George Karl wonders if Andre Miller wants to stick around for a bit, work on some slide drills (Getty Images)
Fifteen NBA head coaches spoke at length with NBA.com's Steve Aschburner recently, and that's a significant amount to pull in during the slowest point in the offseason. Fifteen coaches, on record, without the benefit of a hectic NBA schedule bringing a new team (and new coach) into a writer's NBA arena of choice every couple of days. That sort of benefit, apparently, is the only one we can see being created by the NBA's hectic schedule. Save for making more and more money, it seems, for everyone involved from the top of the skyboxes to the helpers in the parking garage, and all those cagers in between.
This is why George Karl's ideas for a better NBA, in the most popular pull from Aschburner's work so far, will never happen. Unless, of course, the NBA decided to lockout its players in a pointless maneuver created to save certain owners from themselves a few months before the next offseason hits and the owners initiate a series of moves bent to circumvent the "help me, we're broke" rules the NBA put into place. George Karl doesn't exactly want a lockout-styled season, he told NBA.com, but he wouldn't mind a shortened term. From Aschburner's piece:
"I'm sure Commissioner Stern won't like this, but I think the product would be better if we shortened the season. When we start playing in late October, the people are thinking football. If you could just get us less fatigue [in a shorter season], I think you'd have a better product. When they started on Christmas Day, I thought, 'This is not a bad idea. This should be the start of NBA basketball ... Maybe start Dec. 1 and play 62 games, whatever number they'd come to."
Commissioner David Stern doesn't like anyone saying anything short of documenting ascending ratings and the latest NBA Cares project his players just took part in. He's certainly not going to like a famous NBA coach more or less writing off the first two months of the NBA's season (including training camp and exhibition time) as football's foothold, but that's what Karl just did.
George isn't wrong, but to be clear the whole of the North American sporting calendar is on Football Time; from the NFL Draft nearly overshadowing the NBA and NHL playoffs, to the latest Jet or Cowboy drama leading the nightly news shows as opposed to detailing actual significant transactions at MLB's trade deadline. Start the games on Christmas again, if you want; even with LeBron and Kobe about to tip off at peak ratings hours, most families are still discussing the Bears' chances that year or next, and if they'd even want to set a place at the grown-up table for Jay Cutler.
What's more interesting is the idea of fatigue, and an NBA coach's role in all of this. Karl went out of his way to point out in his talk with Aschburner that he was as frustrated with the lockout-shortened season as any coach; in spite of his ability to move on the fly, as learned in his time with fly-by-night outfits in the old CBA and overseas.
There is barely enough time to practice and prep once the season gets going, and that's barely getting into the fatigue and frustration that goes hand in hand with an 82-game season stretched from Halloween to late April. No amount of five-star accommodations, million dollar medical staff, and 7:30 tip-offs can make up for the fact that these cats get tired. And though the novelty of a Christmas tip-off was engaging last year, assuming you could forget what led up to that novelty, shoehorning 66 games into that space created some terrible basketball.
The frustrations stems from the fact that coaches rarely have any time to implement anything of substance in midseason practices, once they have to release the hounds following training camp in October. Not even after or during the All-Star break, as the NBA hustles to set up a slate of games numbering in the double-digits on the first night following the lone travel day.
By the time Dec. 1st sparks up in 2012, the Nuggets will have already finished 17 of their 82 games, with a truncated trip along the eastern seaboard already taken care of. That's at about the pace, if maybe slightly ahead, that most teams are working at. Just piling up those games and minutes away from the limelight while the overall sporting public watches football on just about every day of the week (between high school, the pros, and NFL and NCAA teams dropping matchups on Thursday and Fridays more and more often as it moves into winter). Those same fans will get giddy during those first few Laker games, and tune into see if Miami can keep holding Boston off on opening night, but by and large the eyes will be elsewhere — especially once the NBA's free League Pass preview clicks off.
The difference between Karl's stab at 62 games, "whatever number they come to," and the 65 his team actually has to play between Dec. 1st and the end of the season might not seem significant, but George would be the first to tell you that three extra nights without a game would mean the world to his team, even if it is only spaced out over 19 weeks. A proper practice and good bit of rest are as highly coveted as a 7-footer that can walk and chew gum at the same time, and given his druthers we're sure Karl would lower that "62" or "65" if he could; even if it meant more overall work for George and his coaching staff.
Of course, that would just about eliminate any insistence on intra-conference and division play, as each team would be charged with meeting every other team once or twice, with the four-game pairings with Denver's divisional mates limited to the same amount of times the Nuggets take on the Orlando Magic or Philadelphia 76ers.
That's the tiny problem, in the NBA's eyes. The bigger issue is 20 (or more) nights of revenue to go bye-bye, "merely" for the sake of increased rest and a better product for the 55 or 60 times these players actually do suit up.
The NBA doesn't mind it when NBA players, out of absolute necessity, pace themselves over the course of a nearly seven month season (not including the playoffs, which more than half the league's teams participate in), and live up to the stereotype created by the ham-brained fair-weather fan the NBA is continuing to try to court with counterintuitive Stern-styled zeal. Just as long as they hit 82.
(Unless there's an NBA-created lockout, 'natch.)
Just as long as those 10-game ticket plans give you the chance to see not only Kobe but also Hedo Turkoglu and Tyrus Thomas, or Karl's gang of Nuggets that nobody in the opposing audience can name despite the fact that they just beat the home team by 20. The rafters may not be packed, but people turn out for Cavalier and Rocket games too, because those tickets are sold. As are the airings on the hard-to-find local cable sports affiliates. As are the ads featuring that shiny Lexus wrapped in a big red bow. The December to Remember Sales Event is only a few months away, friends.
The financial stake is too great to write off in favor of the increase in efficiency and improved product. Not when those tickets are already sold, and those arenas booked. Even in the heart of a football season that only seems to hibernate in May. Unless Tim Tebow takes his shirt off, again.
Whatever Karl's impetus — being it the futility of going up against football, or the improved play that comes from more rest and more time spent practicing — it's a noble cause. One that NBA wouldn't ever dream of considering, or even commenting on.
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