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Is shortened NBA season on horizon?
It has been quite a week in the NBA, with headliner Kevin Durant putting on a show at a glorified pick-up game in Washington, Kobe Bryant making dramatic exits from a church and then a Los Angeles summer league (naturally, he had the last word in both) and Kevin Love taking up beach volleyball — he is a descendant of the Beach Boys, after all.
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And so it goes, where this summer players announce they are taking their talents to . . . Turkey, Spain or France.
As for NBA fans, the most important takeaway from these events is this: Get used to it.
These drips and drabs of what passes for news are what you are going to get plenty of in the coming months, once the lockout begins to eat into training camp, which is scheduled to begin in just over a month, and eventually the season.
For most of the past year, as the specter of a lockout hung over the NBA, the assumption was this would somehow be different than 1999, when almost half the season was washed out by a lockout.
How could the owners and the players — especially the owners, because the players are fine with the status quo — have a work stoppage when the NBA’s popularity appeared to be at an all-time high?
Wasn’t it only at the start of the summer that the entire country seemed to be relishing the downfall of LeBron James?
In the wake of that wave of schadenfreude, there were a host of riveting story lines:
• The perseverance of Dirk Nowitzki.
• Do the Lakers and Celtics have one more run in them?
• The debate over whether the Bulls and the Thunder had the goods.
• How will the Knicks’ gambit on Carmelo Anthony impact soon-to-be free-agent stars like Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Deron Williams?
Yet for all these developments, all the drama and all the soaring TV ratings, there remains one problem here: Nobody really cares about the regular season.
Or, more accurately, nobody really cares about the NBA until Christmas Day. Or until Martin Luther King Day. Or until after the Super Bowl. Or, if you’re the Lakers, until the playoffs.
Just ask Shaquille O’Neal, who, even in his heyday, considered the early stages of the season a working vacation. That notion was only reinforced last season, when the earnest and diligent Spurs had the league’s best regular-season record and then were bumped out of the playoffs in the first round.
Consider how different this is from the NFL, which settled its 4-1/2-month-long labor dispute late in July, just before the opening of training camps.
The gambling and fantasy league-fueled popularity of the NFL is such that the possibility of shortened training camps or canceled preseason games was talked about in apocalyptic tones. Imagine if the first week of the NFL season were wiped out. Oh, the horror.
The NBA, for all its popularity — and potential for growth outside the United States — doesn’t have this kind of tool to push the parties back into negotiations, let alone a compromise.
I mean, would anybody miss the Knicks and Celtics in Albany, or the Timberwolves and Bulls in Sioux Falls? The only item of interest is whether Minnesota will have a coach by then.
The same goes for the regular season. The Mavericks will play the Bulls, and the Lakers will play the Thunder on opening night, Nov. 1. The next night the Heat and Knicks will tangle — all marquee games. And then all but the basketball diehards will go back into hibernation until Christmas.
After all, the Mavericks and Bulls, the Thunder and Lakers and the Heat and Knicks will all see each other again — in some cases several times.
On the other hand, imagine the horror if NFL fans were deprived of the Chiefs and Bills and the chance to see Ryan Fitzpatrick and Matt Cassel match each other, incompletion for incompletion.
So, despite all the similarities between the NFL and NBA lockouts — namely the owners wanting the players to solve their revenue-sharing problems — there are some crucial differences.
In the NBA some teams claim to be losing money. The NBA’s salary cap (in comparison to the NFL’s) is not so much soft as it is elastic. And NBA players can cover the mortgage by playing overseas, even if it’s for bupkis.
None of these are reason for the owners and players to find some common ground, get back to the bargaining table and hammer out an agreement. And, unfortunately for NBA fans, neither is the start of the season.
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