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Owners like Clay Bennett (left) and Micky Arison could face the fans' scorn after the lockout.
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Optimism for season conjures up old star of dread, too

Posted Nov 16 2011 11:21AM

The *Asterisk Season.

Phil Jackson, as usual, said it with a smirk back in 1999, the last time the NBA lost games to a labor dispute.

To the Zen Master, who made the statement in his first iteration as L.A. Lakers coach, it was a playful way to tweak the rival San Antonio Spurs following their emergence from a truncated 50-game 1998-99 season as champions. On the other, as was the case with most of Jackson's zingers, it bore a grain of truth for its questioning of credibility.

Now, 13 years later, the very best we can hope for is another mini-season, perhaps starting in January and maybe ending before the Fourth of July. But even with that most optimistic scenario, there will likely now be plenty more deserving asterisks to go around:

*Billy Hunter -- The executive director of the erstwhile players union had more than two years to prepare his clients for a hardball war that it was virtually pre-determined it couldn't win. In such a negotiation, it is never about right and wrong, fair and unfair. Merely, it was about who has the leverage from the time the lockout was imposed back on July 1 ... and the union didn't. Even if the legal maneuvering to dissolve the union were to produce an agreement that saves an abbreviated season, it will not be a better deal than anything that could have been struck without missing paychecks and it will not remove the stain from the game. Hunter and his troops have been like boxer Chuck Wepner, the "Bayonne Bleeder", standing in the ring taking punishment far longer than necessary.

*David Stern -- For more than a quarter century as commissioner, Stern has grown the NBA into a profitable and respected international business that has firmly established basketball as the second-most popular sport on the planet behind soccer. In the process, Stern lifted the profile of NBA players to such heights that allowed them to become the highest-paid union in history and gave them opportunities to become celebrities -- and personal brands -- in the remotest corners of the globe. That said, at a time when the NFL settled its labor war to avoid missing games and Major League Baseball is said to be moving toward a new deal with its players without the usual acrimony, the NBA millionaires and billionaires are hunkering down for what Stern called "nuclear winter" in the midst of the worst U.S. economy in nearly 80 years. It's not one of the last lines that Stern the basketball fan wants on his resume.

*Players -- If the fans from courtside to the cheap seats are a little less tolerant of sloppy play, bad decisions and missed shots that result in losses, they'll only have to look into the locker room mirrors to find the out-of-touch ones to blame for the acrimony.

*Owners -- If fewer of the fans are found sitting every night from courtside to the cheap seats, they'll only have to look into the rearview mirror of their stretch limousines to find the ones who sacrificed continuity and goodwill for a scorched earth philosophy.

*Rookie class -- Will the 2012 Rookie of the Year Award go to young player who best remembers which basket he's supposed to be shooting at? The 2011 Draft class was not exactly highly regarded in the first place. Now if an agreement is reached on the fly, the rookies will have had no summer leagues or offseason team workouts learning the ropes. Instead, they get a couple of weeks of training camp to learn the names of their teammates and then get tossed into the deep end of the pool, where most will struggle. Is it a black mark for bad judgment against all of the underclassmen and international stars that could have remained in school or been playing overseas?

*Dallas Mavericks -- Sure, if there is no agreement and no season, the Mavs could get to reign as NBA champions all the way to June 2013. But for a team whose core consists of a 33 year old, 34 year old and a 38 year old, a hurried, cramped 50-game season that begins after New Year's -- ala the 1999 lockout -- could include schedule quirks such as three games in three nights and more adversely affect a veteran team. A defending champion deserves a fair and equitable chance to defend its title.

*Oklahoma City Thunder -- They're the other side of the Mavericks' coin and could take a hit as well. While it was definitely a benefit to have advanced to the Western Conference finals and gone up against Dallas last June, the still-up-and-coming Thunder could most have benefitted and grown from a full training camp and exhibition schedule to take the next steps forward in their development rather than simply continue running on a treadmill.

*Miami Heat -- Though they'll immediately have a leg up again on most of the rest of the league in talent with their three stars, is there anybody who watched The Finals that doesn't think they were more than a few minor adjustments to be made? Whether it was Pat Riley hitting the reset button to bring in a whole new supporting cast or Erik Spoelstra puzzling out exactly who is supposed to do what at crunch time in the fourth quarter, the Heat require all the time they can get to work out the bumps, not a short season.

*L.A. Lakers -- Look, you remember the 4-0 sweep by the Mavs. If anybody ever desperately needed a whole season to get their act back together, it's new coach Mike Brown and this bunch.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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