Riffing off of Neil’s idea here:
I don’t know how NBA contracts work. But I’m wondering if it would be possible for the players to organize themselves into teams outside the formal NBA organization and make money by playing games.
It seems to me like at least for this year, the player’s union could organize something. My ideal solution would be to find coaches or captains who were agreeable and figure out how many players are willing to play something like this:
Chose teams schoolyard style (or call it a universal draft, or something boring if you like). Everyone is eligible to go to any team and the coaches/captains pick their team. Then they play a short, short, short regular season. Just enough to fairly have seeding for a tournament. Most fans don’t really care about the regular season, but pro basketball players at the highest level playing meaningful games would attract fans and TV even without the NBA.
You can pay the players a percentage of the take based on how well they did in being selected for the team (the first player gets a higher percentage than the second, etc.) and how far their team got in the tournament.
I’m not sure how many players would join a league like this. It would mean less pay and more uncertainty about where they were for a season even than normally in professional sports. But it beats doing nothing.