While the NFL lockout has been all in the news with its recent conclusion and its causing the current player movement frenzy, ESPN will have to switch its lockout theme from football to basketball. While the NFL did see some changes due to the lockout, such as altered dates to release, sign and trade players and the cancellation of the Hall of Fame pre-season game, no significant time was missed. Sure, new players and coaching staffs will have a harder time with the shortened period of training camps and preseason, but again, no games were missed. This is where I shift focus over to another of the “Big 4” sports leagues in the NBA.
The NBA is currently amidst a lockout of their own, however, this one has an ominous cloud hanging over it. I may be in the minority, but I never thought the NFL would miss anytime, and fully believed at least 16 regular season games would be played (there were talks of 18 game regular seasons at one point). However, the NBA lockout seems to be even bitterer. The two sides are extremely far apart in terms of a new agreement. They met on August 1st, an entire month since the June 30th meeting, and David Stern was quoted as saying there was “nothing” to be encouraged about during the meeting in terms of any progress. So during an entire month off, the owners and players could not come any closer to an agreement, which is a very disheartening sign. During the NFL lockout, there were more frequent meetings, more reports of progress, and at times glimpses of optimism. However, the NBA seems to be in the middle of a very dark tunnel, with light nowhere to be found. This does not bode well for the NBA, as missing games, and even potentially cancelling the entire season, has some dire consequences that could set the league back in terms of popularity and success.
The NBA is coming off one of its highest rated seasons in quite some time. The league was littered with storylines that made the media, and fans, drool. The first was the forming of the Miami Heat’s infamous “Big Three”, with LeBron James and Chris Bosh joining fellow star Dwayne Wade, with James doing it in an hour long, nationally broadcasted special. Following the circus in the offseason came the immense hatred shown by fans towards the Heat, along with enough fans flocking to the Miami bandwagon; you could have filled an entire country. Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert then released a hilarious message, written in comic sans, to his team’s fans belittling LeBron James for leaving, and promising a ring in Cleveland before Lebron attained one in Miami, just a sign of the hate and attention to come for Lebron and the Heat. This team of superstars drew attention of not only fans and media, but other teams in the NBA. Not too long into the season, rumors swirled around Denver Nuggets star small forward Carmelo Anthony. Anthony did not want to re-sign in Denver, and rumors swirled as teams tried to frantically acquire a star in a league driven by super stars. Anthony would land with the Knicks, teaming with fellow superstar Amar’e Stoudemire. The New Jersey Nets, who were in the running for Anthony, then acquired superstar point guard Deron Williams. Teams started to shed cap space in hopes to set themselves up to acquire superstars. LeBron James even hinted at wanting to contract teams in the NBA to consolidate all the talent and weed out the weaker teams, an idea that got him even MORE hate from fans and the media. The playoffs were what pushed the 2010-2011 NBA seasons over the edge. The Lakers were struggling, the Bulls were pushed by the Pacers early, the Thunder received national attention with their young, talented nucleus the Celtics and Heat had an extremely entertaining series, and in the Finals, Dirk Nowitzki capped off one of the greatest playoffs for a single player with the Finals MVP award, as he and the Mavericks toppled the hated Miami Heat in 6 games. The NBA was flying high, and on top of the world. Interest was at its peak as the offseason was nearing… until the lockout poked its ugly head in. The NBA simply would be crushed by losing games due to a lockout after such an incredible season. With fan support at an all time high, a lockout would virtually undo the incredible season for the league. Unlike football, which has an incredibly large and stable fan base, the NBA does not. More sports fanatics would be much more devastated over an NFL lockout than an NBA lockout. Many people even prefer college basketball over the NBA, mainly because of the bad reputation the NBA players have of not giving it their all and not playing defense. It would just be absolutely killer to the momentum of the NBA to lose time, and would be beyond devastating to lose an entire season. To add salt in the wound, the 2012 offseason, if as scheduled with no lockout, is one with a potential star studded free agent class and an unbelievably talented draft class. Many highly rated college players such as Ohio State big man Jared Sullinger, North Carolina’s swing man Harrison Barnes, Kentucky forward Terrance Jones and Baylor forward Perry Jones all forwent the NBA to stay in school, adding to a very talented group of freshman entering the college ranks this upcoming year. However, the NBA’s popularity and fan base wouldn’t be the only ones hurt by the lockout, but teams face extreme challenges with a looming lockout.
The NBA is a league that, which I cannot stand, is driven by contracts. Players are dealt because of their contracts all the time. Players with one year left, expiring, are extremely valued as it seems teams value cap space as much as they do talent. Heck, even Keith VanHorn, who was retired, was traded in the Jason Kidd-Devin Harris deal a few years ago. His contract was still on the books despite him not playing, thus him being traded. Teams stockpile cap to try and sign super stars, and with a lockout looming, contracts and free agency will be a mess. Throw in the fact that the summer of 2012 could possibly feature 3 super stars in Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Dwight Howard as free agents, teams could possibly be in a mad scramble, trying to evaluate their own players after a shortened season, and trying to make deals to free up cap room. Rookies and younger players will have shortened time, and missing an entire year could throw rosters way out of whack, especially with the fiasco that would become free agency and handling the draft process, especially the order. Now while teams will have to worry about their personnel and cap problems, there is another threat calling from overseas that is starting to become a real fear for NBA owners and team.
New Jersey Nets point guard Deron Williams shocked many by announcing that he signed a 1 year, $5 million deal with the Turkish professional basketball team Besiktas. Many knew of the possibility of NBA players going overseas, but Williams broke the mold. Former NBA players have played overseas for a few seasons. There have been mediocre players looking to cash in on a big pay day (Josh Childress), former, aging stars trying to rejuvenate their game (Stephon Marbury, Allen Iverson), and big names in college that didn’t pan out in the NBA (Marcus Williams, Josh Boone), but never has a big name star like Williams make this journey. Williams has opened the door, as now teams are in talks with Kobe Bryant’s agents, and the potential of NBA superstars playing overseas is now more than just potential and possibilities, it’s real. I fully believe Williams’ move will open the flood gates. The Nets are lucky Williams’ deal is only 1 year and has an opt-out clause if there is a 2011-2012 season, but other teams losing other players may not be so lucky. Some players may get so fed up with the NBA and make the switch, not to mention other foreign born players may return home. However, most Euro and China league teams have close to full rosters, so space overseas is limited, and it will become first come first serve for players looking to keep playing and make a pay day in other leagues. But the NBA needs to be worried of this potential mass exodus of its stars. This would just make the NBA look ever worse in the public eye and be difficult to recover from.
To sum things up, the NBA is in a difficult situation, being far apart in terms of the labor negotiations, and facing problems with losing popularity coming off a fantastic season, worries of contracts in a league that’s driven by them, and the ever looming fear of losing star players overseas, a possibility that is being discussed by big time players around the league. The NBA would be hurt by a shortened season but absolutely crushed by a cancelled season which seems to be a real possibility. Now, NBA fans, all we have is to sit back and cringe as the players and owners throw shots at each other through the media and watch the bitter debacle unfold and hope for a breakthrough before too much time passes, and many games are missed.