, I’ve re-thought the snapshot concept and am now presenting what I call a “sample” roster. The two are very similar in concept, and for most teams, a sample roster looks exactly the same as a snapshot roster would have. The main difference is this: a snapshot roster was supposed to present the team’s roster as of a specific date. For teams with unstable rosters or starting lineups, however, it could be difficult to find a specific date with both a roster composition and a starting lineup that I felt was a sensible way to look at the team. This sometimes prompted me to jump through hoops to find an appropriate date to use, or to ultimately use a roster that I didn’t feel was the best way to look at the team. With sample rosters, I’m no longer concerned with identifying a specific date when everything aligned, only with presenting things in the way I find to be the best way to look at the team.

In terms of roster composition, the sample roster typically shows the players who made up each team’s roster as it stood as of a point in February, usually in the middle to later part of the month. For teams who made roster moves around that time of the season, I try to show the roster as it stood after things had settled down and the team had set its roster for the stretch (for example, if a team was involved in a trade at the trade deadline, I show the roster as it looked after the trade). If I don’t think the way a team’s roster actually stood in mid-to-late February represents a sensible way to present things, however, I reserve the right to deviate from this. The players identified as the starters on the sample roster are usually the players who started the most games at each position. Some weight is given to players who served as the regular starter in the later part of the season, however, even if they didn’t make the most starts at their position.

4) I have extensively changed the format for what used to be Part III of each article (now Part IV) so as to place more emphasis on presenting facts and less on writing narrative.

More background information on the 1979-80 season to follow….
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Re: 1979-80 Games Played, Games Started and Transactions

Postby MCT » Tue Jan 29, 2019 11:36 pm

Divisional Alignment

In 1979-80, the NBA had 22 teams. The league was divided into four divisions, with the Atlantic and Central making up the Eastern Conference, and the Midwest and Pacific making up the Western Conference. This divisional format was in effect between the 1970-71 and 2003-04 seasons. In 1979-80, each conference had eleven teams, consisting of one division with five teams and one division with six teams. The two divisions with five teams were the Atlantic and the Midwest; the two divisions with six teams were the Central and Pacific.

When I previously introduced the 1980-81 season, I noted that several teams changed divisions for that season, and that most teams would then remain in their 1980-81 divisions until the four-division format was scrapped in 2004. 1979-80 predated that realignment, so the division lineup looks a little bit less familiar to someone who grew up with the divisions as they existed between 1980-81 and 2003-04 (e.g., Chicago and Milwaukee in the Western Conference, San Antonio and Houston in the Eastern Conference).

Between the adoption of the four-division setup in 1970-71 and the major re-set that took place for 1980-81, there were several changes made to the composition of the divisions. For 1979-80, two teams changed divisions. The New Orleans Jazz moved to Utah, and were switched from the Eastern Conference and Central Division to the Western Conference and Midwest Division. To maintain balance between the conferences, the Indiana Pacers were switched in the opposite direction.
Last edited by MCT on Thu Jan 31, 2019 5:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: 1979-80 Games Played, Games Started and Transactions

Postby MCT » Tue Jan 29, 2019 11:37 pm


In 1979-80, opening night was October 12, and the regular season concluded on March 30. The All-Star break lasted from February 1 to February 4, with the All-Star Game itself played on February 3. Heading into the All-Star break, most teams had played 54 or 55 games, but there were some outliers who had played as few as 52, or as many as 58.

The start and end dates of the NBA season have varied considerably over time. 1979-80 was part of a period in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s when the season started and ended earlier on the calendar than it has any time since.

Since the late 1990s, opening night has always been on a Tuesday. From 1978-79 to 1996-97, however, opening night was always on a Friday. For the 1978-79, 1979-80 and 1980-81 seasons, it was the second Friday in October. Historically speaking, the second Friday in October is very early on the calendar to kick off an NBA season. Those three seasons began on October 13, October 12, and October 10, respectively. The preceding four seasons, from 1974-75 to 1977-78, all began between October 17 and October 23, and every season from 1981-82 to 2015-16 began on October 25 or later. The only other seasons in NBA history to begin on or before October 13 were five seasons in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s (the earliest of all time was 1973-74, which began on October 9). In 2016-17, opening night was pushed up a week from where it had been, to the third Tuesday in October, as part of an effort to allow more off days during the season. Under this setup, opening night has moved closer to where it was in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s than at any other time since, but it’s still several days later on the calendar. In 2018-19, opening night was on October 16.

With the season starting so early on the calendar in this period, it’s not surprising that it also ended early on the calendar. In both 1979-80 and 1980-81, the season ended on the Sunday following the 25th Friday of the season (1978-79 shared the same starting date arrangement as those two seasons, but the 1978-79 season went on for an additional week at the end). This resulted in the 1979-80 and 1980-81 regular seasons concluding before the end of March. While it was once common for NBA regular seasons to be over before the end of March, these are the only two years since 1974 when the regular season hasn’t extended into April. By comparison, the last day of the 2018-19 regular season is scheduled for April 10.

