Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Nuclear Hoop Winter

Bad words in the Association today -- yes, I know, on top of the Marbury news! Suicide Watch better have extra staff tonight! -- from super agent David Falk, also known as The Guy That Repped Jordan.

He thinks that the economy is going to be so bad, and that the salary cap is going to contract so much, that you might be looking at a two-year lockout of the Players Association, just because the business will be so fundamentally broken that the owners would lose less money by going dark.

I work in marketing, and one of the lessons I've learned over the years is this... When a guy who makes his money from commissions says it's all going to hell, believe him. Sales guys whine only a little more than poker players, but that doesn't mean they can't sense when the gravy train is running dry. They don't generally get paid unless they can convince someone on the other side of the table that something good will happen if and when they scratch the check. That's not a job that anyone does with a firm conviction tht they, and their clients, and their entourages, will all be eating shrimp instead of lobster, and having sex with their wives rather than their mistresses, in the very near future.

The 300 remaining casual NHL fans might recognize this strategy, but for the Association that looked like it was going to eclipse MLB for the second spot during the Jordan Glory Days, not to mention having the second-most diversity from the US among all team sports... well, things were supposed to go better than this. (In case you are wondering what the most universal team sport is, it's what the rest of the world calls football. Speaking of which, why don't we just name our game something different, since the foot part of things is so challenged as to called "special"? I recommend Warball, which just sounds more American anyway. Moving on...)

The seeds have already been sown for fading stars like Jason Kidd and Allen Iverson to expect nothing and like it (nothing being defined as a 75% pay cut for the mid-level veterans' exemption) if they choose to lace 'em up next year. This assumes, of course, that there will be anything to lace 'em up for.

Now, I realize that the majority of people reading this will probably just emit a satisfied grunt at the idea of less Association in their lives. I'm thisclose away from finally giving you the all-year football you crave. (Did you know the Eagles signed no one today? Panic!) But you should also realize a couple of things here.

1) If the NBA goes poof, it doesn't make anything better for MLB or NFL. All it does is make the fear spiral grow wider, scare the advertising community more, and create a massive hole in several programming schedules that will be filled with... What? More shows about poker? I fail to see how that makes anyone's life any better, really.

2) The last time the Association went under, Shawn Kemp turned from a Nubian god into a parade float, while fathering scores of children out of wedlock. Do you really want to see what Zach Randolph will do with extra time on his hands? Won't anyone think of the children?

3) A gap in the sports calendar will only mean more time for the World Wide Lemur to invent utter BS. Do you really want to see what happens when the state Mount Rushmores get morphed into a Who's Next segment? I just hit myself in the temples for even thinking of the premise.

Anyway, getting back to the Association... adding to the malaise is the sudden realization among the higher ups that there really are no new lush and verdant attendance fields to run to. Many of the places that have gotten ball in the last few years (Memphis, Charlotte) don't seem to care that much about it, not when everything else is going to hell and the teams aren't terribly good.

Next, take a look at the places that used to have crowds earlier in this decade (Sacramento, New Jersey, Clippers, DC). Suddenly, they all seem at risk. The next tier of Ut Oh includes the people that you wouldn't think would be in trouble, but very well might be. Those include Milwaukee, where the owner is a tapped Senator, Cleveland, whose guy made his nut with (gulp) loans, Dallas with the can't have all gotten out of the Web dollars of the Cube, and Portland's Paul Allen, who lost control of a company the other day for the lack of funds.

Allen also has the worry of shooting pains in his groin every evening from my voodoo doll of him as well. Tonight, I'm thinking he needs to light some firewood.

Add it all up, and you get a league with the very real possibility of a bottom quarter or more at risk. So, before this whole thing turns into the Bad Tooth's threatened NBA book, what are their options, short of a massive and unprecedented devaluation of the temperamental and mostly irreplaceable help?

1) Very unconventional moves.

I'm not talking about the obvious ones of Vegas (the Kings-sized parachute for years, but it's far from foolproof, and recreational gambling has taken a massive hit in this economy as well), San Diego (the Clips think they can find lucre in their historic locale, but the people in that part of the world have never seemed crazed for hoop, and they remember Donald Sterling enough to hate him like everyone else), or all of those three-sport towns (Pittsburgh, Kansas City, St. Louis, Tampa) that have managed to live without hoop this long. Besides, the Stern Way is to get to an emerging market (San Antonio, Portland, Phoenix, and maybe even, sigh, OKC) first and get an edge.

So what's left? Brooklyn kind of counts, and would look better if not for some very dead in the water property and development cost issues. Vegas will suck someone in at some point. And then the real wild card... an overseas division. Because you really want to pick a fight with existing leagues, and create massive travel bills!

2) Contraction.

What the purists want, because they dream of some magical improvement in play as hungry players all kill each other for minutes, and teams can go with full 10-man squads. Maybe it helps, but when you see an NBA game, you don't see a lack of talent, even from the benches. You do see a lot of similar coaching, uneven officiating, and too much turnover for defensive cohesion... but this really isn't going to be solved by offing a half dozen teams.

3) The NBAPA taking it without lube.

Somehow, I think I'm putting my chips on this bet. And that Mr. Falk got a call from a certain Mr. Stern, suggesting that he might want to make such a statement in public and prep the patient...

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