Analysis: Is A Full 82 Games Still Feasible?
The first two weeks of the 2011-12 NBA regular season have been cancelled, and two more (at minimum) could be coming soon. With no end to the lockout in sight NBA schedule makers are still, as we have been told, are coming up with alternative after alternative of possible new schedules. Assuming a deal could be reached soon, is it realistic to expect a full season?
Apparently the league still thinks it’s possible if games start being played in December. For that to happen an agreement would have to be reached in the first week of November – at the latest – to give free agency, training camps, and a few cursory preseason games time to take place, as well as work out the logistics of a changed schedule. Why is December important? According to Sam Amick of Sports Illustrated NBA Commissioner David Stern seems to think if games start then fans could still get an 82-game season.
While two weeks of the regular season have already been canceled and at least two more are expected to go soon, two sources close to the negotiations said the union believes that Stern assured his ESPN and TNT television partners that, by back-ending the missed games, he can still deliver an 82-game season even if starts in December. Accurate or not, the players’ perception of when their early paychecks will truly be gone for good will determine when they reach for the panic button. Conversely, it seems clear the owners want to push this timeline to the brink to get their dream deal, knowing full well what might happen when players miss the first round of paychecks in mid-November and a second round two weeks later.
The idea is intriguing. Back-ending, to me, would mean playing these November games at the end of the year, which would mean that instead of the regular season ending in mid-April everything would be pushed back roughly 30 days so the season would then end around May 15th. Assuming no changes were made to playoff scheduling (i.e., shortening to a five-game series in the first round), the NBA Finals would then push into the early part of July.
Obviously that changes a few things, because the Finals being played in July changes the schedule for the 2012-13 season a little bit. The 2012 NBA Draft is scheduled for late June. The draft itself is a spectacle for the league, so it’s doubtful they would want the playoffs and the draft going on at the same time. Plus, trade rules (at least, in the last collective bargaining agreement) state teams can make trades as soon as their season is over, whether they make the playoffs or not. If teams are currently in the playoffs at the time of the draft – and that could be at least four and maybe even eight or 16 teams, depending on the schedule – they would not be able to make trades even if they wanted. Again, maybe a special dispensation would be allowed, but it would make including a veteran player in any deal almost impossible.
The draft could simply be moved back a month as well, as could the summer leagues that typically take place the first couple weeks in July, and free agency too, since the season typically ends on June 30th. All of these things are theoretically feasible in a vacuum. In reality? Not so much.
One thing to keep in mind is the 2012 Summer Olympics are slated to begin in London in late July. All national teams are going to want some kind of camp before then, plus even some warm-up games. If the season for teams who reach the NBA Finals runs to mid-July, that’s going to become problematic with the NBA’s commitment to Olympic play, and could force some players to not be allowed to play for their national teams. While this would be more an impact to the U.S. team, comprised completely of NBA players, other national teams would be quite displeased. England, for example, is one who would be unhappy if they can’t have Chicago Bulls forward Luol Deng who very well could be a team in the Finals.
Then there is the sheer volume of games to be made up in that extra month.
The 2011-12 NBA season has 221 games scheduled (14.73 per team) for the month of November (click here to see a breakdown of the original 11-12 schedule) – only January and March have more. Notably the Chicago Bulls have an-eight game road trip in November, starting on the 13th in Washington and then making stops in Portland, Phoenix, Los Angeles (Clippers), Utah, Denver, Indiana and ending in Milwaukee on the 26th.
Working out a NBA schedule is never easy, because these teams share the non-game days at their venue with various other events, like concerts or the X Games or whatever else. These venues were given a NBA schedule to work around last July and most will then begin scheduling events around those dates. Just about all of these venues will not have had plans to host basketball games in late June and July. It’s possible some of them may already have events scheduled (this early maybe not, but it’s possible).
All of this is simply to point out the various realities to keep in mind if attempting a back-loaded schedule. That’s not to say it’s impossible, just that it could be extraordinarily difficult.
There are other options. The league could attempt to work those 14.73 games per team into the existing schedule dates, meaning playing all those games by the middle of April. In a city like Los Angeles, where the Clippers and Lakers share Staples Center with the NHL’s Kings working in another 17 home dates for the two teams could be very, very difficult, especially with taking into consideration the travel schedules of their opponents and the ripple effects that has for the entire league’s schedules. More games means less time off and less recovery time for players, which could lead to more injuries than normal.
The league could simply axe those games completely. The Golden State Warriors and Indiana Pacers each had 17 games scheduled for November, but it’s not as simple as lopping off the first 17 games to every team. What is Game 16 for one team might be Game 18 for another…or a team like Chicago could have had an entire west coast swing scheduled for November, so the balance of each schedule would need to be re-evaluated.
And all of this assumes, of course, that a new collective bargaining agreement can be agreed up on in the next two weeks or less, which after the events of the past week seems less likely than me winning the next Powerball jackpot.
The idea the league still thinks it can work in a full 82-game schedule is a nice sound bit, but it’s simply not very realistic. Too many outside influences need to be taken into account, influences which likely would make a complete schedule unworkable.
At this point perhaps the focus should be simply on getting the next CBA done, and then worry about the schedule later. Without the deal there won’t be a schedule anyway.
Should the NBA even talk about or attempt a full 82-game season now? Leave your thoughts in the comments below! Follow Jason Fleming on Twitter and hit up his weekly chat, every Monday at 8pm Eastern.