The NBA announced its preseason schedule on Thursday, to be played should the lockout resolve itself by autumn. And laugh all you want at the idea of a lost month of basketball that nobody cares about, but there is value to NBA basketball in October.
On Oct. 9, the strongest and saddest of NBA junkies will likely tune into the NBA League Pass subscription's free preview that they've probably already paid for, in order to ignore both the baseball playoffs and the NFL's Sunday night lineup, and take in a preseason game between the Detroit Pistons and Minnesota Timberwolves. That night those sickies will also flip around to see what's going on with the Mark Jackson-"led" Warriors and the Mike Brown-"helmed" Lakers at the Save-Mart Center in Fresno, Calif. And, if San Antonio's FOX Sports provider deigns to send a crew out, they'll probably click over to see how the Hornets are faring against the Spurs in Texas that night.
This obscure scenario takes place every fall, and it's not a minute too soon for NBA fans that are already bored with a month-old NFL season, or ticked that their favorite baseball team didn't challenge for the pennant. The problem getting in the way of this yearly routine this time around is that the NBA is seven weeks into a lockout. No progress has been made on either side in an attempt to create a new collective bargaining agreement between the league and its players, and the entire 2011-12 season is in jeopardy as a result.
Along with a minor casualty, at least in the eyes of most. The NBA's preseason will be the first to go.
The NBA's warm-up stage, as is the case with baseball's spring training or the NFL's oft-mocked (but highly watched) preseason, is a bit of a joke. Teams will field eventual regular-season starters, but they're often hooked off the court a few minutes into the opening quarter of each half, and a litany of roster invites and rookies will do most of the heavy lifting before a crowd of very few.
On top of that, even with the inherent team-building exercises and attempts at building chemistry or learning a new coach's system, you never hear of teams turning a corner because of a preseason gone right. You've never heard an eventual champion point to Oct. 17, in Minot, N.D., as the point where everything started to click. Unless they're talking about some sort of cell phone app that told them which restaurants were open after 11:30 at night in Minot, N.D.
There is value to that month of anonymity, though.
As is the case with regular-season games in winter that hardly matter, or aren't highly regarded, the sheer financial impact behind these contests is significant. Not only will those roster invites earn more in a month than they might make in a half-season spent in the minors or overseas, but the addition to the resume is profound. They get to go on record as having been a member of an NBA team for a short spell, and this isn't huge because they'll get to keep their uniform and the team-issued sweats. The real count is when they're potentially called into service midseason on that or another team, and they remember what Flip Saunders likes to run coming off a made free throw. That stuff counts, to a coach, when it's time to throw the midseason injury replacement into action late in the third quarter.
And the local impact? Whether it's Minot or Manhattan, these games bring people out of their living rooms and into an arena. And along the way those people have to pay for gas, swipe a subway pass card, buy a pretzel, tip on a beer, pay for parking, get something "for the kids," and fork over cash for myriad other transactions. Even in preseason, this stuff counts. Even during the preseason, there is someone on the other side of that transaction planning out that week's bills and what they can spend on groceries knowing that they'll make a certain amount of cash during the Nets/76ers game that might not even be televised locally.
Of course, the NBA wants you to believe that there will be a preseason this year. And the NBA's players would like you to believe that they're optimistic that things will work out soon enough and that the Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich., will get to see the Raptors and Pistons on Oct. 12.
That's just talk, at this point. And that's all there has been, since July 1 when this lockout began.
There's just too much ground to cover, before we can consider rocking the Van Andel Arena. The owners have to figure out how they're going to slice up their share of the pie in terms of revenue sharing between large and small markets, even before they present to the players what they think a fair sharing of pie would include. The players have to come clean on the fact that they've gotten fat with pie time and again since 1999, and though poor business and basketball decisions have a part in that, that it is time to give in. And both sides haven't even gotten into the millions that are spent each month in team expenses, costs that aren't even factored into this particular pie.
It's mid-August. Kids are sizing themselves up for backpacks, football season is starting, and baseball fans are learning how to calculate the magic numbers needed to take the division. Nobody is thinking about the NBA's preseason, which is usually the case even in mid-October.
The NBA and its players should be, though. Even with games that don't count, there's still quite a lot to lose.