Cynicism aside, the potential for up to 70 NBA players to create a series of teams that would take part in a mini-league in Las Vegas this September is intriguing. Hoopsworld's Alex Kennedy reported earlier this week that Impact Basketball is attempting to stage a tournament in Las Vegas that would feature solely NBA pros. That's enough to get the motor running.
Toss in the potential for a litany of NBA All-Stars to show up, many of whom have worked with Impact before, and the enthusiasm ramps up even further.
This is until you remember that, even with NBA rules and NBA players, it's still summer league action. And while the NBA-run rookie and free-agent summer leagues are a welcome respite in an otherwise dry summer -- and the all-out fun of the Drew, Goodman and Rucker leagues can serve as ice cream in hell for a starved basketball junkie -- something always seems to be missing.
Phoenix Suns forward Jared Dudley, who has been the strongest voice thus far in attempting to round players up for this potential event, seems to think that NBA-styled rules are the answer. Here's what he told Hoopsworld:
"We'll play by NBA rules - have a 24-second shot clock and everything. You heard of the Drew League and Goodman League, but the difference with this league is that it's not a pro-am. There will just be NBA pros. It really gets guys ready for the NBA season. I'm excited every summer because at Impact, you only can get better. Now, the games are there to put what you learn into action on the court."
This is a step in the right direction, but even if actual (and recent -- Jermaine O'Neal doesn't count) NBA All-Stars take part, this could still turn into an affair that is hard to watch.
Literally and figuratively, because there are no takers at this point for these sorts of games on TV. ESPN, Turner and FOX Sports affiliates won't touch the event with a 10-share pole so as not to upset their NBA partners; and the ghost of Dick Ebersol's relationship with David Stern could prevent NBC from broadcasting the tournament on either NBC or its Versus Network. Remember, NBC still has to cull from ABC's and TNT's broadcast lineup to cover the Team USA outings at the Olympics. For now, the hope is to stream these games online for a small fee, which even in the era of Netflix and Hulu is still a tough go for pro basketball's most ardent admirers.
So how does the league make it worth a fan's while, even three months removed from the last NBA game, and potentially more than 13 months removed from the next NBA game?
After location, and a good breakfast, it's the most important thing out there.
Even the Team USA Olympic and world championship outings, though fun for spells, were mired by a lack of chemistry and unfamiliar teammates. Sure, the stars had their attitudes in the right place, but that doesn't mean a thing when you're expecting your weeks-old teammate to zig, and he decides instead to zag.
What better PR could the NBA's players take in than a series of stories showcasing both teams and individual players working out ceaselessly in preparation for a tournament like this? Especially if Impact holds some sort of training camp in Las Vegas and/or Los Angeles, where players would have their chance to ignore their fair share of distractions. The YouTube image of a chucker like Corey Maggette or a vet like Chauncey Billups, dripping with sweat at 9 a.m. on a Tuesday morning when even half the NFL was out to 3 a.m. the night before could work wonders.
That's just on the propaganda tip. Though Team USA had a sound training camp to work with, those glorified All-Star teams are known for having too many generals, and not enough soldiers. Too many ball-handlers, and not enough people to set screens and move without the rock. It's not selfishness, but instinct. And a Vegas league featuring a series of role players (with role-player instincts) could go a long way. If the practices are well-attended, the minicamps would serve as the most important facet in developing the sort of chemistry necessary for good basketball.
I don't mean securing Kobe Bryant, or bringing LeBron James in on a chopper. There has to be consistent, mindful participation from beginning to end in order for this to succeed.
Remember, this shouldn't be a trifle. The point of this exercise is, well, exercise. NBA players are going to be working out during this time anyway during any other offseason, with the NBA's training camp just a few weeks away. Why not get in shape against significant NBA personnel, while winning the war of words with the NBA along the way? Inevitable comparisons would then be drawn to the fat camps, of sorts, that were the NBA's "charity" games in the winter of 1998, when the players that showed up appeared as if they hadn't touched a basketball in months.
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Not only should these players prep and then practice, but they need to stick around. Dudley is quoted as saying that this would be a two-week commitment, and that just goes for the games alone. If you have a wedding scheduled (and why would you that close to training camp?), don't bother. If you're going to take off on the weekends, don't come at all. A league is a league is a league, and though Impact will likely make every concession possible in order to secure name after name, they should at least attempt to get a commitment from each player (no matter how prominent) that lasts for the duration of the tournament.
And once the tournament starts?
3. Play the right way
God, what an insufferable line. It's not wrong, though.
Alley-oops are for 20-point blowouts. Twenty-point blowouts are for the dogs, and no fun to watch. Four out of 10 alley-oops in rookie-sophomore or All-Star games ever connect. That percentage, mind you, doesn't improve once you've thrown 20 or 30 alley-oops.
We don't want a slow-down, Larry Brown-affair. But there has to be balance.
Fans are going to tune in once their Twitter feed tells them two Vegas teams are about to enter the fourth quarter tied at 88. Even if these fans spent the first three quarters washing dishes from that night's dinner, they're going to spend the money needed to tune in, and they're going to tell two friends the next day about how worth it was to see competitive basketball between middling-to-great NBA players in the middle of September.
These sorts of games aren't built on foundations made of alley-oops and 25-foot shots. Sorry for acting the crank, but there's a reason the greatest of all time get to the line, work from the post or run the screen-and-roll.
Of course, the best help these sometimes-distracted players can get in this realm could come from a lone source.
Who is going to run these teams?
This is a dodgy situation. I have no doubt that the trainers and NBA minds at Impact are more than adept at running team practices, saying all the right things, and diagramming more plays in a night than Kurt Rambis managed in a fortnight.
But this is where the tricky employee/employer situation comes in. Are these potential coaches going to give a cross look to John Wall after he breaks a play and a crossover goes wrong? You can't blame them for wanting to keep the clientele (or, potential clientele) happy, and their critical thoughts to themselves. After all, this is a publicity move for Impact.
High school and college coaches will be busy. NBA types (even tape operators and the like) can't say a single word to players without fear of a $1 million fine. So who is left?
The very, very angry.
There has to be plenty of disgruntled ex-NBA types who have no possible shot at another NBA coaching (assistant or otherwise) gig in their future who would jump at a chance to get back in the spotlight and run some NBA sets. You think John Lucas wouldn't want to be a part of this? Bob Hill's season with the Tokyo Apache won't start for another month, so why not bring him over? Ronnie Lester?
Hell, what about Adrian Wojnarowski? He knows the game, works with youth teams and doesn't mind a cold shoulder or two from the NBA. The staff is already in place. Marc J. Spears played the game in college, Johnny Ludden is the type of serene influence every bench needs, and I can hold a clipboard. I won't wear a sweatsuit, but I can definitely tell you that it's time, perhaps, for Eric Bledsoe to stop trying to break that press himself.
Jokes aside, these teams need a strong leader, and not someone to cackle with them as they try another half-court alley-oop. The watchability of these games likely depends on it.
And if all else fails?
5. Free balloons for the kids
Works every time.
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