Thursday morning’s 4 a.m. press conference following a marathon 15-hour negotiating session between the NBA and its players took a few interesting turns.
Specifically when discussion turned to how much of an NBA season there would be if a deal could be reached soon. (That’s a big if, there’s a lot of ground to cover and the hardliners keep blowing any progress made up, but let’s go with it for now.)
Union director Billy Hunter said he thought a full 82-game schedule could be fit in if the two sides reached a deal by “Sunday or Monday.” He added that there would have to be more back-to-backs and a very condensed schedule, but he was working on it.
NBA Commissioner David Stern was more diplomatic.
“We’re going to knock ourselves out….” Stern said. “If we can make a deal this week, whether that is 82 games or not, is really dependent on so many things that have to be checked. We have building issues. We have building issues versus hockey issues. We have travel schedules. We have all kinds of things that are difficult for us. We have the sheer volume of games that have to be compressed and the amount of back-to-backs that players could be asked to play.”
From whatever day the league and players reach a handshake agreement, it will take about a month to start playing games. Maybe that can be condensed into three weeks, maybe, but a month is what happened when games were missed with the 1998-99 lockout.
It’s almost the end of October now. If a deal were to be reached this weekend games likely would start around Dec. 1 — a full month after the NBA’s scheduled start. Teams would need to make up about 14-16 games each to get in a full 82 games. With Olympics looming next summer — team USA was expected to open camp around July 4 — the league cannot push its schedule back far into June.
Cramming in 82 games is a bad idea.
Additional back-to-backs will lead to worse basketball. Already for every NBA team there are what are called “scheduled losses” where coaches look at the schedule, see four games in five nights and that last game is against a well-rested team and they know what is going to happen. Or they get a back-to-back where the second game is at altitude in Denver. Coaches know that means an almost certain loss. There are other such scenarios.
A condensed 82-game season would mean more of those. It would mean some back-to-back-to-backs as was seen in 1999.
What matters more when the players come back is good basketball. Quality play that wins the fans back.
If games are to start around Dec. 1, put in a 70-game schedule. Yes, maybe the Lakers or Celtics will not travel to your town for a season. Maybe the schedule will be a little off balance. But the games will be spaced out to provide quality play.
And that is what the NBA needs right now — to remind people how good the game is. Not to meet some artificial number of games played.