Labor deal, free agency among issues that could shape 2009-10
With the possible exception of the NL West, baseball's division races have nothing on the NBA in the dwindling days of September in terms of urgency, suspense and unresolved issues. Here are some biggies looming over the pro hoops landscape as players and coaches prepare for their close-ups on media day:
We never have experienced an NBA season when so many of the game's brightest stars will be on the verge of relocating. This season could feel like the second semester of senior year -- a lot of yearbook signing and locker cleanings -- if the futures of
Wade gave a glimpse into what the next 10 months might hold when he was asked on a Chicago radio show about possibly playing for his hometown Bulls in 2010-11. "If I disclose that kind of information, the articles this season aren't as exciting anymore," he said playfully. "Speculation is not the same. You guys ain't going to have nothing to talk about me." Well, at least he didn't go all
Still, we've seen this stuff play out with isolated free agents, with fans made to feel like the kids in a household of impending divorce. Problem with the NBA, there's no such thing as a trial separation.
Any pro sports league that even flirts with the verbiage is risking a grave mistake. Fans are, first and foremost, wage earners and consumers, and they know that hard economic times is the new sheriff in town. It would be felonious, on top of stupid, for the NBA and all its privileged members to threaten their already precarious well-being by fighting over pie slices in public. Let's not get bogged down in the definitions of "strike" vs. "lockout" and where responsibility would lie; they'd all be guilty if they damaged the sport and themselves again or even crept within hours or days of any big, ugly deadlines.
Replacement referees? Commissioner
Fact for the players and refs: An alarming number of teams have been losing money. Fact for the owners: Ticket prices, lavish player contracts and capricious coach firings generate zero sympathy for your side. Likely fact for them all: Some of the screws being tightened this summer on scouts, staffs and the refs have been warning shots, a clear message to the players' union that "next time, it's your turn" to sacrifice. That pay cut taken by
Fortunately, unlike Congress these days, there is a plan to fix things: Everyone who makes his or her living from the NBA needs to dwell long and hard -- let's say, a locked room for one full week -- on their next-best employment alternative. How easy it would be to land in this economy, how much fun it would be and how much it would pay, relative to their current gigs. Then and only then are they allowed back at the bargaining table. Presumably pens in hand.
In other words, Durant fast is making the 2007 draft look like a bad coin flip on Portland's part. Unlike some critics, I'm not going to invoke the name
It started impishly enough, with
I know the marketing whizzes of pro sports might find this hard to believe, but sometimes there
If for this reason alone: It might not be a swell idea to let the whole world, thugs included, know where you, your jewelry and your fat wallet are going to be at midnight on South Beach.
For now, we know Boozer is in Salt Lake City. But that's not where he wants to be and that's not where we expect the Jazz power forward to be for long, given the positional redundancy with
Next to Boozer these days,
Financial traumas and past failures have left an unhealthy number of franchises in disarray or just hanging on for an economic or talent recovery. You won't see the likes of Minnesota, Milwaukee, Indiana and Sacramento adorning any red, blue and cream "Hope" posters anytime soon. Some of the have-nots can dress up their struggles as rebuilding and, in truth, the league always has had its dregs. But the CBA makes salary dumping and "expiring contracts" a very public practice now, and the gap between those focused on May and those who will be shutting down by early March rarely has seemed bigger.
Seriously, how many teams could be described as serious contenders, with legitimate shots at reaching the Finals? Six? How many already can reserve rooms in Secaucus for the lottery? In a league that relies more than ever on selling the visiting teams and their stars, that's a troubling trend. Too many 41-41 clubs is not a good thing, but neither is a bunch of 24-58 finishes either.