Between the 1975-76 and 1983-84 seasons, the All-Star game was played in late January or early February. In most seasons during that stretch, including 1979-80, it was played on the fifth Sunday of the New Year. In 1979-80, this was February 3. Prior to 1975-76, the All-Star Game consistently took place earlier, well back into January; since 1984-85, it has consistently taken place later, further into February. By comparison, the 2019 All-Star Game is scheduled for February 17.
Last edited by MCT on Fri Feb 01, 2019 3:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: 1979-80 Games Played, Games Started and Transactions

Postby MCT » Tue Jan 29, 2019 11:37 pm


The playoff format in 1979-80 was the one in effect for the 1976-77 through 1983-84 seasons. Six teams in each conference made the playoffs, instead of the current eight. The division champions were seeded #1 and #2, and were given a bye for the first round. The remaining teams were seeded in order of record, and played best-of-three miniseries in the first round. The other three rounds were best-of-seven as they are today.

Because the regular season in 1979-80 ended earlier on the calendar than it does today, the playoffs started earlier on the calendar than they do today. For that reason, as well as that the first round was shorter than it is today, the playoffs ended much earlier than they do today. In 1979-80, the first playoff games were played on April 2, and the last game of the Finals (which was Game Six) was played on May 16.

In 1980-81, which shared the same start and end date arrangements as 1979-80, the Finals (also a six-game affair that year) ended on May 14. Aside from 1979-80 and 1980-81, the only year since 1975 when the last game of the Finals wasn’t played in June was 1983, when a four-game sweep was completed on May 31. To put this into perspective relative to more recent times, there have been only two years since 1986 in which any Finals games were played in May. In both cases, Game 1 was the only game played in May, and it was played on the last day of the month (May 31).
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Re: 1979-80 Games Played, Games Started and Transactions

Postby MCT » Tue Jan 29, 2019 11:38 pm

Roster/Transaction Rules


In 1979-80, NBA active rosters were 11 players. The active roster size had been reduced from the traditional 12 early in the 1977-78 season, and was not restored to 12 again until the start of the 1981-82 season.

Today, NBA teams can temporarily drop one player below the minimum roster size, for up to two weeks. This allows a team that finds itself “between transactions” a little bit of time to consider their options, while still placing an outer limit on how long a team can take before it has to get back up to the minimum. I don’t know if the specifics have always been the same, but I believe that this rule has existed in some form for a long time, and was in effect back in 1979-80. I’ve encountered at least three cases in 1979-80 where it looks like a team operated with a 10-man roster for a few days during the season. In all three of these cases, the teams appear to have played at least one game with that roster configuration in place.

In addition to their active roster, teams in 1979-80 were allowed to carry up to three additional players on the injured list. This continued to be the case until the injured list was replaced with the inactive list in 2005. Immediately prior to the abolition of the injured list, players placed on the IL were required to miss a minimum of five games before being activated again. I believe that this was the rule back in 1979-80 as well.

The injured list was supposed to be a place for players who were legitimately injured, not a place to stash extra players. The NBA did not really enforce this, however, and the latter is what it eventually became over time, leading to its replacement with the inactive list in 2005. Given the fiscal realities of the NBA in the late 1970s and early 1980s, however, the types of practices that would emerge in the ‘90s and early ‘00s – teams having a full injured list at all times, rotating players on and off it all season, many with phantom injuries – were not yet widely seen in 1979-80. For the most part, teams used the injured list relatively sparingly unless a player was out with a long-term injury.

In addition to the injured list, the NBA has also long had a suspended list. While this list was sometimes used for players who had been suspended for disciplinary reasons, it was also historically used for players under contract who refused to report or who left the team.


For many years, there has been a date each season when all contracts become guaranteed for the remainder of the season. There is usually a flurry of players being waived leading up to that date. Around the same time, teams are allowed to begin signing players to 10-day contracts. In more recent times, the date when 10-day contracts begin has been fixed at January 5, and the contract-guarantee deadline has been fixed at January 10 (although players who are released have to clear waivers by that date, which effectively makes the deadline a couple of days earlier).

I am fairly certain that the same basic process that exists today was in place in 1979-80, but I have not found any documentation of what dates were used at that time. My impression is that these deadlines were not on fixed calendar dates in that era, but took place a specified number of weeks into the season on a specified day of the week, similar to the way the trade deadline works today. It is also my impression that the contract-guarantee deadline in that era was set slightly earlier than the date teams could begin using 10-day contracts (or perhaps they were on the same date, but a need for players to clear waivers made the contract-guarantee deadline effectively a few days earlier).

Looking at patterns in 1979-80 transactions, the date of the contract guarantee deadline appears to have been December 4. In 1980-81, it appears to have been December 2. In both years, those dates were the first Tuesday In December, and the eighth Tuesday of the season. Perhaps one or both of those represents how the date was determined during this time period.

Prior to the abolition of the injured list in 2005, a team could only sign players to 10-day contracts to the extent that the team had players on the injured list. This meant that a team which found itself with fewer than the minimum number of players on its roster (11 in 1979-80) could not get up to the minimum by signing players to 10-day contracts. 10-day contracts were only available once the minimum was satisfied, and a team needed an additional player to fill in for someone who was on the injured list. Even with the abolition of the injured list and the expansion of NBA rosters over time, a version of this rule survives even today; a team must have at least 12 players signed to regular, non-10-day contracts before it can sign any players to 10-day deals.

As is still the case today, a team in 1979-80 could only sign the same player to two 10-day contracts during a season. After that, if the team wanted to sign the player, they had to sign him to a contract for at least the remainder of the season. Given the fiscal situation of the NBA in this era, teams were not always as quick to sign replacements for injured players as they are now, and the overall volume of 10-day contracts was much lower.

The earliest date in 1979-80 I can find any player reported to have signed a 10-day contract is December 15. I suspect that teams were allowed to begin using 10-day contracts earlier than that, on a date closer to the contract guarantee deadline, but due to the low volume of 10-day contracts at the time, no team immediately made use of this option at the point when it became available. In 1980-81, the earliest 10-day contract we came across was signed just two days after the contract guarantee deadline.


The trade deadline in 1979-80 was February 15. From 1979 to 1987, the trade deadline was fixed on that date, rather than a specified number of weeks into the season on a specified day of the week, as it is now. In this era, there was typically less trade activity around the deadline than there is today. Many modern-day deals are driven by the salary cap, which didn’t yet exist in 1979-80. 1979-80 featured three trades right at the deadline, five trades earlier in February, and two trades in January.

At all times since I began following the NBA closely back in the mid-1980s, it has been my understanding that a team acquiring a player with the season in progress needs to have, or immediately create, an open roster spot to receive the player. It’s my impression that this was not always true in the past, however. In earlier times, teams were apparently allowed some time to clear a roster spot after the fact, although they could not formally add the newly acquired player to their active roster or use him in a game until they did so. I’ve encountered two clear cases of this in 1979-80, in which teams didn’t open a roster spot for a newly acquired player until two days after they had acquired the player, and three days after they had acquired the player, respectively. I’m not sure what the outer time limit to make room for a newly acquired player was, but it seems like teams in this situation would typically make a move before they played their next game after the acquisition.

Prior to the elimination of the injured list in 2005, it is my understanding that a team acquiring a player in a trade with the season in progress had to receive the player on their active roster. Even if the player had been on his former team’s injured list, the new team could not place him on its injured list without at least momentarily placing him on their active roster first. I don’t think this rule was in effect back in 1979-80.


Today, players placed on waivers during the regular season stay there for two days before clearing (if no other team claims them) or being awarded to a team that has claimed them. It is my understanding that this has been the case for many years. As far as I can tell, this was the rule in effect in 1979-80.


Playoff rosters in 1979-80 were 11 men, the same as the active roster for the regular season. Once a team set its playoff roster, no changes could be made as the playoffs progressed. If a team lost a player due to injury or some other reason, they could not replace him, but had to make do with the remaining players. This was the case even if the team had an additional player available who had been left off the playoff roster.

In the later years of the injured list, teams could assemble their playoff roster from any combination of players who had finished the regular season on the active roster or on the injured list. I’m not sure whether this was the case in 1979-80 or not. Some transactions I’ve encountered from this era make me wonder if teams were required to use the active roster in effect for the last game of the regular season as their playoff roster, with no ability to activate players who had been on the injured list. Given teams’ relatively conservative use of the injured list in this era, however, I don’t really have a large enough sample to draw any conclusions.

Today, there is a rule in place stating that a player is not eligible to appear in the playoffs for his current team if he was on another team’s roster on or after March 1. This restriction was not yet in effect in 1979-80.


Free agency in the NBA at this time operated under a compensation-based system, which was used from the 1976 offseason to the end of the 1980-81 season. If a free agent signed with a new team, the new team immediately acquired the player – the player’s old team had no right of first refusal, or any other way to stop the player from leaving – but the old team could demand compensation from the new team. This placed somewhat of a damper on free-agent signings, and it was not uncommon for players to begin the following season as an unsigned “Veteran Free Agent”.

Sometimes the player’s new and old teams would agree to compensation at the time the player was signed, and the compensation would be announced at the same time as the signing. Other times, compensation negotiations would drag on for a bit and the compensation would not be announced until a later date. If the two teams could not reach an agreement, the Commissioner’s office could be asked to determine compensation. Cases that went to the Commissioner’s office were sometimes very contentious and could drag on for a few years through appeals (e.g., Marvin Webster, Bill Walton).

It is my understanding that if a player’s old team made no real attempt to re-sign him (e.g., not tendering the player a new contract at all), the old team was not entitled to compensation. This would sometimes happen with minor fringe players, or with players who were perceived as nearing the end of the line due to age or injury.
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